by Chris Lomon
Alesha Binkley’s first standardbred win produced a picture-perfect ending courtesy of a perfectly named pacer and a nearly-flawless performance.
There was a one in three chance the aspiring driver would win her first ever race at Washington Court House Fair in Ohio on July 21, 2018. So, it wasn’t exactly a surprise when the Illinois native and Astarisontheway made a trip to the winner’s circle after a neck score as the 2-5 choice, stopping the clock in 2:05.
Perhaps the only mild eye-opener was the professional manner in which Binkley accomplished the feat with the daughter of Dongetinmyway, a horse she had co-owned with Trent Stohler and Benjamin Graber.
For a rookie, she looked every bit a veteran in the milestone race, an Ohio Ladies Pacing Series dash.
“As soon as we won, I thought to myself, ‘I have to keep doing this.’ I loved it. During the race, since there were only three of us, it was almost like you were training. There was one horse in front of me, and the other one was in back of me. I was just sitting in the two-hole and I had such an adrenaline rush the whole time. My heart was racing.”
The name of the horse isn’t lost on Binkley.
“It’s kind of awesome that I won my first race with that horse. I was kind of hoping it was a sign.”
As it turns out, it was.
Binkley, who grew up in the southeastern part of Illinois, was groomed for horse racing success.
She relocated from Kentucky to Indiana, looking for employment at Hoosier Park Racetrack when she was 19, eventually landing a job with Judi Lunsford, before working for Stohler.
The 26-year-old is grateful to have learned from some of the sport’s most successful horsepeople.
“I’m very fortunate to have worked for a lot of amazing people. Everyone I’ve worked for has taught me so much.”
These days, Binkley, who won 10 of 20 races in her rookie 2018 driving season, is as busy as she’s ever been.
Not that it’s a bad thing.
“Being busy, it keeps me out of trouble,” she said with a laugh. “I’m busy with racing – I have two horses I train for owners from Illinois, I groom two horses for Ron Burke, I jog some of his horses, and I take care of one horse for Virgil Morgan Jr. – and I’m busy being a mom [to soon-to-be five-year-old daughter, Maevyn]. I’m kind of everywhere.”
One place she currently is not is in the race bike. But that will change soon enough for the talented multi-sport athlete who played on high school and travel teams for softball, volleyball and basketball.
A winner of eight of 38 races in 2019, Binkley had her most recent driving start on November 27 of last year, a third at The Meadows with Burke trainee Delcrest Holiday.
Highlights in the sulky include a victory in the $12,000 Western Final of the C.K.G. Billings Amateur Trot at The Meadows in August 2019, and a Great Lakes Amateur Drivers Association Series score with Hititoutofthepark at Delaware last September.
No need to ask the woman known as “The Hoosier Hotshot” if she’s looking forward to sitting in the driver’s seat again.
“I’ll start driving again at Miami Valley when they have the amateur races again. I’ll drive some of those races. I was watching some replays the other day and I thought, ‘Man, I really want to drive.’ The weather hasn’t been great, which really doesn’t motivate you that much, but it’s been much nicer the last little while. That makes you want to get out there. I can’t wait to start driving. My heart races every time – when I’m behind the gate, training, watching replays of my races – and it’s a feeling I’ve never had before. I love it.”
For all of the successes, Binkley has also had to contend with certain challenges along the way.
The toughest hurdle, more so early on in her driving career, was dealing with her most vocal critic.
“When I would have a bad drive, I would always take it home with me. I would be so upset if I messed up, or if the horse didn’t race to expectations. One day it finally clicked… I have to stop being so hard on myself. I realize it happens, it’s horse racing, and you have to let it go and move on to the next one. I’m so hard on myself, so it takes some time to be able to wrap your head around that.
“With training, my horses are inconsistent these days. The bad weather we’ve had certainly plays a big part in that. You never know if the horses will be good or bad each week. When you do something one week and it’s a totally different result next week, it can drive you crazy. That’s my biggest problem. It can be tough when you do what you think is right for the horse, preparation-wise, and it doesn’t pan out as planned. I guess it’s just dealing with the ups and downs of training horses.”
Fortunately for Binkley, she is able to put all in perspective, both in the barn and at home, courtesy of her biggest supporter.
And yes, horses play a major role in their mother-daughter relationship.
“Maevyn, she’s probably my best little friend. She loves to be at the barn, so she’ll come with me all the time. Most days I’m here all day, and whenever asks if we’re ready to go home, and I tell her there’s still more work to be done, she loves it. She has her pony, “Sunshine,” and she’ll ride her all day long.”
The horse times don’t end there.
“She loves to play horses too. We go to the barn and then we go home and she has all the Breyer horses. So that’s what we play. She also likes to dress up. Whatever we do, we have a lot of fun.”
Fun is a word Binkley often uses to describe her horse racing life. She’s hoping to experience more of that feeling in 2021.
“I have goals, but they change all the time because I want to keep pushing myself. I would like to have my own stable by the end of the year. The best horse I’ve owned so far is Queen Ann M. I claimed her for $5,000 and she made almost $50,000 in 2019. I’d like to have some more horses like her. So, that would be my goal this year, to work for myself and do my own thing.”
It’s just what any star is on the way type would want.