Stacey Wall’s horses give her something to shout about

by Chris Lomon

There is always one sure sign longtime caretaker Stacey Wall has a horse in the race.

It is abundantly clear to everyone in the grandstand, whether that happens to be at Buffalo Raceway or Batavia Downs, when a Ronald Houghtaling trainee has a big chance to cross the wire first.

In this instance, it’s not only visuals that tell the story.

“I scream at them as they go by on the last turn,” said Wall with a laugh. “If they are anywhere close, I’m sure they can hear me. I get nervous when they are out there because I want them to be safe and sound, but I love cheering them on.”

It is, perhaps, the ideal way to define the bond between Wall and the horses under her care.

The New York native’s connection with trotters and pacers dates back to her early days growing up in the Empire State.

“Both sides of my family have had a long history in racing,” she said. “I have been around it my whole life. There is a track in Hemlock, NY, where the Hemlock fair is, and that’s where I spent a lot of time.”

A place that literally felt like home for Wall and her family.

“I had a good friend of mine there when we were kids, and we would have a little clubhouse right on the fairgrounds,” Wall said. “My great grandfather, Erwin Dale, used to drive the starter car there. I have so many great memories of those days.”

Wall’s association with racing is found throughout her family tree.

“My dad, Richard Stoddard, who passed away a few years ago, and my aunt, Sandra — she doesn’t have any racehorses of her own anymore — were involved in racing for a long time. Two of my dad’s top horses were Kiwi Breeze and Carlin’s Best.

“My family owned a lot of the horses who are racing in Buffalo right now.”

Wall’s association with the sport and its horses has had a few stops and starts over the years.

At one point, she drifted away from harness racing for another equine arena.

“When I was a teenager, I got away from the harness side of horses and I rodeoed for years,” she said.

Eventually, Wall found her way back to the standardbreds.

“After I had my kids, my aunt got me back into the harness world again, so that’s what I do, day in and day out; I swear I never leave the barn,” she said.

That is certainly not a complaint.

Working for Houghtaling, a lifetime winner of over 150 races as a trainer and 143 as a driver, brings with it familiarity and trust.

It’s one reason why Wall always heads to and from the barn with a smile.

“Ronnie and my uncle Jeff [Dale] have been best friends their entire lives,” Wall said. “It’s cool to come back and help Ronnie now because he is family to me.

“So, I am with him every day, working with the nine horses in the barn who are racing.”

Not surprisingly, Wall has formed a close attachment to them all.

Does she have one or two she is especially close with?

“In December, Ronnie brought in a yearling and I helped break him to the cart,” Wall said. “He is my baby. I love him. His name is Best Met Yet. He will start racing in the sires stakes this year.

“I don’t know why he has had that effect on me. Maybe it’s partly because I broke him to the halter and to the lead. I walked him every day, a couple of times a day. I helped break him to the harness and the cart. Sometimes, he has a little bit of an issue coming out of the barn with the cart on. I get him to come out gracefully. I unhook him from the cross ties and Ronnie is in the cart, and he follows me out. I say, ‘Come on, Little Man.’ That’s the nickname I have had for him since the day he first came into the barn.”

And then there is Sanchez Rocks.

Owned by Houghtaling’s wife, Marie, the 8-year-old trotting son of Craze—Steuben Miss Pine has 174 career starts to his name.

Bred by Houghtaling, the brown gelding has earned just shy of $180,000.

Sanchez Rocks recently won the $9,000 TrackMaster 77 for trotters, at Batavia Downs.

“He is another wonderful horse that Ronnie has,” Wall said. “He’s such a classy horse and he always tries. I’m lucky to be around so many nice ones.”

It seems the feeling is mutual.

Wall receives a warm welcome the moment she first steps into the barn each morning.

The horses have come to know when she arrives.

“My car beeps if I leave my fob in it,” she said. “They hear that beep and when I open the door and turn the lights on, every single horse has their head over the doors, and they are calling out to me.”

She isn’t the only one in her family to feel the love from the horses at the Houghtaling barn.

“My youngest son has a special bond with one of Ronnie’s horses,” Wall said. “Whenever he can make it to the barn and especially on weekends, he comes to see Jenns Girl. She is just a lovable horse and she bonded with him the first time he ever came to the barn. When he is there, he just loves on her.”

Outside of the barn life, Wall enjoys spending time with her husband and their three sons.

She also appreciates the chance to experience a different two-wheel thrill.

“My husband and I like to ride motorcycles; it’s a fun way to get away from the demands of racing for a while,” she said.

Then there is her time spent in the saddle.

Wall’s partner for trail rides comes in the form of a 16-year-old pacer who earned nearly $375,000 over his successful racing career.

Freaky Flyer, trained by Rose Russo, who co-owned with her husband Lewis, was bred by Eugene Yoder of Topeka, IN.

The Russos were the 31st owner of the nomadic Freaky Flyer, who competed at numerous tracks over his 458 lifetime starts.

He is now under the watchful eye of Wall.

“Rose and Lewis, who retired him last year, gave him to me,” Wall said. “I broke him to ride and now I’m giving him a whole new outlook on life.

“He is awesome. He wasn’t hard to break to ride. Eventually, I’d like to turn him into a barrel horse, so I can barrel race him. He has speed, endurance, and a big heart. And I am his biggest cheerleader.”

Just as Wall has been for every horse in her care over the years.

As for what she defines as a perfect day at the barn, Wall pauses momentarily before responding.

“Everybody went out and trained well, jogged well, and came back to the barn in great shape; a nice, relaxing day,” she said. “No drama.”

And something definitely worth shouting about.