by Chris Lomon
Annie Stoebe figured something had to be amiss when she crossed the wire on the night of Dec. 28, 2017 at The Meadowlands.
The tote board strongly suggested Uriel, a bay son of Explosive Matter, didn’t have much of a shot to win the amateur race on a cold winter’s night at the New Jersey oval.
At 64-1, the bay gelding, bred by Joie De Vie Farm LLC, hadn’t shown much in recent starts leading up to the dash, going off at a combined 197-1 in his previous three races.
Uriel’s driver, who also happened to be her owner and trainer, went into the race with an open mind, realistic about her chances, but certainly not resigned to defeat.
“You never say never,” said Stoebe. “Anything can happen once the race begins. That’s how I looked at it.”
When the field was sent on its way, she swiftly guided Uriel to the lead, a big one, in fact, the duo holding a 4 ¾-length advantage after the opening quarter-mile, and three lengths clear at the half-mile marker.
Still unfettered on the front end, the pair had increased their lead to 5 ½-lengths at the stretch call.
Stoebe then waited for the sound, the one of a rival or rivals poised to make a late charge down the lane.
Instead, she heard nothing. The margin of victory was 7 ¾ lengths.
“There was no horse that could ever beat him off the gate. I ended up looking at his lines and every start in his career that he won, he was on the front. So, I knew I would get him to the front. There is an advantage to sitting behind a horse every day and understanding how to rate fractions. I was able to get to the front and kind of slam on the brakes. Thankfully, no one challenged me, and we were able to get the win. He was the type of horse that you couldn’t knock him off his feet, but he would pull your arms off. It wasn’t very fun sitting in a hole with him.”
Her time with Uriel provided near daily lessons related to her craft.
It’s a relationship Stoebe remains grateful for, and one she worked tirelessly to develop.
“I had to learn a lot about that horse, to really devise a program that suited him. He was incredibly grabby, to the point you could hardly jog and train him. I switched him and did everything under saddle. He was a tie-up horse as well, and he would get stressed. I learned that if I rode him and trained him under saddle, his performance was night and day. He’s helped shape me as a trainer.”
These days, the Montana native’s number of training starts has surpassed the amount of career drives she’s had.
Last year, Stoebe went out on her own, and campaigned a pair of filly trotters, namely, Mimi Ocean Hanover, and Champagne Hanover.
“I was thrilled with how 2021 turned out, especially it being the first year where it was just me. One of my fillies, Mimi Ocean Hanover, won her first start in a Sires Stakes race at The Meadows. My other filly, Champagne Hanover, had a chip taken out of her knee. We knew pretty much her 2-year-old season was shot and that we would have to set our sights on her 3-year-old year. But she came back and won the last two starts of 2021.”
Those victories came at Harrah’s Philadelphia, the first a head score on Nov. 4 at odds of 18-1, followed by a 2 ½-length triumph two weeks later, in a personal-best 1:58.3.
The Hanover Shoe Farms-bred miss, a daughter of Bar Hopping, was a $140,000 purchase at the November 2020 Harrisburg Sale.
“Honestly, it was the biggest surprise I had the whole year, seeing Champagne Hanover come around. She just wanted to be a horse and it showed. She showed a lot of potential.”
As did Mimi Ocean Hanover, who qualified in 1:57.2 at Pocono on Feb. 27.
“She went faster than the open trotters, on an off track. That’s definitely a good way to start my season.”
Now, with five horses in her barn, Stoebe has not only increased the number of horses under her tutelage, but her own profile as well.
It is the end result of a triactor of sorts: hard work, self-motivation, and an unabashed enthusiasm for the industry.
“I love doing what I do. I look forward to every day. Not every day is going to turn out as you hope it will, but that just makes you more determined and more committed to your horses.”
As for yearly goals, Stoebe does set a few.
Her primary objective has nothing do to with personal numbers.
“I set goals for each horse. One of my owners and I actually sit down at the ending of the year and have a meeting. We discuss the goals we had set for the year, whether we achieved them and set new ones for his horses, the stable and everything as a whole. Each year, we try to get better stock, and see where the horses were lacking the previous year and try to make a gameplan to improve in those areas.”
Coming up with a winning blueprint is nothing new for Stoebe, who started her racing career working for trainer Brett Bittle.
For the horsewoman who grew up on a farm near Great Falls (a city in Montana located near several waterfalls on the Missouri River) and was a fixture in the world of barrel racing, which earned her a rodeo scholarship to Texas college, the decision a handful of years ago to change course and pursue a career in harness racing was a road worth travelling.
Her roadmap for further success is based on achieving more with less.
“I’m very happy with having a small number of horses. I want to be able to have more of a boutique-esque type of barn. Instead of having big numbers, I can have a barn where each horse has its own program, go at their own speed, and I can take the time to do what they need, not what I want them to do.”
Listening to her horses, said Stoebe, remains a cornerstone of her approach to training.
Keeping an open mind has also served her well.
“They all manage to teach to you something, you just have to be willing to listen to them. They do tell you. Unfortunately, it’s not always good what they are telling you, but once you figure out how to speak their language, it makes both of our lives a lot easier.”
Last year was a perfect example of that.
Stoebe is hoping the 2022 campaign is even more memorable than what her stable achieved in 2021.
“For me, just having two trotting fillies, the fact that they not only made the races, but both of them got a sub :59 mark… I felt that was a huge accomplishment. To get them to the races is one thing, but to see them both trot in under :59, that was a big goal for me. I didn’t know if I would achieve that, even in June and July. It’s nice when all the work pays off at the end of the day.”
On this particular day, a rare day off, Stoebe decided to relax in her preferred way.
“Of course, I went to the barn today and then went on a trail ride,” she said with a laugh. “What else do you do on your day off when you work with horses? In general, for us horsepeople, it’s not a career, it’s our life. Could I have a day off and go do something? Yes, I could. But I want to see how each horse is doing, make sure they get enough turn out, and make sure they’re happy.”
And yes, Stoebe is happy too. Very much so.
“I’m so happy that I made the decision to pursue a life in standardbred racing. My parents would love to have me back home, but they are also very proud of me. And that’s a good feeling.”