by Evan Pattak, for The Meadows
Washington, PA — You really ought to give Iowa a try, a song from The Music Man famously implores us. Six years ago, trainer Wayne Hite took that advice literally. Now, purchasing and campaigning Iowa horses has become a major part of his business at The Meadows.
Two more of Hite’s Iowa purchases will be on display Saturday (Oct. 20). Cash Vaughan (race three, post seven) and Some More Prince (race 12, post five), both with Jim Pantaleano aboard. First post is 1:05 p.m.
Hite’s involvement with Iowa horses and owners began quite by accident.
“We were at the Harrisburg sale in 2012, eating at a restaurant,” Hite recalls. “We saw a fellow sitting there wearing a harness racing hat and struck up a conversation. He turned out to be Gary Liles, an Iowa horseman, who said at the end of the season there he usually had some horses to go because he didn’t have anywhere else to race them, and would we be interested in them.
“He called me later with a list of horses. We didn’t have the resources that year to buy more than one or two, but they worked out. Now, I buy all his horses at the end of the Iowa season, and I also purchase from Paul Liles, Gary’s father. They’re both outstanding horsemen, and they’ve become like family to us.”
While other trainers have enjoyed success with purchases from the Hawkeye State, Hite is the “King of Iowa” at The Meadows. He and his wife Trudy have purchased and campaigned about 50 Iowa horses over the past six years — the Hites often are joined on the ownership team by their friends, the Kalchthaler family, and Wayne’s sister, Janis Hite-Niemiec — including 13 that are racing now or soon will. Hite notes that Iowa imports can offer several advantages. They are, for example, race sharp.
“They’re seasoned horses that have learned how to race,” he says. “They have a couple years under their belts, and they’ve been racing all summer, sometimes under bad conditions.”
They also have what might be called an “eligibility edge” in events written for non-winners of a race, or two or three races, life. In such events at The Meadows, victories in non-betting races, as Iowa fair races are, don’t count against a horse’s win total. So horses may have a number of wins on their cards and still be eligible for NW1 or NW2 events, which they often dominate.
Consider Saturday’s pair. Cash Vaughan is a four-time winner In Iowa but will compete in a NW1. Some More Prince won five Iowa races before cruising to a 5-1/4 length romp in his Oct. 13 debut at The Meadows in a NW1.
But Hite cautions others who might want to follow the trail that he’s blazed that “you can’t catch them with a butterfly net.”
For one thing, his success is built on the relationships he’s developed over six years, an asset others may not have initially. For another, Iowa horsemen aren’t greenhorns; they know full well what their horses may be worth at other venues, and they’re not giving anything away. Hite has paid as much as $55,000 for his Iowa imports, a responsible price anywhere.
Perhaps the key to Hite’s record is the value he and his family add to the equation. For example, they focus on certain kinds of horses and typically spend a lot of time re-rigging them.
“We target big trotters,” Hite says. “We drop about six seconds off them, so if they’re able to trot in 2:01 or 2:02 in Iowa and stay flat, I know they’ll do here. We also hang them up to suit our track. There are a lot of head poles and boots that we can eliminate. That frees them up.”
Hite is a third generation horseman. Sons Kris, a trainer at The Meadows, and Justin, a trainer/driver/ blacksmith at the Aiken Training Track, comprise the fourth generation while Kris’ son Bryce, who works with the family when he’s home from college, is the prospective fifth generation.
“I give a lot of the credit to Trudy,” Hite says. “She has a good business head and calls most of the shots when it comes to classification and value. Justin flies up once a month to shoe all our horses.”
Saturday’s card offers a number of attractive wagering opportunities, including a pair of rich pool guarantees — $10,000 for the Pick-5, $7,500 for the Pick-4 — and a $1,589.30 jackpot in the final race Super Hi 5.