Trainer Julie Wagonblott’s horses are thriving on TLC

by Chris Lomon

From pats to pep talks, to post-race pecks, trainer Julie Wagonblott’s unabashed love for her horses is always on display.

In the minutes before one of her standardbreds heads out to the track, the pacer or trotter is peppered with affection and encouraging words ahead of their upcoming race.

“They are my babies,” Wagonblott said. “Everything is about them. Whenever I am at the racetrack, in the paddock, I don’t leave their side. I always tell them before the race, ‘Be careful out there and come back to me safe.’”

On the night of Feb. 8, everyone at Batavia Downs, horse people, horse racing fans and others, were all witness to a beautiful moment between Wagonblott and Pennant Seelster, a 10-year-old son of Manofmanymissions—Pepi Lavec.

The bay trotter, who Wagonblott has owned for four years, was in tough for the evening’s third race.

In rein to Michael Baumeister, Pennant Seelster, at 19-1, took on six foes in the $10,135 dash.

After a quick start to get away second, the gelding maintained his position through a half in 1:00.3 before being shuffled back to third at the three-quarter mark.

Wagonblott, with a bird’s-eye view of the action, watched nervously as Pennant Seelster and Baumeister endeavored to track down the leader, who was nearly two lengths on top with a quarter of a mile to go.

A second-place finish seemed well within reach.

Pennant Seelster had other ideas.

With the wire quickly approaching, the veteran trotter hit another gear and got up in the final steps to secure a half-length score in 2:01.2.

“I didn’t think he was going to win it, so I was standing there, urging him on,” Wagonblott said. “In the end, he took off. Our driver told us that after he came around the turn, he kind of let go of the lines and let Pennant do what he needed to, and he took over and took him for the ride.”

It was the 17th career win for Pennant Seelster, nicknamed Seely, and the first victory for his trainer.

The winner’s circle photo was a memorable moment for both.

“Wendy Lowery, who is the track photographer — she is amazing — told me she noticed the bond I have with my horses,” Wagonblott said. “In every picture that I have, I am kissing them. I don’t stand to the side of the horse. When I was positioning him for the picture, I was telling him he did a great job. Wendy caught me doing that and she got a photo of him looking at me and listening to me.

“He is also the horse who helped me get my trainer’s license. Here, you have to do a written test and then after you pass that, you have to do a track test. One of the things you have to do is take them around the track for a 2-minute mile. I chose him. Whenever I jog him, if he gets spooked, I just tell him, ‘Mommy’s back here’ and he instantly relaxes and goes back to what we were doing. He is special and will always hold a special place in my heart.”

It is a perfect example of the connection Wagonblott shares with her horses.

Alan, known as Lil Man around the barn, is an 8-year-old son of Dontyouforgetit—Betty Jean, who has made 153 starts, 28 of them wins, over his career.

Wagonblott has owned the Trotter for a Year.

“He is my special little guy,” she said. “I remember his first race. I had some people say, ‘What is he going to do? He’s so little.’ I ignored them, and low and behold, he took that race by nearly 12 lengths. I just grinned and smiled at everybody because he showed them what his little body could do and showed proof that size does not matter.”

And then there is American Jazz, also known as Princess.

The daughter of American Ideal—Southwind Jazmin has 11 career wins, including one this year for Wagonblott, who also owns the 5-year-old bay mare.

“She can be a handful because she is young and still learning manners, but she is a good girl and is eager to please,” Wagonblott said. “She’s funny. If she doesn’t win a race, she will fight on the way to the wash stalls because she wants to go back on the track as if she’s telling us she wants a redo.”

Whether they get their win photo taken or finish off the board, each horse is treated as if they won by open lengths.

“If they lose, I let them know it’s okay; we’ll just get them next week,” she said. “They always get their treats and loving after every race and believe it or not, whether it’s Alan, or my girl, American Jazz, who I’ve had less than a year, we have a routine that every night before I leave, I tell them I’m going home and to have a good night. Each one of them puts their heads out of their stalls for their goodnight kisses.”

If you had asked Wagonblott a few years back if those scenes were in her future, she likely would have laughed off the very thought of it.

“I met my boyfriend, Carmen, and he had one horse,” Wagonblott said. “I fell in love with this horse, the more I helped him and the more I went to the racetrack and helped him out. I ended up liking everything about the sport. That is what inspired me to get my trainer’s license. I look back a few years and I didn’t even know how to clean a stall and I was timid around the horses. I give a lot of credit to my boyfriend for teaching me everything about the horses, how to care for them, and what they need to be healthy and happy.”

All of it is a dream come true, literally.

“I was that young girl who always wanted a horse and hoped one day that I would have one to call my own,” Wagonblott said. “My mom always tells my boyfriend, ‘You helped my daughter fulfil her dream.’ Never in a million years would I have thought I would be training a horse. But that’s where I am.”

And there is no place else Wagonblott, who also owns a local store, would rather be.

“I love it,” she said. “I truly do. I feel so lucky and blessed to work with horses and to have such a special relationship with them.”

Something she is reminded of whenever she watches them leave the paddock and head to the racetrack.

“Every race they go out, I hope they win,” she said. “But if they don’t, there is always next week. If they come back safe and sound, that is the most important thing.”