by Chris Lomon
Justin Gould’s first driving win gave him much more than just a winning feeling.
It was two-plus years ago when the young reinsman pointed the pacing filly towards the starter car and readied himself for the start of the Iowa Sire Stakes event at What Cheer, the half-mile Hawkeye State oval.
Gould felt good about his chances leading up to the race, but was feeling decidedly different about the outcome soon after the field was sent on its way.
“I bought the horse, and I trained it down, and then I got to drive her in her first start,” said Gould. “I was boxed-in the whole race. At the three-quarter pole [in 1:35.2], I had nowhere to go, and I was trying to push my way out. The guy outside of me didn’t give me any room, so I just sat there. At the head of the stretch, the guy in front of me blew the turn a little bit, and I snuck along the inside and won by just over a length.”
An eventful journey, but also an educational one for the young horseman.
In just over two minutes — 2:06.1. to be exact — Gould learned valuable lessons about patience, perseverance, and resolve.
To this day, those remain a main part of his racing approach repertoire, both as a driver and trainer.
After joining the driving ranks in 2019, Gould has focused more on the training side over the past two seasons, campaigns that have yielded impressive results.
In 2021, in his first year as a conditioner, he won seven races, accompanied by 24 top-three finishes from 24 starts.
This season has been even better across the board.
Competing once again at Humboldt in his native Iowa, Gould has posted career-best numbers, including reaching the six-figure mark in purse earnings.
Not surprisingly, he’s thrilled with how 2022 has played out so far. One of the key reasons for the strong campaign comes in the form of 3-year-old pacer Hes Special.
Bred and owned by Steven Huffman, the son of Hes Watching—Fiore Hanover is 6-4-1 from 15 races to date.
“Things are going good so far this year. We have five yearlings we are breaking and training down for next year. This year, I had eight or nine. I had Hes Special, who has done so well for us. The owner gave me the horse earlier in the season and he finished second in his first start with me, and then won his next six starts in a row. I like him because he has this pull. He was that horse. He wanted to be on the front. If he didn’t get his way, he was a very tough horse to sit behind.”
Something Gould and his uncle, longtime horseman, driver and trainer Mark Mintun, discovered when he was recently in the race bike.
“After winning those six straight, being on the front, my uncle tried to give him a trip. When a horse came up beside him and boxed him in, he kind of swelled up and wanted to run over the horse in front of him, so he had to take him inside and we got disqualified. So, that’s how the streak came to an end.”
Despite the streak ending, Gould, just like he does with any other loss, put the big picture into perspective quickly.
“I’m very fortunate to be able to do this. It’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do my whole life. The way it’s working out is better than what I could have hoped for. My uncle and others would tell me that you keep going back every day. You can’t give up because you had a bad day. You have to go back and try again.”
It certainly helps when you have a familiar face along for the ride.
Although Mintun has decided to call it a career, Gould has support, and plenty of it, from his twin brother, driver/trainer James Gould.
There are times when sibling rivalry is front and center.
And those moments aren’t limited to the racetrack.
“We do everything together. James ended up coming to racing and doing it full-time which is great. He helps me and supports me, and I do the same for him. My brother and I like to play video games. We’re playing Call of Duty right now. We get competitive when we play video games and if we ever race against one another, it gets really competitive. But that’s good because we bring out the best in one another.”
It appears the best is yet to come for the 19-year-olds.
Working together in a different setting for part of the year is a shared goal for the brothers.
And while that reality might be a little ways down the road, both are eager to see it come to fruition.
“I would like to start going somewhere in the wintertime. It’s difficult just being James and myself in the barn. My uncle just retired. We don’t have anybody to help us with the babies in the wintertime if we went racing. So, I’d like to be able to go to Pennsylvania or California to race in the winter. That might be a little far out.
“I’d also like to have a horse in each division here, that’s what I’d like to have. Right now, we’ll have 10 for next year if they all make it to the races. It would be five 2-year-olds and five 3-year-olds, which is exactly what I want.”
The pair certainly had some ideal role models to learn from before they launched their respective careers.
At age 11, the brothers began working for Humboldt trainer Adam Hauser. Their grandfather had to retire from the sport after a heart attack, but their mother, Stevie Gould, and her brother, Mintun, continue to be a treasured source of information, tips, and more.
“Both of us have been very fortunate to have people show us the ropes and always be there for us. We know we can always count on them for so much and we’re very grateful for that.”
Just as Gould is thankful to be part of an industry he had admired for years.
These days, in amongst his usual daily tasks, he’ll work closely with his pacers and trotters, readying some for their final starts of 2022 and preparing others ahead of their hopeful debuts in the new year.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to work to develop them and get them to the races. But you never know what will happen. The best horse I have right now might not make it to the races. That’s just the way this sport is. But I understand that.”
Which makes the trips to the winner’s circle, whether drama-filled or drama-free, a cherished moment.
“Winning is never easy, including in racing. That’s what makes the good days so special. Sometimes, you have to have those bad days to get to those good ones.”