The Horse That Changed My Life: Rick Zeron

by Dave Briggs, courtesy Ontario Racing

(Editor’s Note: This item originally appeared on the Ontario Racing website ( recently under a section called For The Love Of Racing which still adds new stories weekly. Harness Racing Update will periodically republish some stories from the archives and plans to add original ones here featuring the stories of participants from across the harness racing world)

Rick Zeron said he owes pretty much everything he has to a $2,000 claimer named Shadydale Alex — most importantly, his family.

In 1980, Zeron was a 24-year-old struggling trainer/driver in Ottawa when Shadydale Alex caught his eye. He wanted to claim the trotter, but couldn’t afford it. So, he asked his girlfriend Joyce for the money. At the time, she was working for the Canadian government.

“She said, ‘I’m going to lend you the money and you claim the horse.’ She’s the one that leant me the money to claim Shadydale Alex,” Zeron said. “The little trotter, I think he only had a record of 2:14 or 2:15 at the time. I won with him one day in 2:10.1 and it was just like winning the Hambletonian. We were all excited and happy.”

Shadydale Alex, a son of unknown sire Atlanta Georgia out Alexis Hanover only earned some $17,000 in his career, but he was, essentially the foundation horse in what became the Rick Zeron Stable. The stable has campaigned such horses as Hanko Angus ($1.2 million), Wild Turkey ($791,922) and Lady Rainbow ($800,616). Over his career, Rick has trained the winners of nearly $30 million with more than 2,200 trips to the winner’s circle.

Thursday (Aug. 19) at Mohawk, Rick won his 8,000th race as a driver. Recently, he also topped $100 million by USTA accounting.

More importantly, Shadydale Alex helped Rick pass an important test with Joyce.

“The rest of the story is we got married, had four kids and did well,” said Rick, the father of top Meadowlands driver Scott Zeron.

“The running joke with Rick is that I leant him enough money that I had to marry him because I had so much invested in him,” Joyce said, laughing. “I’m still waiting for the return. It’s an inside joke that we keep having about how far we’ve come in our relationship.

“Had he not had someone to believe in him we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Rick laughed when asked what might have happened with Joyce if Shadydale Alex had been a bust.

“She would have said, ‘I’m out of here. See you later, loser.’ Thank God we made money with him or she would have been gone,” Rick said.