In 2021, he set career-best marks in top-three finishes (45) and purse earnings ($140,224) as a trainer and won his first race as a driver.
by Chris Lomon
Whether it’s Black Caviar, cheeseburger soup or his daily racing regimen, Austin Brubacker has found the recipe for success.
His career in standardbred racing began in the 2010s, a gig that saw him put in plenty of miles with pacers and trotters in tow, and one that piqued his interest about shifting gears into a different role.
“I started as a shipper for a friend of mine. He didn’t have his driver’s license at that moment, so I ended up shipping horses to Freehold… That was about 10 to 12 years ago. It wasn’t long until I started thinking about wanting to get involved in racing in a bigger way. I ended up buying a cheap $4,000 claimer, just to get started. I didn’t make a lot of money at the time, but I got really hooked on it.”
It was a bay trotting mare who made his decision to join the harness racing ranks a no doubter.
“Black Caviar, she made around $30,000 in three months. She ended up getting injured and she’s a broodmare now. I think that’s when I knew I was going to make racing my career. Back then, $30,000 was a lot of money. I owned 100 per cent of her. I trained her down myself and she was amazing. She was easy to work with, had a really nice gait and was just so straightforward. She just made my job a lot easier, and she showed me that if you are willing to put in the work, you can make money in this game.”
With the support of his family – he doesn’t come from a racing background – Brubacker launched his driving and training career in 2016. In seven starts in the race bike, he posted a pair of thirds. In 64 training starts, he notched seven wins, five seconds and four thirds, to go along with just over $92,000 in earnings.
Since then, he’s continued to progress with a relatively small number of horses. Currently, he has nine in his barn.
“I’m very lucky to have my family back me so much in what I do. They are always asking when I’m racing, how things are going, and what’s coming up. That’s really nice to have.”
As it is to have claimed his first win in the sulky.
Near the end of last year, Brubacker, now 31, was given an unexpected opportunity to pilot pacer Gold Star Yoder at Harrah’s Philadelphia.
The Gold Star Farm-bred gelding is trained by Tim Crissman.
“It was the 14th race on December 2, 2021. There was a traffic delay that day and some of the drivers were late coming in from Yonkers, so they just grabbed whoever was left in the paddock, and I happened to be one of them.”
With little time to prepare, Brubacker did his best to educate himself quickly on the son of Mysticism. He certainly liked what he saw in the form, and after a glance at the tote board, he felt even more confident in his chances.
“I thought, ‘If I don’t screw this up, I might be able to pick up a nice check for the connections.’ I remember they went very fast fractions, and I came first up. It made my job a lot easier. The horse was on the top of his game and won by almost three lengths. It was a big thrill, for sure. It all worked out. He had a strong qualifier the week before at Dover, and I just went on that. I actually raced three of my own at Chester that day and they finished one, two, three.”
The training side of Brubacker’s stable has fared well over the past few seasons.
He set career-best marks in top-three finishes (45) and purse earnings ($140,224) last year.
“It is going well. I have a nice group of trotters. Winning is always fun. That never gets old. I’m really focused on making sure my horses are in the right class, that they can be competitive and perform at their peak. I like my trotters, especially working with the young ones.”
For Brubacker, that aspect of training and the entire scope of the role is a genuine labor of love.
Any chance to be hands-on with his horses brings out a big smile for the Pennsylvania horseman.
“It really is rewarding when they work out. I qualify all of my own horses and some for other people as well. I’m always getting educated by other people’s horses, which I like. Education is key in this business. I also like to drive my own, so I know what I have. I like the whole training end of it too, even though it’s a lot of early mornings and late nights, plus all the stress. But I like being in the position I’m in.”
Life is indeed good for the man who sports maroon, white and black colors.
And not just at the racetrack.
Brubacker is anything but the stay-at-home sort, preferring instead to take advantage of the great outdoors whenever he finds the time.
“I love hunting and fishing. I wish I had more opportunity for those, but if I do have any free time, I’ll be outside. I’m the type of person that I’ll only watch TV if it’s a rainy night, and if I do, I’ll be watching TVG, tuning into to see The Meadowlands or racing from Canada. I don’t like to sit on the sofa. For me, it’s all about being outside.”
With one exception, however.
Cooking and baking have always played a big role in Brubacker’s life.
While he won’t be getting his own show on The Food Network, his culinary skills are prize worthy.
“I really enjoy cooking. All my friends come over and I’ll make lunch or dinner. Whether it’s pasta, lasagna or steaks, I just love cooking. I bake cookies too. When I was little, I would help him my mom in the kitchen. I was her little helper. We did everything together.
“Through my realtor, when I bought the house, they had a little get-together at the end of 2021 for the new homeowners, with a free meal. They also had a soup contest. I forgot about it until about two in the afternoon that day – the party was at five – so I ran out to the store and got all my stuff. I made a cheeseburger soup. I ended up getting second prize and $50.”
It’s the horses, though, that make Brubacker, who has amassed over $700,000 in career training earnings, feel like a million bucks.
Win or lose, the trotters and pacers feel more like family for the horseman, who doesn’t do much winter racing, instead focusing on breaking 15-20 babies a year.
“I love the horses. There is not a morning I lay in bed and say I wish I didn’t have to go to work. It’s not a job, it’s literally a hobby and a passion. I can’t wait to get there, even though I live a half-mile the farm. I bought a house about a year and a half ago. I had to pay a lot for it, but I’m glad I did. If I have free time, I’ll work around the house, landscaping or
doing anything outside. I’m grateful for everything I have in my life.”
The main ingredient for his success story?
“That’s an easy one… I just love what I do.”