by Chris Lomon
Heat, hurricanes and broken hobbles can’t slow Lisa Martin down, not when she’s already charted a course for standardbred success.
It wasn’t exactly balmy by any stretch – the mercury was hovering around 60 degrees Fahrenheit – when she took the call, but after a few bumps in the road, it seems sunnier days are ahead in the Sunshine State for the Pennsylvania-born trainer.
“I’m looking at the TV and watching the races at The Meadows,” said Martin, daughter of longtime successful trainer Clarence Martin. “There’s a lot of snow and rain. It looks pretty miserable out there, so I can’t really complain.”
You might have forgiven her a couple of months ago if she had.
Since October, Martin has been stabled in Florida, specifically, Pompano Park, campaigning a pair of trotters, Prairie Trinket and Prairie Virtue, co-owned (along with Laurie Poulin) by her mother, Mary Martin.
“It’s definitely been different than home. Back in Pennsylvania, we have our own farm, and if we’re looking to go a fast mile, our hometown county fair is only six miles away. So, it’s definitely different going from a county fair where there are three or four stables, to Pompano, where it’s a big operation, and is filling up more and more each day. It’s been a little bit of a shock to the system and you have to get used to it.”
So, too, do the horses.
Prairie Trinket, a 2-year-old trotting daughter of Diamond Goal (FL), didn’t manage to get off on the right foot in her Pompano debut on Oct. 24.
The bay filly’s race was over before it even started.
“Getting ‘Trinket’ going was a little difficult at first. But once we put the hobbles on her, she finally figured out her footing and began to put it together. Unfortunately, in her first start here, her hobbles broke behind the gate and she was pulled up.”
Prairie Virtue fared far better than her stablemate on that same card.
The daughter of Shibboleth Hanover felt right at home on the 5/8ths oval.
“Our first win down here was with Prairie Virtue,” said Martin. “It was the first leg of theFlorida Stallion Stakes for 2-year-olds, but it was a non-betting race. I was little stressed out. When you looked at the fillies that were eligible for the race, there were 12 of them. I thought, ‘Maybe there will be two divisions.’ All summer I thought it would be a good race for us to be in. Then, I found out there was only division and it made it little more difficult. But ‘Virtue’ marched right out of there and won. With both horses, we just took things slow with them throughout the summer, knowing their races wouldn’t be until near the end of October.”
Both horses would have to wait two weeks before their next action, courtesy of a hurricane that caused a temporary cancellation of racing at Pompano.
“I guess it’s safe to say I had my hands full over that time,” Martin said with a laugh. “Prairie Virtue knew what it was like to race and she knew what it was like to win. She didn’t understand why we weren’t racing. Those two weeks were a little trying. She was on the engine with me during that time. But then things got better.”
Much better, in fact.
No broken hobbles, no hurricanes and embracing warmer temperatures was a welcomed trifecta for Martin.
“After all of that, we got going again, the weather changed for the better, and Prairie Virtue was second, then second the following week, and then she won the [$27,500] Florida Stallion Stakes on Nov. 29. I just really feel very fortunate to have both horses here with me.”
Martin has high praise for the rookie trotters.
She also has high hopes for her “Prairie” duo.
“Prairie Virtue, she’s just all class. She has a huge white blaze down her face. She’s good looking, she loves to jog and she loves her job. She has pure desire to race. Prairie Trinket is figuring things out. She’s getting better and she’s getting faster. She’s coming home faster. She seems to realize that racing is fun.”
How they came to be part of Martin’s stable is a story in itself.
It’s a tale she never tires of telling.
“We owned Shibboleth Hanover and we ended up retiring him when he was seven,” Martin said of the horse that now stands stud in Florida. “We were weighing our options, and we reached out to Laurie Poulin, and asked if she’d be interested in leasing him from us. And she did. Once she got him to Okeechobee [FL], things just took off running. He’s done a lot of great things here for them. We had always wanted one of his babies. This time last year, Laurie called my dad out of the blue and said she had a filly if he might be interested. The sale had come and gone, and we had spent our resources, so we went to Florida to see the filly. We ended up making an agreement with Laurie to be partners on Prairie Virtue.
“When we got home, we started thinking some more, and my dad realized that all his colts had been broke, and he didn’t want Prairie Virtue to be alone. Laurie had ‘Trinket,’ so she sent us her, as well. It’s a pretty cool story. Some of my greatest childhood memories come from Shibboleth Hanover, who was the best horse my dad ever had. I can still remember the day he won the Sires Stakes consolation at Pocono. There are so many great things he did for us. I can see “Shibby” in her every day. She’s a clone of him. For me, with both horses, it’s been a fun ride so far.”
But not one Martin necessarily figured was a sure thing.
After posting seven training wins in limited action in both 2014 and 2015, she left the standardbred scene for five years.
It wasn’t loss of interest in the sport that prompted the decision.
“Back in 2014, my dad came up with this great idea that he should send me and five horses to The Meadows. I packed up and moved out there. The saving grace is that I’m good friends with Doug and Jan Snyder. Doug was my right-hand man and helped me with everything. I really got my feet off the ground there. After a while, things just weren’t going the way I wanted them to and I came back home.
“Life had changed for me. My grandparents got sick. My parents go to Georgia for the winter, and my mom was worried about my grandparents. I told her that I’d move to Vernon [NY] and take care of them. So that’s what I did. I ended up working at Turning Stone, the casino out there, and I was an event planner for three years.”
After her grandparents passed away, Martin moved back to the Keystone State last August.
Just over a year later, she’s back on track, literally and figuratively, in a place she had never imagined she’d find herself in.
“We always joke and I’ll say, ‘Can you believe I’m in Pompano?’ I never thought in a million years this would happen. But believe me, I’m totally grateful for it. I always say to harness people that you can always go home. It always leads you back home in some way, shape or form. That’s such a reassuring feeling to have. If things don’t work out, I know I can always go back home.”
For now, Martin is hitting her best stride 1,286 miles south of Honesdale, PA, thanks to a trotting twosome that are heating up in Pompano Beach.
And if she ever wants to step outside the training ranks, but stay inside the sport, Martin has already charted out other racing careers.
“When I was at The Meadows, I was told that I should learn more about racing by doing different things. I connected with the racing judges there and I learned how to chart. I’m a licensed charter and licensed clerk. I work at Vernon Downs. Between my mother and I – she’s a licensed charter as well – we split the position at the racetrack. I also work at county fairs throughout the summer as the race secretary.”
Whatever role she takes on, Martin will be well prepared for it.
“I love being able to do different things in harness racing. Having those things means that no matter what road I take, I’ll always be involved in the sport.”