by Victoria Howard
Growing up in New York, young Becky Healey often attended harness racing’s greatest racetrack, Roosevelt Raceway. From the time it opened its doors in 1940 until closing in 1988, Roosevelt Raceway was “where it all began.”
It was the original home of the Messenger Stakes — part of the pacing Triple Crown — and also the first track to use the mobile starting gate.
Such greats as Carmine Abbatiello, Billy Haughton, Stanley Dancer, Sanders Russell, John Chapman, Eddie Cobb, Sacha Warner, Frank Safford, Delvin Miller, Joe O’Brien, Lucien Fontaine, Benny Webster, Buddy Gilmour, Eddie Cobb and Del Insko were just a few who helped make Roosevelt Raceway the most popular harness track in the world.
Champion horses Adios Butler, Speedy Scott, Bret Hanover and Romeo Hanover competed on the half-mile track. In fact, almost every great racehorse in the ‘60s and ‘70s raced at Roosevelt Raceway for it was the creme de la crème of harness racing.
Eddie Cobb, trainer of Adios Butler, Times Square, Jean Laird and Jerry The First, can credit some of his success to the expertise help from his friend and second trainer, Buck Norris, before Buck went out to establish his own productive career.
Norris’ daughter, Becky, remembers her life growing up around the racetrack.
“I was born and raised in Westbury, New York and my playground was hanging out at Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceway.
“My dad, Buck Norris, was a top trainer and my mother, Jo Lois, was the bookkeeper for his business. My brother Scott and I returned to help dad in the family business after graduating from college.
“After graduating from Colorado State University with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, I interned at Castleton Farm in Trenton, Florida, and then worked briefly at Castleton in Lexington, Kentucky, before returning to the family.
“I met my husband, Mark, in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where we both winter trained. We would go back with refreshed horses and train them at Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway. In 1999, we moved to Earleville, Maryland to raise our three children.
“During that period, I worked for trainer Dan Warrington. After 10 years, I stopped working to care for my ailing father. When I was ready to return to work, fate seemed to intervene, bringing me to Winbak Farm and my present job as broodmare manager.
“My job includes overseeing our several hundred broodmares and group of retired mares. I keep track of their blacksmith schedule and reproduction records, entering the information into our horse farm management program.
“During the busiest time of year — breeding season — I assist our vet with checking mares and calling the breeds for the day. I then put all the notations she has told me and enter them into our “palp” sheet determining who gets checked on what days. I’m also responsible for collecting our Delaware and Maryland stallions and preparing the semen for artificial insemination and transporting the semen.
“Our foals are normally born between January and June. I’m responsible for all mare and foal movements and entering their locations in our HFM.
“When it is time to move mare and foal to our yearling section, I group the foals by sex and age, and determine their new field locations. (This occurs sometime in October).
“In the beginning of November we begin the weaning process and relocating the mares back to the main farm. Once again, I group the mares into barren fields and make sure pregnant mares are grouped into the proper fields according to their last breed date. It is a job that includes much time outside with the horses, but a tremendous amount of work in the office.”
Winbak Farm is one of the sports finest farms where many champions were born and raised, such as Muscle Hill, Bettors Delight, Courtly Choice and Roll With Joe.
“Our Delaware stallions include Badlands Hanover, Roddys Bags Again, Glidemaster, Classic Card Shark and Royal Mattjesty and we are in the process of adding new stallions this upcoming breeding season.
“As far as the broodmares, Yankee Blondie (the dam of Muscle Hill) is probably one of my favorites, along with Arts Bid.
“Arts Bid simply amazes me and has my everlasting respect for she’s super sweet and an awesome mother, despite her being totally blind. She gets along beautifully with a little special care (i.e. a bell around her foal’s neck, and her own special field).
“Many of the broodmares we have or have had I’ve either cared for at the track or watched them raced. There is nothing more gratifying than watching these ladies come full circle.
“At Winbak, our goal is to sell all the foals born here. When a problem arises we have a great vet, Dr. Sarah Mackie, along with foaling manager, Jerry Crump, yearling manager, Jim Ladwig, and general manager Jack Burke, along with a great working relationship with New Bolton Center and Manor Equine hospital handling the situation in the best manner for the horse and getting the greatest success rates.
“We have many, many retired mares that live out their lives in peace with the best quality care. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the Thomson family for giving every horse top care.
“We have a great group of people here at Winbak, making it one of the sport’s best. We are passionate and knowledgeable about our jobs and horses. It is my greatest joy to drive into our farm every day and be part of this wonderful operation — day in and day out.
“I’m so lucky and blessed to have a new playground of so many horses and to be a part of their lives. It’s definitely a dream come true and I’m so thankful to the Thomsons for letting me be a part of the Winbak family.”