Harness racing might be thought of as a sport that links fathers and sons–but don’t forget about Mom. Mothers have played key roles in supporting and encouraging their children’s involvement in racing. As Mother’s Day approaches on Sunday, May 14, here are some of their stories.
Wendy Cameron and her mother, Nan, of Washington, Pa., aren’t just family–they’re business partners. The two own six horses under their Cam Land stable name. Their best-known horses are Always Cam, who won the Little Brown Jugette and earned $392,761 last year, and Forever Cam, who won $139,084 in 2002 as a two-year-old.
“My Mom has been a tremendous role model for me to watch,” Wendy Cameron said. “I’ve learned from her how important hard work is. She’s very versatile. There’s nothing she can’t do.”
Wendy’s late father, Wilfred “Pete” Cameron, started racing at The Meadows when it opened in 1963 and was the breeder of two-time Horse of the Year Cam Fella. The family also operated a Coca-Cola bottling facility in western Pennsylvania. After Pete Cameron passed away, the family sold the bottling business and Wendy and Nan started Cam Land in 1999.
“We used to talk soft drinks all day and all night, now we talk about horses,” Wendy said with a laugh. “We make all the major decisions together. We work very well together. We’ve always had a pretty close relationship. Growing up, I showed horses and she would take me to all my shows. I guess we’ve gotten closer now.
“Being a parent now myself, I’m more appreciative of what my Mom did,” added Wendy, who has a seven-year-old daughter, Sami, and a four-year-old son, Mike. “You don’t really understand sometimes until you’re in the same position.”
Luc Ouellette left Canada at the age 15 to work in the United States with his uncle, Hall of Fame driver Mike Lachance, and developed into one of the sport’s best drivers himself. But having the support of his mother, Denise, was special.
“She always had a lot of confidence in me,” said Ouellette, whose horses have averaged $9.9 million in purses over the last five years. “She is very positive. She knew of my love for horses. Most mothers want their children to go to college, but she knew I had a dream, and it involved horses here in the States. She let me go live my dream. I don’t know of a lot of parents who would trust their kids to let them do that at that age. If she didn’t, I don’t think I would’ve turned out the way I did; I might have rebelled or something. But she’s always been behind me a hundred percent.”
A native of Norwich, England, Jacqueline Ingrassia made history when she drove Goalfish to victory in the 2000 Yonkers Trot and became the first woman to ever win a Triple Crown race. When it comes to competing in a business dominated by men, Ingrassia has to look no further than to her late mother, Joyce, for inspiration.
“She worked at a time when women didn’t work,” said Ingrassia, who has 988 career wins. “She was a salesperson and a ‘manageress’ for a department store. She wanted to make a better life for us. She had that work ethic. That probably rubbed off on me.
“My mother never was really big on giving advice. But she backed up everything I aspired to do, in every little way. I try to be the same with my own son. As a teen, you don’t give it much thought, but as you get older you take a step back and realize what she did. She understood (harness racing) was my career goal. Three-thousand miles is a long way to be from someone, but she never tried to stop me. I don’t think she understood it at times, but she never tried to stand in my way. What more support could anyone want than that?”
Trainer Don Eash of Goshen, Indiana said his mother, Dorcas, instilled in her eight children (six boys and two girls) three important lessons.
“The biggest impact was to have a strong faith in God,” he said. “The second was to have persistence in achieving your goals. Third was to try to get along with everybody. A lot of the personal lessons are used in a professional way, especially staying after your goals and never giving up. She always encouraged us to give a little to get along, and that’s what you’ve got to do in this business.
“My mom doesn’t know the first thing about horses,” added Eash, who set career highs with 79 wins and $1.1 million in purses last year. “She knows they have four legs and a head, that’s about it. But she’s supported all her children, no matter what. She’s positive woman. You couldn’t ask for a better Mom, that’s for sure.”
Amateur driving champion Gene Miller of Charlotte, Mich., said he most remembers his late mother, Clara, offering subtle advice. “If I was talking or thinking about doing something I shouldn’t do, she used to say: ‘This sounds kind of jaily to me,'” the 59-year-old retired auto worker said. “That was her word, jaily. I don’t know if she coined it, but I never heard anyone else use it. She kept an eye on me.”
US Trotting Association President Phil Langley said his mother, Jessie, worked every day, either in a restaurant or a bank. “Probably the most I learned from her was that hard work never hurt anybody,” he said. “I got my work ethic from her. She was a hard worker, and she never complained. She also had the patience of a saint. So I’d say those are two things I learned.”
When David Miller was first driving in matinees in his native Ohio, his mother, Loretta, often would haul the horses for him, loading them in the trailer and driving to the racetrack. “She taught me to always try my hardest and to do the best I can,” said Miller, whose horses have won $10.5 million in purses each of the last two years. “It’s nice to have Mom in your corner.”
Dave Palone, who last month became the seventh driver in harness racing history to reach the 9,000-win level, said his mother, Jean, was “the most positive person I’ve ever met.” A native of Rices Landing, Penn., Palone added, “I would put my Mom up against any mom.”
“She’s been a Sunday school teacher for 45 years,” Palone said. “They never really had much, and she instilled in me to be thankful for everything I’ve been given. Things could always be worse, so be thankful for what you have. We’ve always had the motto: This too shall pass. I always use that. Just turn the page if a race doesn’t go well and never put too much pressure on yourself. Whatever happens, happens. If you have your family and your health, a horse race doesn’t mean too much. She just has such a great attitude.”
Trainer Chris Ryder of Allentown, N.J., has enjoyed success with horses including McArdle and Cathedra Dot Com. But it’s a horse named Beverly M that might bring him the most joy. That’s because the two-year-old is named after his mother, Beverly.
“I come from a big Catholic family in New Zealand, where Mother means a heck of a lot to you,” Ryder said. “Mom’s pretty special. She’s a great lady. She’s just a good ol’ mom. She was always on to us to do the right thing. I was raised on a farm with five brothers and a sister. She instilled in us a great work ethic. Totally.”
And a victory by Beverly M down the road would be extra meaningful. “I think that would be a nice Mother’s Day present,” Ryder said.