by Victoria Howard
If you’re a horse owner in the sport of harness racing, when the month of February rolls around you might encounter a bit of angina and sleepless nights when you have to start making stakes payments.
This task is tedious, but essential, and repeats in March, April and sometimes May.
That’s where Teena Freibert and Bluegrass Staking Service comes in.
Staking can be very cumbersome and confusing, so it’s in your best interest to choose a reputable staking service to help simplify the task.
There is no greater nightmare for an owner than when you buy or raise a colt or filly and discover months later you might possibly have a possible champion or top stake horse, but for some reason you either forgot or intentionally avoided staking your horse to a particular race.
A novice owner may not know how or where to stake your horse, so it’s best to seek a stake service to help guide you.
Born in Bowling Green, KY, Freibert fell in love with horses as a child, even though her family didn’t even know what harness racing was.
“I grew up in Louisville and after my freshman year at the University of Kentucky (UK), I had some free time, so I took a job at a family friend’s racing stable at the Red Mile Racetrack in Lexington,” Freibert said. “I loved the horses and the idea of racing so much that I offered to work for free in return for learning all about the sport.”
As it turned out, in the same barn with her friend was her future husband, Mike.
“We hit it off immediately and married a year later,” Freibert said. “I remained in school and changed my major to Animal Science and took a part-time job working at Kentuckiana Farm for Carter Duer.
“Ironically, Art Zubrod and Leah Cheverie [Brittany Farms] were also working at Kentuckiana at that time. We have remained the best of friends ever since.”
After graduating from UK, Freibert left Kentuckiana and got a job at the Tattersalls Sales Company in the pedigree research department.
“In July 1984 Mike and I had our first of three children,” Freibert said. “I wanted to be able to stay at home with my son, Ryan, so I made the decision to start Bluegrass Staking Service.”
She met with attorney, Tommy Bell, two weeks after giving birth and got in touch with a computer programmer to write a staking program.
“That year at the yearling sale I set up a card table stacked with staking contracts,” Freibert said. “At that time I didn’t have a single customer but by the time the season started I had signed 150 horses up and we were off.
“Working for Tattersalls I became familiar with the stake races and also serendipitously learned about a woman named Marie Monahan. Marie was the owner of a legendary staking service. Looking back on my journey, it seems like my steps were predetermined.”
Also, while working at the Tattersalls Sale, Freibert became friends with Moe Graif from Blue Bonnets in Quebec. Graif also ran a staking service, along with doing bookkeeping for several horsemen.
“Within three years, I purchased Moe Graif’s staking service and got started with many Canadian clients,” Freibert said. “Three years later, while I was at the North American Harness Racing Secretary’s meeting in Florida, I was seated next to Marie who confided in me she wanted to sell her business. The following spring, we struck a deal and my husband left his job with the state to become my full-time business partner. I attribute most of our success to our partnership that we both nurtured and 39 years later, we are still going strong.
“Today, Blue Grass Staking employs seven people. My sister-in-law, Cynthia, has been with us for over 20 years and my youngest daughter, Erin, joined our team in 2014. Tami is a full-time programmer who has completely rebuilt our program over the past three years and our newest addition is Ashley, who I’ve known since 2006 when I was her golf coach. My husband still works some — although he claims to be retired — and my good friend, Susan, helps out in the busy season.”
As far as customers, Bluegrass Staking is proud to serve most of the larger stables in North America and some overseas as well.
“We also have a huge number of smaller stables, but regardless of the size, we treat and give the same attention to everyone,” Freibert said. “Staking has changed in the years since 1984. In the beginning, the work was mostly seasonal, but now it is a full-time year-round job.
“From November to May we work long hours. For me, a 14-hour day is not unusual. We spend our off-season building a database of eligibility and fine tune our program.”
As for the future of harness racing, Freibert thinks it is going in the right direction.
“With the addition of dual eligibility and the wonderful programs Kentucky offers, we have seen an increase in the number of horses being staked,” Freibert said. “This year we hit a new record with 3,000 racehorses.”
Staking your horse properly is very important. It can be confusing and uncertain and that is where Freibert and the Bluegrass Staking team enter.
“Yes, staking can be very cumbersome,” Freibert said. “Our goal at Bluegrass is to help ease the pain and simplify things for the owner. For each horse we build a list of races based on the sire, the dam [in cases of dual eligibility], the previous payments and available early and late closers. We put it all together in a neat and simple package called a payment calendar. This provides a great overview of the options and allows our customers to make informed decisions.”
The Bluegrass Staking website allows customers to use their dashboard to make staking selections each month.
“Over the past few years, we have built some safety nets into the website so, for instance, if a customer tries to save their staking selections without choosing a sire stake event, they will get a pop-up reminder where they need to confirm the omission or change the selection,” Freibert said. “We also provide guidance on yearling staking because many of our yearling customers who are not involved in the racing end are not familiar with the stakes.
“On the racehorses we provide tools like the pop-up reminders and if we see something that seems way out of line we will bring it to their attention, but mostly trust that they are doing their job.”
What’s next for Bluegrass Staking?
“We have a huge clientele and the trust they put in us is quite humbling,” Freibert said. “Bluegrass Staking is my fourth child. Hopefully, in the next few years I will be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor and my daughter and awesome hard-working, dedicated staff will take BGS to the next level.”