Emily Hay — Owner / trainer / driver

by Victoria Howard

The fact that Emily Hay’s family was not involved in harness racing didn’t stop her from making the sport her life and passion.

Hay’s start in the business was rather different than most people. Although she and her brother grew up (4-H) taking their cows, chickens, turkeys and sheep to the fairs, her introduction came when a note was left on her house door by a neighbor.

Call it fate, luck, or merely a coincidence, but in 2009 when a neighbor left a note offering a “free” male racehorse to Hay, she called her friend Bobby Werner asking his advice.

“Although I grew up farming and surrounded by animals, I knew nothing about harness racing or standardbreds,” Hay said. “When Bobby asked me, ‘Is it a pacer or trotter?’ I replied, ‘It’s a horse.’ Up until then I had seen races at Darke County Fair and knew the name Chip Noble.”

The gifted horse was a 4-year-old named Aloha Kelly, but his barn name was Joe.

“Bobby helped me get started or should I say, he basically threw me to the wolves, for I was completely in the dark,” Hay said. “He taught me a lot and I’ll never forget my first race check of $900 from Hoosier Park that Aloha Kelly made.

“Horsewoman Jamie McComber explained about claiming races where my horse had to race. Bobby had never mentioned it to me for he knew if I understood the game, I never would have probably raced Joe. But Joe is the one who pushed me to eventually get my trainer and driver’s license.”

Racing her horses mostly at the Ohio Fair circuit, Hay has also raced at Hoosier Park in Indiana, Northville in Michigan and Northfield Park in Ohio.

“My favorite track is Hoosier Park, but when I raced at Northville I brought along my son, Colton to the paddock to help me,” Hay said. “When Colton was in the locker room someone told him ‘This room is for drivers only,’ so the next time we raced there Colton wore his set of colors [which resembled that of driver Josh Sutton]. When the Michigan Racing Commission had the drivers blow in the breathalyzer and they saw Colton, they told him, ‘You have to blow, too.’ When he did, they told him, ‘he wasn’t over the limit on hot chocolate so he could drive.’”

Currently Hay owns two harness horses and two barrel racing horses and, of course, Hunter the pony (whose real name was Real Hanover, but was named after driver Hunter Myers).

Her favorite horses are Mr I Am, as he was the one who got Hay her first win and T Red, a classy horse that only cost $800.

“I drove T Red at the fairs the year COVID hit, in the Ohio Ladies Pace Series [now called the Spring Haven Farm Ladies Driving Series],” Hay said. “Red had to get special permission to race for he was 15-years-old. Every time he raced, he gave his all and I feel honored to have had the opportunity to sit behind: a legend. My son who was six at the time would jog Red as he was so easy going.

“T Red gave me the most driving wins and when fairs season ended [along with the help of Henry Gulley], we taught T Red his new career, to run barrels and poles. Red and Henry had a ‘love/hate’ relationship for Red pushed Henry’s buttons by going after [him] when the horse was in crossties. That old’ horse simply loved his job and if there had not been the 15-year-old cutoff to race horses, he would have raced at 16. In his final start in the finals at Delaware in the Ladies Series, Red got nipped at the wire.”

But that’s not all Hay does in the sport. Along with Bill Peters and Tim Harless (and Ayers Ratliff for several years) she helped run the Spring Haven Ladies Driving Series.

The Series consists of all women drivers at the Ohio Fairs. Each fair has the option to race but they have to front the purse money, then the top point earners go to the final during the prestigious Little Brown Jug Week.

Hay gives credit to the people who helped along the way, such as Werner, Tom Hope, Phil Belanger and Walter Haynes Jr. She also said driver Jason Dillander gave her a bit of advice.

“Stay humble and if you’re not you won’t be successful,” Hay said.

And, of course, Sammy Widger who is probably Hay’s favorite driver because “he’s just a good down to earth guy.

“There are a lot of people who have helped me and as far as the drivers, they are all really nice and don’t make us women drivers feel like we don’t belong out there,” she said.

Hay also was on the OHHA board for a few years and helped Tim Konkle with Facebook/Twitter and the Midwest Harness Report.

“I’ve also helped re-home a few standardbreds such as My Ghost [now used for 4-H], Branko [now a trail horse/pet] and we use our horse Real Hanover to help children during camps and to teach people how to ride,” Hay said. “I’d love to see a youth membership come into play for kids through OHHA or ISA. There are so many children who would love to learn and be involved.

“The sport is awesome, exciting and I feel totally blessed to have become a part of the harness racing family.”