Brandy Wine on fire since taking over from trainer John MacDonald

by Chris Lomon

When a big opportunity presented itself, the young trainer took a deep breath and said to herself, “I can do this.”

Recollections of the precise moment, the one last year when she was asked to take over the string of standardbreds from trainer/driver John MacDonald, is still somewhat of a blur for Brandy Wine.

Understandable, especially when you consider MacDonald has over 5,000 wins combined and is still going strong.

“John basically handed over training to me,” said Wine. “One day, literally, he came up to me and said that he didn’t want to do the training side of things anymore. He said, ‘If you want to do it, it’s yours.’ I’ve been in the barn with him every day for the past three years, so I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot from him. That’s how I got those horses and owners, and it’s kind of been building from there.”

That would be somewhat of an understatement.

In her rookie season holding the training reins, Wine won 38 of 139 starts, posted 82 top-three finishes, accompanied by $175,801 in purse earnings and a stellar .420 UTRS rating.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is a lot of pressure.’ When you have the type of horses we have, you need to be able to show the owners that you are capable of getting the best results out of them.”

Wine, who currently trains 12 horses, relied on past experiences to help her in the present.

“The way I learned to do things is a lot different from the way I do things now. I started in the barn when I was able to walk, being around my mother [Jill] and my father [Tom]. Every single summer, I had a grooming job for a different person. Three years ago, I ended up with John. I feel that every single person I’ve been able to work with has taught me different things, skills that I’ve been able to apply to my own barn. Whatever the routine is now, it’s working for the horses.”

Crafting and creating a training identity of her own is far from complete.

Knowing she has plenty of support close at hand and more just a phone call away has been a source of comfort for Wine.

“Whenever I have a question, I can call my mother or my brother [Tee] and they have a great perspective, maybe different than mine. That is a huge help. Or I can call John, and ask for his advice. That’s really what helps me the most.”

Big success hasn’t come with an ego to match.

Instead, Wine is dialed-in on upping her game, eager to learn the ropes, open to other people’s advice, and focused on ensuring the horses are at their best when the starter car beings to roll.

The results speak for themselves.

“As for my biggest highlight – it might not sound like a big deal to others – but winning the open at Saratoga [Aug. 2, 2020] with my mare, Come Get The Cash, is my top moment so far.”

Wine owns the 6-year-old daughter of Western Terror, who won five races, posted five seconds, and a third from 19 starts in 2020.

The 14-time winner has delivered several memorable moments for her owner-trainer, as has Lyons Johnny, a 13-year-old pacing son of Mach Three who she also owns.

“Come Get The Cash was the one that gave me my first win [July 16, 2020, at Vernon Downs], my first win at Pocono [Aug. 2, 2020], my first win at Saratoga [Aug. 18, 2020] and Shenandoah Downs [Oct. 16, 2020]. She shows up every single week. There’s just something about this mare… she does well everywhere she goes.”

Just like Wine, who has tracked success at racetracks across the United States, including a $49,000 Florida Breeders Stakes victory with 3-year-old trotting filly Brasen Bo, last December at Pompano Park.

It’s fitting that on this day she’s pulling into Saratoga where she’ll have two qualify in the morning and three racing at night.

That she has been on the road early and will be back home late is nothing new for a horseperson that logs some serious miles throughout the year.

Wine has become used to long stretches of road and long days.

“Last year was just crazy. I was all over the place, literally. But it was great to get the opportunity to race at different places, get a feel of how your horses could compete at different racetracks. I think all of that time driving to those spots has really helped me.”

Some of that time behind the wheel is dedicated to thinking about her goals both in the short and long term.

“I love this industry. My goal for this year is to have a really good summer, to have the horses at their best, and to see that show up in their results. My bigger goal is to maybe end up at some place like Pocono and have some really nice horses to compete there. Last year, I tried Plainridge, Pocono and Yonkers – I did a little bit of everything each week just to see where I could really compete.

“I don’t really know where I want to end up. I kind of want to be closer to my family. They’re living in Pocono, so it would be nice if things could work out where I’m close by to them. For now, I’ll just focus on my horses and make sure I have them ready for wherever they race.”

Wine laughs when asked if her training career to date has exceeded her expectations.

“It’s a lot better than expected, to be honest with you. When I started, I wasn’t expecting to have as nice of horses that I have now. I think that’s the biggest part of it. The owners I have give me very, very nice horses, and I’m lucky that I have my parents, my brother, and John, to be there for me at any time. I feel very fortunate in so many ways.”