Despite no ties to harness racing, Sarah Bruce is a natural

by Chris Lomon

Whether it is looking through the lens, in the race bike, around the barn, or on stage, Sarah Bruce has the standardbred version of the Midas touch.

For someone with no ties to harness racing, Bruce, born and raised in Nova Scotia, found a winning formula soon after she started her life in the sport over 15 years ago.

“I fell into it when I was older,” Bruce said. “I loved horses when I was growing up, but I didn’t even know this was a sport. Once I found it, I was hooked.”

In a completely foreign environment, Bruce hardly looked out of place in her first year as a groom.

She felt a kinship with the pacers and trotters under her care from day one, a bond that has grown deeper over the years.

Just Lovey, a daughter of Western Paradise—Love Actually, was one of the first horses Bruce felt a strong connection with.

The brown pacing mare, bred in Nova Scotia by Earle Schurman, would become a force in the claiming ranks at Truro Raceway.

“I lucked into her,” Bruce said. “A friend of mine owned her at the time and she was for sale at a pretty cheap price. I kept bugging my husband at the time to buy her, but he bought another one that didn’t work out. So, we sold that one and we ended up buying her.”

It turned out to be a wise investment.

“I paid $1,000 for her and she ended up making about $3,000 in the next couple months after she came to us,” Bruce said. “The next year, she took two new life marks. We had a mares’ pacing series here and she ended up beating some mares who were quite a bit better and more experienced. She ended up making about $8,000 for us, which is a nice number for a lower-level claimer.

“She had chips in her ankle since she was a 2-year-old, but it ended up being too much and we wanted to make sure she was taken care of, so she is living on a 20-acre farm in Windsor now. I try to pop in once a year to see her — I also have another horse out there — but I check in on them and they are both doing well.

“The horses deserve a good place to go after they finish racing, so I do my best to rehome them.”

Just Lovey was featured in the December 2018 edition of the I Love Canadian Harness Racing Fan Club’s Heart of Harness Racing Calendar.

“I love taking my camera out and getting pictures,” said Bruce. “I try to get pictures of the babies as they train down over the winter so that I can give them photos to the owners.”

And then there is Elm Grove Maddy.

The bay daughter of Stonebridge Terror—Elm Grove Dallas is another example of Bruce’s penchant for bringing out the best in a racehorse.

“We helped break her here,” Bruce said. “She was okay as a 2- and 3-year-old — she ended up breaking a pastern at 3 — and tried making it in Ontario, but it didn’t pan out.”

A return to Nova Scotia ended up being the winning formula for Elm Grove Maddy, who earned Most Improved Mare of the Year and Mare of the Year at the 2019 Truro Awards.

“We gave her some time off and then started training her back as a 4-year-old,” Bruce said. “She was training really well, so we thought we should scoop her up before other people took notice. We bought her for $6,300 and she ended up winning her first five races in a row and took her life mark that year.”

Originally a $4,750 purchase at the Atlantic Classic Sale in Prince Edward Island, the bay mare, who had 223 career starts, almost made the record books.

“She just missed getting the mare’s fastest mile at Truro,” Bruce said. “She was racing in the top class, and she was the only mare in against the boys. The mile went in [1]:54.1 and she got beat by half a head by Woodmere Ideal Art, who raced in the [2020] Gold Cup & Saucer.

“She was pretty special to me. My husband and I ended up splitting up at that point, so we sold her for $16,000. I didn’t want to sell her, but it was the only option at that time. She went on to do quite well in the U.S.”

Bruce has done quite well in her own right.

She is currently working in the barn of trainer George Rennison. The lifetime winner of 674 races (he has 288 driving victories) has enjoyed his two most prosperous campaigns, earnings-wise, in 2022 and 2023.

It has been the perfect fit for Bruce.

“Right near the end of COVID, George was looking for a full-time person and I was lucky enough to get it,” Bruce said. “He’s great to work for. We also have a lot of nice horses who are wonderful to work with.

“I get to do a little bit of jogging and a little bit of training. He’s easy to get along with and it’s a very happy environment. It’s more communal here, but right now, I am putting away around seven to eight horses a day. I usually jog six to seven a day.”

The most challenging part of Bruce’s day is when she jogs her last horse.

“I love it,” she said. “I could stay out there all day.”

Bruce feels very much the same way about the racetrack itself.

Just as she does when it comes to the racing industry in Nova Scotia.

“I love our track here in Truro,” she said. “There are great people, it’s a great facility, and it’s so enjoyable on race day. Everyone is smiling and in good cheer. We all support and cheer for one another. Most days are good days at the barn. We have lots of owners who like to stop in, which is great to see.

“I also like Inverness [racetrack] as well. The people are very down to earth and it’s such a great environment.”

The sport has taken notice of Bruce’s contributions on more than one occasion.

A few years ago, at the annual Truro awards ceremony, she was feted as Horsewoman of the Year. Recently, she received Groom of the Year honors for 2023.

Not bad for someone who at one point didn’t even know harness racing existed.

“I went to university for pre-veterinary, and I always wanted to follow an animal route, but I never knew how much I was going to enjoy harness racing,” she said. “It’s been 16 years since I came to Truro, and I just love it.”

Outside of the hectic pace of horse racing, Bruce and her boyfriend enjoy discovering new places in Nova Scotia.

They also have two dogs, one a Border Collie, and the other an Aussie Heeler, that keep them busy.

When it comes to her magic touch with the horses, Bruce isn’t quite sure where that came from.

She isn’t about to question it, though.

As long as it keeps on working, she’s happy to be along for the ride.

“It is something that just clicked, I guess,” Bruce said. “I have worked plenty of other jobs and nothing compares to this. It’s so enjoyable.”

Almost magical, perhaps.