After 10 years managing Ron Burke’s Indiana stable, Jamie Macomber has struck out on her own with her husband, Ricky.
by James Platz
As a child, Jamie Macomber had no interest in pursuing a career in harness racing. While some dreamed of growing up to be trainers or drivers, she dreamed of a corner office in a big high rise somewhere. The middle child of Ohio-based trainer Tim Rucker and his wife, Debbie, now finds herself at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino with a barn of 29 racehorses with more to follow. In her first season operating a public stable with her husband, Ricky, Macomber is loving the challenge of forging out on her own.
Many may know Macomber for her work with the Burke Stable’s Indiana string. For 10 years she supervised Ron Burke’s Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs stock, managing a barn of top-flight horses that included millionaire pacing mare Go On BB, Rose Run Parker, Indiana Sires Stakes champion and Trotter of the Year in the state, and the much-heralded Hannelore Hanover, Indiana Sires Stakes champion before earning the Dan Patch Award as the sport’s top older trotter last season. After a six-year absence, Burke had to talk her into getting back in the barn. With a marketing degree from Ohio University, she had first worked at Indiana Downs before taking a role as outreach coordinator at the USTA. Her older sister, Kelly, and younger brother, Adam, always showed an interest in training horses. Macomber had other plans.
“I said from an early age I didn’t want to do it,” she explained of her career path. “I worked at the barn every summer. I enjoyed it, but when it was time for school, I was excited to go back.”
Along the way, that corner office of her youth became a shed row full of pacers and trotters. It started with the invitation from Burke, whom she counted as a friend before he became her employer. She credits her parents with teaching horsemanship skills that she applies today, but under Burke’s guidance she gained “priceless” experience with top open and stakes horses.
“When I came back I learned his way from the ground up,” she said. “With Ronnie there’s not much grey area; most things are black and white. I cannot tell you how much I learned.”
During her time spearheading the Indiana extension of the Burke Brigade, the stable racked up training titles at Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park, the latest coming last season at the Anderson track. From time to time, others would inquire if Macomber had entertained going out on her own. She was quick to shoot those conversations down. She loved her job, and she loved the horses with which she had been entrusted. Conversations two years ago, however, set events in motion that led to the new endeavor.
Trainer Wilbur Eash looked to slow down a bit. While he enjoyed developing young horses, the grind of travelling up and down the roads from northern Indiana in order to race were less appealing. He asked if the Macombers would be interested in keeping the horses and racing them at Hoosier Park during the season. When the Hoosier Park meet concluded, Macomber took Eash’s homebreds, Indiana Sires Stakes champion Bluehourpower and his sister, Sandysgoldenhour, to Pompano to race over the winter. They also picked up older trotting mare Wild Wanda, trained and co-owned in partnership by the late Larry Rheinheimer. The winter of 2015 was productive for Macomber as she sent out 23 winners in 78 starts. Upon returning to Hoosier Park in spring 2016, she kept Wild Wanda, campaigning her to a victory last fall in the $50,000 Indiana Sires Stakes final and over $160,000 in earnings.
“Wanda was a huge stepping stone. She opened up a lot of doors for me,” the 37-year-old trainer offered. “You don’t get to start with open horses very often.”
As last season at Hoosier Park unfolded, Macomber began to entertain going out on her own. Eash was still interested in making a change. Being able to count on horses owned by Eash (Indy Lane Stable) and Z Tam Stable, and picking up another Indiana outfit, Eleven Star Stables, it was time to have the tough conversation with Burke, which she did in October. The talk was a friend-to-friend chat as much as it was an employer-employee exchange.
“He was very supportive. When I first told him he said, ‘We’ll talk about this later. You’re not going to charge enough to make it.’ It was a typical Type A response,” she said, laughing. “We reviewed the horses, the owners, everything. He wanted to make sure I was setting myself up for success. That’s exactly the way I took it and that’s how he meant it.”
Returning to Pompano for the winter, the pieces quickly came together in November and December. Macomber picked up horses over the winter while having another successful meet. Sending out 141 starters, the stable won 37 races and finished in the money 55 percent of the time. Now at Hoosier Park, Macomber’s stable is tied for second in the standings just a few weeks into the 2017 meet with seven wins and nearly $65,000 in earnings through Friday, April 21. One of her early winners is the sophomore pacing colt Beckham’s Z Tam, a North America Cup hopeful that Eash developed. The son of Always A Virgin is two-for-two with a 1:52.1 clocking to his credit.
“Right now he’s doing it on his own,” she said. “Wilbur deserves all the credit for getting him to this point.”
The challenge of opening a public stable may be daunting on its own, but it’s made tougher with two small children at home. The Macombers have a four-year-old son, Nate, and two-year-old daughter, Aubrey. In the morning while Macomber is at the barn working with four grooms and an assistant trainer, Ricky gets up with the kids and gets them ready. In the evenings she stays at home and follows the program while Ricky catch drives and helps with the horses scheduled to race that night. If they have several racing, Macomber will be in the paddock, but her children won’t be far away.
“It’s a good thing I don’t like TV and I don’t need a ton of sleep,” Macomber said. “It also helps that I have an awesome husband!”
Macomber was apprehensive to step out on her own. Now that she has left the Burke nest, she is spreading her wings and soaring. The trainer is quick to credit those that have placed their trust, and horses, in her hands. She’s a long way from that corner office she once dreamed about, but Macomber wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I hope they all know how appreciative I am,” she said. “I’m super excited!”