by Brian J. Mazurek, for Buffalo Raceway
HAMBURG, N.Y. --- Charles Stewart and his stable were looking for a place to settle down for the winter months with Hoosier Park closed during that time.
His choice? Buffalo Raceway. It's a selection that has proved to be the right and a profitable one thus far.
|Trainer Charles Stewart...photo by Steve Roth|
"I looked around and I thought the horses I had would fit very well into the conditions at Buffalo Raceway," Stewart said. "Hoosier Park is a 7/8-mile track but I have some horses with experience on a half-mile track like Buffalo so I figured it would be a good place to go. The purses are equal too, if not better, than at home (in Indiana).
Remember driver Shawn Gray when he arrived from Maine a few years back? It took several weeks before harness racing fans locally began to sit up and take notice of Gray, North America's leading UDRS driver in 2011.
A relative unknown in Western New York at first but winning races will make make you dig into his past credentials.
The same could said about the 27-year-old Stewart. He's got a trainer's title under his belt already in Indiana and posted 365 career wins and $2.57 million in earnings through Sunday. An unknown in Western New York but now one to look for. As far as winning a trainer's title, "I don't really look at the awards but it's nice to have on the resume."
He arrived in Western New York at Batavia Downs in mid-November and showed the move was the right one.
At Batavia Downs, he started 31 horses with nine wins, five second place finishes and four shows for a 29 percent win average, a UTRS of .323 and $31,232 in earnings.
When the racing switched to Buffalo Raceway, Stewart is a win behind current leader JD Perrin by one victory. Stewart, a trainer since 2006, had sent out 35 horses this far with 13 winners, seven second place finishers and three who took the show spot. That's a gaudy .511 UDRS and a 37 percent win average and $56,189 in earnings.
Stewart has been helped by having Peter Wrenn come in and drive many of his horses."He's been driving probably 90 percent of my horses for the last four or five years. Pete told me just about everyone of my horses would fit in well here."
Wrenn is benefiting from Stewart's success as he sits in second place in the driver's standings with 19 victories, 11 behind runaway leader Billy Dobson who has 30.
But Wrenn isn't staying around all season like Stewart is. "He has a small stable he'll go back to in Indiana and I'll probably use Drew Monti and Shawn McDonough when Pete does leave. Drew and Shawn drove for me at Batavia."
Stewart added, "I love the Buffalo Raceway paddock. It's head and shoulders above most others. The heated paddock is huge and it's really user-friendly. You need probably just two people to paddock probably five horses. It's a big plus."
Right now, Stewart has 21 stabled at Buffalo Raceway and is always on the lookout for more. "I did get a horse from a local owner and would be willing to take on more." In the near future, he'll be losing five out of the barn with two going back to Indiana and three going to the Delaware Sales.
About his stable, Stewart said, "I am set up for claimers. I seem to make more money with them...you get the money while you can."
The frigid weather has made things a bit more difficult for Stewart but one the's handled as things came along. "You just don't keep them on the track as long and you try to keep them as healthy as possible. I went into the barn and there was three-to-four inches of ice in the water buckets so that takes some extra time to change that. And I've been warned to keep the horses' shoes sharpened keep them really corked."
He added of his training routine, "I just blow them out and let them gallop. I think it's easier on their joints and you are using less equipment. I usually do one trip two or three days before a race."
Will we ever see Stewart in the sulky during a race? Probably now. "I may only drive if a need to fix a problem with a horse, but otherwise, no." He then added with a laugh, "I am in this to make money and if I was driving I probably wouldn't make much...I'm not very good at it."
As for the rest of the year, Stewart plans to stay at Buffalo until the end of the meet, journey back to Indiana, then come back for the 2015 meet at Buffalo. "That's the plan right now," he said.
And Stewart goes by the motto many in the horse racing industry go by..."People don't like you when you are doing well and you are well liked when you aren't going well." It's not in a mean-spirited way though. It's almost like a superstitious routine.
"I love that so I keep hoping people don't like me because that means I am doing well," he added jokingly.
But thus far, Stewart and driver Wrenn have brought in some good horses that have made many people take notice of them and of Buffalo Raceway itself.