At least, this is the way you dream of doing it. Kaitlin Haining launched a home run in her first at bat when she sent out HF Princess Peach, a four-year-old mare she owns, to victory last weekend at Northands Park in her training debut.
“It was exciting but it’s exciting whenever one of your horses wins,” said the 18-year-old daughter of longtime trainer Harold Haining, who just got her trainer’s license a few weeks ago.
Standing down on the tarmac as she watched HF Princess Peach and driver Jamie Gray come all the way from ninth and last place to sweep past all of her rivals, Kaitlin was cheering wildly, her full-throated roars filling the dark November skies.
“My grandmother once told my mom that you have to yell,” said Kaitlin. “She said how are the horses supposed to know to come home if you’re not yelling at them? I definitely think she heard me. Now if that made a difference I’m not sure. We’ve always yelled for our horses.”
Now this was hardly a case of her dad handing her a horse with a Porsche 911 motor which spits out 700 horsepower. First, this was a horse she has owned since it was born on her parent’s farm. Secondly, HF Princess Peach is about as far from being a superstar as you can get. After all, HF Princess Peach came into the race with just one win in 44 starts. Last year, the skittish standardbred never even finished in the top three in 22 starts.
“It was surprising alright,” said Harold. “Especially coming from this horse. If Kaitlin didn’t own her there’s probably no way she would still even be racing.” But there she was, HF Princess Peach powering four wide around the final turn and on to a length and a half victory. How in the world does something like that happen?
Well, for openers, HF Princess Peach wasn’t exactly beating a powerhouse field, which despite her record, was why she was ‘only’ sent off at odds of 8-1. The nine entrants combined had won just six of their 108 races this year. In their careers the field had a total of eight wins - out of 173 lifetime starts. Four had never won a single race. But last Friday none of that carried any weight at all.
“It doesn’t matter what class she was racing in,” said Harold. “It was a horse we raised; she was part of the family.” Also helpful were the fractions. The first quarter went in 28 2/5 seconds which was supersonic compared to how fast this class usually raced.
The half mile, where HF Princess Peach was 14 lengths off the pace, went in :58 2/5 - again much too fast for the leaders to keep doing. At the three-quarter pole, reached in 1:29 1/5, had the pacesetters already gasping for air. So here came HF Princess Peach, who hadn’t been asked for anything yet, with a big smile on her face. And certainly not to be overlooked is the training job that Kaitlin did.
After a long campaign, Kaitlin turned HF Princess Peach out last August to get some rest. Returned to training almost two months later, Kaitlin brought HF Princess Peach back in late September. But, just before her first race since the layoff was sent away by the starter on Oct. 13 HF Princess Peach broke stride before the start and had to re-qualify.
She did that just fine pacing in 2:00 4/5 which was considerably faster than she had been racing. But, put back to race again, the same thing happened: just before the start, HF Princess Peach broke stride one more time forcing her to have to qualify again.
Then came last Friday. “Because she had been putting in a few steps, we were really just trying to get around the track flat,” said Kaitlin, who added a head pole to HF Princess Peach’s equipment and took off her cheek rolls. “I added a head pole because she was bearing out real bad and I took off the cheek rolls so that she could see more. “Maybe that was the difference,” said Kaitlin. “It’s hard to know. Otherwise I trained her the same way we always had.”
There probably isn’t another horse that gets love and attention like HF Princess Peach. “She’s my pet. She was the only foal we had when she was born four years ago. So she kind of got spoiled. “I was the one who harnessed her for the first time when she was a baby and I was the one who helped dad break her. “She just loves to cuddle; she’s a real sweet heart.”
However, she can also get very nervous. “If there’s a lot of machinery or a lot of noise she can really get worked up.” But when Kaitlin comes around HF Princess Peach settles right down. “She just nows me so very well. “If I’m spending time with my other filly, Vintage Dragon, she gets jealous,” referring to her two-year-old filly, who made her racing debut last Saturday in the Snowflake Series. “She’s getting better as she gets older but she’s still very much a one-person horse,” said Kaitlin, who also owns two broodmares, a weanling and a yearling.
Like a lot of people in horse racing, there wasn’t much suspense about what Kaitlin wanted to do with her life. Harold, 55, has been training horses for almost 40 years taking out his trainer’s license when he was 16. “I wanted to quit school when I was 10 but I hung in until I was 16 which was when I could get my trainer’s license,” he recollected.
But that’s just the beginning of the Haining’s family’s all-encompassing life with horses. Harold’s dad, Bill, trained; so did his grandfather, Alfred Crooks. Even Harold’s mother, Isabel, had her trainer’s license. And Harold’s two brothers, William and Donald, were also standardbred trainers, while his wife, Colleen, is the Alberta Standardbred Horsemen’s Association Project Manager as well as the horsemen’s bookkeeper for Century Downs racetrack in Balzac.
Now it’s Kaitlin who has been told she was riding in a jog bike when she was only six months old. “I guess I was fussing in the house and my mom took me outside where my dad was doing some training. “My dad put out his arms and my mother handed me to him. So there I went, six month’s old, and sitting on my dad’s lap while he jogged a horse.” When she was only 10 she started jogging horses all by herself.
Kaitlin graduated this spring from the Lacombe Composite High School, which is about 15 minutes away from their farm in Clive. On October 20 she turned 18 which is now the minimum age for getting a trainer’s license in Alberta. Kaitlin didn’t waste anytime. A few days after her birthday she took the written exam portion of getting her license getting a score of 89 per cent. Then a few days after that she easily passed the final part of getting her license having to go a rated mile.
She did that with Wedding Dance on Oct. 28 in Wedding Dance’s warm-up for the $80,000 Super Series Final for three-year-old fillies which she would win wire-to-wire at odds of 16-1. “I gave them my fractions that I was planning on going: 40 seconds for the first quarter; 1:20 to the half, two minutes to three-quarters and then come home in 35 seconds,” said Kaitlin, who was almost spot on.
She was now a full-fledged trainer but whether she continues with that path is still not 100 per cent certain. “I’m going to give it a year and see how it goes,” said Kaitlin, who is considering going back to school to either study to be a veterinarian or a culinary chef.
Still… “Horses have been my life,” said Kaitlin, who helped out her dad when she wasn’t going to school - on weekends and in the summer. “I love everything about horses. They are beautiful animals and they have always been a big part of our family.”
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