The name may just be Joey, but Joey isn’t just some horse. In discussing the purchase at auction of Joey, her now-3-year-old trotting colt, trainer and co-owner Leslie Zendt exclaimed, "I just loved the name! You get all these long, 18-letter names and he comes along and his name is Joey. I fell in love with his name before I fell in love with him.
"At one track they were filling out paperwork on him and they said ‘What’s his name?’ and I said ‘Joey.’ And they’re like ‘No, what’s his full name?’ I said ‘It’s just Joey.’ They don’t believe you if it’s not some long name!"
Despite the moniker’s brevity, Joey is making a name for himself.
Entering Saturday’s $61,900 Tompkins-Geers Stakes for 3-year-old male trotters at The Meadowlands -- which will serve as a measuring stick for whether the horse will enter the $1.2 million Hambletonian on Aug. 4 -- Joey has won six of 10 career races for $36,700 in earnings. After winning two of three in a low-pressure rookie year, Joey has won four of seven this year, and has only lost once when he stayed trotting.
After winning his first three races this season, Joey made breaks in the next two. The first was in a division of the Pennsylvania Stallion Series at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and the second was in an elimination for the Goodtimes Stakes at Woodbine Mohawk Park, which was his only major stakes race to date.
"He got in kind of a bad spot at Pocono," said Zendt, who owns Joey with husband Bill. "David Miller had him in the two hole, he was the favorite. The horse in front of him was backing into him a little in the last turn. He pulled him just to sit on the outside going into the last turn and he throws a front shoe. Everything kind of just blew up in his face right there and he made a break."
The trainer chalked up the break to the thrown shoe and didn’t think much of it.
Until . . .
"Then he came back and I was all excited to take him to Mohawk because I thought he would really pick up on a big track," Zendt said. "But he just had some issues up there. He did not get over that track well, and made a break."
Thus, the Zendts fitted Joey with trotting hobbles to give him confidence and he raced well enough to finish second in a conditioned race at The Meadows, beaten by a head, with Dave Palone driving.
"He was a lot safer, but Dave said he just didn’t feel like he had the same speed," Zendt said. "He is a wicked fast horse. He just didn’t feel like he had the same gait and the same go he did without hobbles."
So, the hobbles were removed for last Saturday’s race at The Meadows, his home track, and Joey won. That helped make the decision of what to do at the Meadowlands this weekend.
"We weren’t even sure what the rules were in Jersey about him racing with or without the hobbles," Zendt said. "We didn’t know what was going on, we didn’t know if he would be racing with hobbles or not. At least he took the question mark away because he raced really good without the hobbles. He’s a much faster horse without the hobbles, so we are going hobble-less this weekend."
And it’s a big weekend for Joey as he tries to make Zendt’s dream come true. The horse is staked to the Hambletonian, but Leslie and Bill are reluctant to put up the $15,000 entry fee without some type of favorable sign. They are hoping Joey will provide one at the Tompkins-Geers, with David Miller in the bike. Joey is 8-1 on the morning line. Evaluate is the 5-2 favorite followed by Zephyr Kronos at 7-2 and Met’s Hall at 9-2. All three also are eligible to the Hambletonian.
"It’s my dream to go to the Hambletonian, but he’ll let us know if he’s that type of horse or not," Zendt said. "We want to get him up there and see how he gets over the track. That (Hambletonian) entry fee is a big thing to swallow when you own the horse yourself. So if he can go up there and do well, make a little money or at least show that he is competitive with that type of a horse, we’ll see.
"He’s probably the second or third horse we’ve ever kept eligible to it. We try to pick and choose what we stake our horses in. The rule rather than the exception is you’re going to overstake your horse rather than under. We’re hoping we’ll hit a middle ground with him. You take a shot. It’s a dream, but you take a shot and leave him eligible in the Hambletonian just in case. I can dream!"
Joey drew the seven hole in the eight-horse Tompkins-Geers field, prompting Zendt to note, "I wish he would have drawn a little better, but at least with only eight horses, it should be a pretty compact field, it shouldn’t get strung out too bad."
Should the dream not become reality, Joey could race in the Dennis Drazin Trot (formerly the Townsend Ackerman). Whatever happens, Zendt’s faith in him will not be diminished. She liked Joey, a son of Yankee Glide out of Jodi’s Jayme, from the start.
"I went through the catalog and put down the pedigrees I was interested in," she said. "I knew I couldn’t afford the Muscle Hills or the Cantab Halls. I went through and tried to pick out the Donato Hanovers, the Yankee Glides. Then I went through and watched all the videos of the colts, and he was my No. 1 Yankee Glide at the sale."
They paid $25,000 for the short-named horse named after a million pizza places.
"When Bill got to the sale, he pulled him out of the stall and liked him, it was just a question of whether we could afford him," Zendt said. "That’s about normal for what we like to pay for a yearling."
Leslie felt Joey would be a "pretty nice horse" in February 2017, but because he was a big colt and a late foal, his schedule was limited to three races.
"When you have to stake a horse yourself, you have to get an idea of what kind of horse you have before you invest a lot of money into staking him," Zendt said. "We thought he showed enough, trotting (1):57 at The Meadows, that we tried to stake him in the bigger races on the bigger tracks. He’s eligible in Lexington, back at Mohawk and some stuff at Hoosier at the end of the year. Some big-track stuff."
The bottom line, in Zendt’s mind, is that no matter how this season turns out, it’s only the beginning of what has potential to be a nice career.
"If worse comes to worse I’ll be happy if he’s a nice horse and I can keep him and race him next year," she said. "He’s got a lot of upside to him, he’s a horse that should get better as he matures. He’s got nothing but a bright future in front of him."
He’s already got a western Pennsylvania fan club.
"He’s a very talented horse, he takes good care of himself," Zendt said. "He’s just a gorgeous horse. I don’t know whether it’s his name or the way he looks, but everybody on the track knows Joey. He’s big and black and has a white star and I usually drive him in blue-white polos (wraps). He’s just stunning on the track. He’ll be jogging and everyone will be yelling "Joooey! Joooey!"
Which is fine with Zendt, who just loves to hear the name.--By Rich Fisher/USTA