The wife of driver Kyle Husted has a slim lead on perennial Illinois champion Terry Leonard.
by Neil Milbert
With a month remaining in the second and last of the year’s two meetings at Hawthorne Race Course, first-year trainer Amy Husted is clinging to the lead in the trainer standings.
Going into tonight’s (Aug. 19) resumption of racing at Hawthorne, the 27-year-old wife of driver Kyle Husted has 18 winners, one more than perennial defending champion Terry Leonard.
Since moving to the Midwest to be with Kyle five years ago, Amy had been working with him at the barn while he was the trainer of record.
“That was the only way I could get her the recognition she deserves,” Kyle said, explaining why she is now listed as the trainer. “She’s there at the barn every day training them. She does it all and I just help her. We still make decisions together but she’s the boss.”
Heredity and environment laid the foundation for Amy’s immediate success.
She was born in Vernon, NY, where her parents raced horses. Her father, Jimmy Cruise, is a retired driver/trainer and her mother, Robin Cruise, is training horses for Carter Pinske at The Red Mile.
“My parents got divorced when I was about 8 years old,” Amy said. “My dad continued to go to Vernon Downs, while my mom started working for Erv Miller and I would spend my summers in New Jersey with her. I started jogging horses for Erv when I was about 14. I (later) worked for Erv and then for Tony Alagna for a while.”
Alagna currently ranks No. 1 among North American trainers in purses earned and Miller ranks No. 3 so it’s safe to say that some of their expertise has rubbed off on Amy.
There’s also the genetic factor.
“My mom is a Farrington,” Amy said. “My grandpa, Frank Farrington, trained a lot of good horses and my uncle, Bob Farrington, had the great Rambling Willie. My uncle is in the Hall of Fame and so is my grandpa on dad’s side, Jimmy Cruise, Sr. I guess you could say that I have a good pedigree on both sides.”
Amy and Kyle met at a Halloween Party in New Jersey. He also has racing roots and a stint working under a world class trainer on his resume.
Kyle, who will turn 31 in September, comes from the small town of Altamont in southern Illinois. His mother, Pam Coleman, was a trainer and so were his grandfather and great grandfather.
“My mom raced a few horses in Chicago that I jogged,” he said. “I drove in my first race when I was 15 or 16. I worked my way up from the amateurs to the Illinois county fairs, to the pari-mutuel tracks, to having winners on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions.
“The January after I turned 18, I came to Chicago and raced at Balmoral and Maywood. I went to Prairie Meadows in Iowa with my provisional license and won my first race.
“After Balmoral and Maywood closed I went east and worked for Nancy Takter (North America’s 2020 Trainer of the Year) and Nifty Norman for a while.”
He and Amy started dating after they met at the Halloween party and she followed him when he returned to Chicago racing to train and drive at Hawthorne. They married in 2021 and she gave birth to their daughter, Emma, in November.
“We only had about three horses when we first got together,” she said. “Kyle was mostly catch-driving.
“David Brigham (from Litchfield, MI) was the first owner to trust us and buy us babies and then we had others come to us. John Schwarz (from Wood Dale, IL) is another of our big owners and so is Michael Brenczweski (from Plainfield, IL). Michael’s father owned horses with our uncle Bob but none of us had any idea until we owned horses together. We couldn’t be successful without great owners supporting us.”
The first yearling the Husteds bought with Brigham was Fox Valley Exploit and the 5-year-old mare is the best horse in their stable. On the Night of Champions she has won the Incredible Tillie at age 2, the Plum Peachy at 3 and the Tony Maurello at 4. Those triumphs put her in the distinguished company of Fox Valley Gemini as one of only two horses with undefeated records in three or more starts on the Night of Champions.
Indicative of Fox Valley Exploit’s class, after the Hawthorne meeting the Husteds sent the Illinois-bred daughter of Sportsmaster and She Likes It All to the Meadowlands where she earned $35,875 in 10 starts.
Amy and Kyle have 18 horses at Hawthorne and six at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing and Casino and on Monday they added to their stable by buying eight Illinois-bred Yearlings at the Land of Lincoln Sale.
“Amy has a few nice 2-year-olds and a 3-year-old who are starting to blossom,” said veteran Hawthorne track announcer Peter Galassi.
He cited the 3-year-old pacer Get E Up, who has a lifetime mark of 1:51.2; the 2-year-old male trotter Niko Man, a winner last week at the State Fair in Springfield in 1:55; the 2-year-old filly trotter Fox Valley Candor, who broke her maiden last Friday at Springfield; and Fox Valley Landen, a 2-year-old gelding pacer with two wins and three places in his first six races.
The performances of the Illinois-breds trained by Amy suggest another big Night of Champions might be in the offing for Kyle, who in 2018 was a catch-drive winner of two of the races for trainer Steve Searle and another for trainer Harold Guerra.
“Amy not only is good with Illinois-breds, she’s good with claimers, too,” Galassi said. “She claimed an older male pacer Sunny and Eighty and he won first time off the claim and a 9-year-old gelding pacer Star of Oz, who won a conditioned race at Hawthorne on Sunday night.”
According to Kyle, getting involved with claimers was a “culture shock” for Amy.
“I grew up with claimers, while she never had taken care of a claimer or trained a claimer until we got together,” he said. “She was well aware of the claiming game but she was in shock the time we lost the first one. The look on her face when she realized the horse wouldn’t come home with her was priceless.”
Amy has strong emotional ties binding her to two of the horses in her barn — stable star Fox Valley Exploit and a 9-year-old gelding pacer named Dash of Danger.
“We’ve had Dash of Danger for about five years,” she said. “He’s just a consistent old warhorse. Last year, he broke a sesamoid and had to have surgery. Sunday night at Hawthorne he made his first start in a year. He drew the rail and Kyle just wanted him to have an easy race but he ran through a hole that didn’t exist to win and then he had his number taken down for causing interference and was placed fifth.”
The Husteds will be headed to Hoosier Park after the Hawthorne meeting ends on Sept. 11, but are undecided on where they’ll go for winter racing.
“The last two winters we went to Florida but now it’s uncertain,” Amy said. “We just bought a house in Anderson, Indiana. We’ve had to branch out and start a small stable at Hoosier so we have a place to race when Hawthorne is closed.
“We would love to race full-time in Illinois, but it’s just so hard (to base here) because of the racing schedule.”
The closing of Balmoral Park and Maywood Park in 2015 followed by the 2021 closing of the Midwest’s premier thoroughbred track, the historic and palatial Arlington International Racecourse by corporate owner Churchill Downs, Inc., made Hawthorne the only track in the Chicago market to accommodate both breeds.
As a consequence, this year began with a Jan. 7-March 20 harness meeting followed by a thoroughbred meeting. The standardbreds went back to the track on June 30 for the current meeting. After the meeting ends thoroughbred racing will resume on Sept. 22 and continue through Dec. 31.
To minimize the damaged created by the time-share situation, the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, Hawthorne and the Illinois Department of Agriculture made arrangements to bookend the current meeting with races at the Springfield State Fairgrounds on June 17, 18, 24 and 25, Sept. 16, 17, 23, 24 and 30 and Oct. 1.
The annual races at the State Fairs in Springfield and DuQuoin also have taken on added importance. Springfield scheduled races for last week on Friday and Saturday and this week for Wednesday and Thursday. DuQuoin will race Aug. 26 and 27.
For drivers and trainers, the status quo makes for a lot of time on the road. Springfield is about a 190 mile drive from Hawthorne, while DuQuoin is a trip of approximately 325 miles.