Hard work goes a long, long way. You only have to observe 31-year-old JOE HUMBER, a trainer and co-owner of a big stable at Fort Erie racetrack to see the great results that comes from the dedication and passion so many horsepeople possess.
Humber, who has a stable of over 30 at Fort Erie and gallops, ponies and cares for them with a solid team of staff that includes his sister Brittany, saw the hard work pay off on opening day of the 2020 Fort Erie meeting June 2 with three wins. It was a career day for Humber, who has about five full years of training Thoroughbreds under his belt.
“I am so happy, it was an amazing day,” Humber told Canadian Thoroughbred. “I have a great crew that works with me, close friends and my sister. We have a great team and it really showed today.”
Fort Erie was the first Ontario track to get racing going since the COVID-19 virus pandemic hit the world. The 123-year-old track opened its 2020 season with eight races, but no spectators were allowed and strict protocols were in place for the essential workers. More than $2,093,000 was wagered, an increase of more than 70% over 2019. It was Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium’s second-best wagering day, next to the 2016 Prince of Wales Stakes when $2.188 million was wagered on a 9-race card.
Humber’s magical day began in race 2 when the grey 4-year-old BIG CLASSIC led all the way to win an $8,000 claiming race at five furlongs with jockey Sunny Singh riding. Singh rode all three of Humber’s winners. Big Classic, claimed by Humber last fall for $3,000 for owner Joy Elkins, showed a bullet four furlong workout recently and it was his first race since November.
Big Classic earned over $8,000 for the win.
In race 6, Humber had STELLATARA, owned and bred by Tara Horse Farm, ready to win a maiden allowance race after battling on the pace in the six furlong dash. She was 8 to 1 and earned more than $9,000 for her victory.
And then it was time for Humber’s own horse, the tough 7-year-old mare ABOUT A GIRL, claimed for $4,500 last summer and a two-time winner for Humber in November at Mountaineer. The daughter of Philanthropist, bred by Bill Diamant and Gail Wood, rallied wide from just off the pace to win an optional claiming race at 9 to 1 and earned over $9,000. It was the mare’s 12th career win.
And About a Girl took that gritty while in foal. She was bred to Humber’s stallion BLACK EAGLE (by Tapit) this spring and will race a few more times before being retired.
The return of racing at Fort Erie, and in Ontario, has come as great relief to horsepeople who have preparing horses since the winter months but had restricted training because of the COVID-19 lockdown.. Fort Erie opened its backstretch May 1 with restrictive measures for the number of people in the backstretch. Its season began one week later than originally scheduled.
For a while Humber, who has won 22 races in his training career, was a bit concerned when the virus turned the world upside down.
“Well, last year was a decent year for me. I didn’t have a lot of wins but we hit the board a lot, and had a lot of fun. I made big plans to expand, between the breeding and claiming, I built up my stable to have 31 horses for the track this year. That was a lot of horses to winter and feed and care for, but I set myself up success and a great year in 2020.
“Then when COVID hit it put a pause on everything and I wondered if setting myself up for such a big year was a mistake after all. I had all these horses and nowhere to run them. It could have been devastating, to expand your business just to have everything shut down and no way of making money. Today I was very thankful for the opportunity to race again and it paid off. ”
Humber not only has a large stable at Fort Erie but more than 20 horses of various ages, 13 of those broodmares, that he boards at a farm in Stevensville.
“I just work very hard. I hustle between training for clients, breaking babies in the off season, my own horses, and then I usually work full time as well, managing a restaurant/cafe. There is lots of money to be made in horses if you’re willing to put in the hours and work. I break between 15-30 yearlings every fall.”
It was when he was 10 years old that Humber, who grew up in Stevensville, saw a sign for riding lessons. ” I talked my parents into starting them. I met [trainers] Claudia Rabstein and Henry Whalen and they started me hotwalking at 12. Claudia, who was boarding horses where I was taking lessons, got me hooked and taught me almost everything.”
Humber’s initial dream was to be a jockey and he rode three races at Laurel Park, Pimlico and Parx in 2011 and 2012, won his third attempt before his height (he is 6′ 1″) and weight proved to be too much.
This training thing seems to be going pretty well for Humber, however, and his clients include Awesome Start Stable and M.M. Racing Stable, as well as Tara Horse Farm and Joy Elkins. In addition to his sister, Brittany, his other team members include Amy Enns and Nicole Collee (pictured), Katie Cameron, Tessa Passero, Brian Hayhoe, Kristie Roberts and Tavis Dalziel.
“Training is the next best thing [to riding]. I’m as hands-on as can be; I gallop my own horses, pony my own horses, and work my own horses. Everything but ride the races – and trust me I wish I could do that, too.”
The way his first few starters ran on Fort Erie’s opening day, perhaps they would have still won with their trainer tall in the saddle.
*Meet Joe Humber’s stallion BLACK EAGLE, a son of Tapit, here.