by Chris Lomon
Lauren Harmon knows first-hand that a little change can make a world of difference.
Her career is in its early stages, but the 22-year-old owner/trainer/driver from Jackson, MI, has already shown a penchant for making wise decisions, whether her own, or acting on the advice of others.
Emerald Chip is the perfect example.
It was around two-and-a-half years ago when the third-generation horseperson was looking to buy a horse, specifically, a trotter.
Her father, long-time driver and trainer, Don Harmon, felt he had found an ideal one in Emerald Chip, a gelded son of Chip Chip Hooray, who had plenty of miles and success on his resume.
“I had a horse before and I fell in love with him too, but unfortunately, he wasn’t able to race anymore,” Harmon said. “My dad told me about this trotter that he thought I would like. At Northfield, we always have an amateur driving series and it’s always a trot. I was looking and looking and couldn’t find a trotter worth buying. My dad kept on telling me, ‘You need to buy this horse.’ He felt he was an easy horse to drive and an easy horse to get along with. Luckily, the guy who trained and owned the horse let me drive him the first two starts before I decided to buy him. And my dad was right. He was easy to drive and a nice horse to be around, so I bought him. Ever since that night, I’ve fallen in love with him.”
The pair enjoyed immediate success on the racetrack, including five-straight top-four finishes to kick-off their partnership.
On Nov. 13, 2021, in an amateur race at Northfield Park, the duo posted a one-length score in 1:56.3.
While things went smoothly, for the most part, in the coming months, a certain trend began to emerge that left Harmon scratching her head before she began tinkering with Emerald Chip’s equipment.
“He got to a point where he started making breaks, not often, but it seemed he did every time he had the rail,” Harmon said. “I made an equipment change and talked to my dad about it. He said that he thought it was the right thing to do. It worked out, but it didn’t work on the rail. We were trying to figure out if it was me doing something to cause it or if it was him. We couldn’t seem to figure it out. I kept racking my brain, thinking of what I could do differently when he draws the rail. My dad said, ‘Why don’t you take everything off him?’ He had an open bridle and I had a Murphy on him, so my dad suggested to take it all off. He thought that maybe he couldn’t see the other horses, so I should race him without it.”
Although she trusted her father implicitly, Harmon, whose grandfather, Reid Harmon, owned, trained and drove standardbreds, wasn’t sure if the new approach would work.
“I always want to keep an open mind and not be resistant to change,” Harmon said. “Still, I was sweating bullets as soon as we got on the track the next time when he had the rail. I thought, ‘What are we going to do? How is this going to pan out?’ He stayed flat and we ended up winning that night. It was great to win, but even more knowing that you don’t always have to approach things with one set plan.”
It’s an outlook that has served her well.
Shortly after turning 18, Harmon earned her driver’s/trainer’s license in August of 2018.
When she’s not teaming with Emerald Chip, Harmon and her father are tending to the string of horses races at Northfield Park. TheStable.ca is a fractional ownership stable serving over 900 clients. It was established in 2016 by Anthony MacDonald and his wife Amy.
Life in racing, Harmon said, is almost always busy, but also rewarding.
Having her father (he recently had a hip replacement), who raced all over the U.S. and posted over 3,900 career driving wins and 938 as a trainer, along for the ride, has been a treasured opportunity for Harmon.
“Right now, it feels like I’m getting to where I want to be,” she said. “I have 60-plus here at Northfield that I’m grooming for Anthony, so it’s a really good time for us. My stepmom left her horse, Poof Daddy, with us too. I’ve had a lot of fun driving him. He’s like my horse when it comes to driving. He’s a pacer, but he’s very easy to work with. I’ve had the chance to drive him in overnights and go up against pro drivers and to be able to do well against them is a great feeling.”
So, too, is in knowing she ended up in a fulfilling career.
“I think it just kind of happened,” Harmon said. “I trained my first horse in the bike with my dad when I was 16. I really enjoyed it and I knew then that I wanted to drive horses. I didn’t think it would turn into a career, but it just kind of happened that way.”
Perhaps the biggest highlight to date came during the week of one of the biggest events on the standardbred racing calendar.
Despite the enormity and pressure of the moment, Harmon rose to the occasion.
“It was quite the accomplishment to get to drive for my boss, Anthony MacDonald, at the fair in Delaware, OH, during Jug week,” Harmon said. “There were three divisions, two on Sunday and one on Thursday, Jug Day and I won with his horse, Walkonthemoon, in one division on Sunday and I drove my own horse in another division. We had a lot of road trouble in that race, but it was still awesome to put my own horse in at Delaware. I had four drives the week of Delaware and that was amazing. I came back and won the final on Jug Day with Anthony’s horse.”
And she did it by leaning on the words of her father, who taught her early on that in order to find success in life on and off the racetrack, a patient hand and willingness to learn can combine to produce a winning formula.
It’s something Harmon thinks of often when the starter calls the field to line up behind the gate.
“The biggest thing my dad preached to me was patience,” Harmon said. “Whenever I race a horse, whether they are up or down in class, you have to prepare them the right way and drive them the right way, as an individual. If you happen to get stuck with an outside post, more often than not, you stick to the rail. If everyone is pulling, maybe you sneak up the rail and win or at least hit the board. I learn something new every day and that’s important. I always want to be open to that. You also have to be willing to make changes that might seem outside your comfort zone.”
Personal objectives, for Harmon, are kept simple.
“I don’t really set a particular goal,” she said. “I want to learn more and try to do better than I did the year before. I want to keep taking those small steps forward.”
No doubt she’ll like where she’s headed.