by Victoria M. Howard
Once it’s in your blood, it never leaves. Just ask trainer/driver/groom Whitney Bell — a fourth generation horsewoman who has been in the business all her life.
Bell said she owes it all to her dad.
“My father’s side of the family came from Delaware, OH,” Bell said. “They raced primarily on the east coast. (New York, New Jersey. Vermont and Pennsylvania tracks). My dad followed my granddad to Buffalo then to Saratoga where he met my mom whose family had the track restaurant at Saratoga racetrack.
“I was born there, but we moved when I was four years old to Vernon Downs. Primarily we spent summers in Vernon and winters in Pinehurst, North Carolina and Florida.
“My parents never wanted me in the biz — they said to go to school to be a veterinarian — but hindsight is 20/20.”
Bell had a few ponies and riding horses when she was young, but her first racehorse was one named Ideal Future.
“I owned and won my first pari-mutuel race with him at Vernon Downs when I was 25 years old,” she said. “It’s hard to pick one favorite, for I loved them all. I groomed a horse named Sugarcane Hanover when he was a 2-year-old. I trained and groomed Theater Production who was a top trotter on the east coast, and the classy trotter, Earlivic.”
Bell said she is blessed to have worked under some of the best trainers in the business such as Hall of Famer Chuck Sylvester.
“Chuck is an A plus trainer. He’s the last trainer I worked for and treats horses and his employees with respect. Another big influence was trainer Gary Lewis who had a soft hand with his horses,” she said.
Asked what part of the business she prefers, Bell said, “I enjoy the whole aspect of the biz. Grooming, because of my love for the horse; training, for I love being able to teach a horse, and I love to drive for I’d much rather sit behind one in a race than actually watch. It’s a lot less nerve wracking to me.”
Lately, harness tracks have missed seeing Bell’s pretty face. “About five years ago I made a major life decision, which was very difficult for me. It was very hard to move twice a year, never knowing where you will be stabled each spring. There were fewer opportunities to train and racehorses, unlike when I was younger, and harness racing was the only show in town. But today with the Internet and the casinos it is not the same. Sadly, harness racing hasn’t really grown with the times,” she said.
Regardless, horses and harness racing is still in her blood.
“I truly miss the interaction with the horses and people, but luckily I have a lot of friends that I help out at Vernon Downs. I will never NOT be around them. In fact, I’m looking to buy and train one soon.”
Lucky for us, Whitney Bell is not going anywhere.