Jayme Weller’s love of harness racing deepened as she got older

by Chris Lomon

Jayme Weller’s literal view of harness racing is not what it once was.

As a fifth-generation horse person, Weller’s connection to the standardbred world dates back to the days before she took her first steps.

“I would always hang out in the barn with my aunt and my uncle,” Weller said. “So, I remember them taking me to Raceway Park in Toledo [Ohio].

“On race days, since I was so young, I would always get stuck sitting on the little concrete partition between the paddock and the grandstand. My aunt would normally be in the paddock with the horses and my uncle would stay out with me. So, my aunt and I could have a conversation between the partition.”

Not the ideal scenario, but there were plenty of other opportunities and moments for Weller to be side-by-side with her aunt and uncle.

She even had her own playroom, so to speak, on the way to and from the races.

“A lot of those early days would be sitting in the barns and watching my aunt and uncle work with the horses,” Weller said. “I had my spot in the back of their truck with all my toys.”

When Weller hit her teens, there was a friendly face who always gave her a friendly reminder that she would soon be able to cross the fence to the paddock.

She always appreciated those interactions.

“I’d always go and talk to the security guy there because they also had a little grandstand right outside of the paddock,” Weller said. “He’d always joke around with me, ‘A couple more years, a couple more years.’”

And then the day finally came, the one where she could walk freely through the paddock.

It was a moment she had thought about more and more as her 16th birthday drew closer.

“The day I finally got my groom’s license, I couldn’t remember my numbers,” she said. “So, I had to pull my little card out. I can remember the first time I ever had to sign in and go into the paddock.

“It was a whole new world. I’d been around the fair tracks because of my family, so I’d always been actively involved. But the first time going into the paddock at a pari-mutuel track, that’s one thing I’ll never forget.”

Weller felt an instant bond with the horses and horsepeople.

Following in the racing footsteps of her grandparents, Jay and June (Dillman) Weller, her father, Jay Weller, her aunt, Jayne Weller, and cousin Pam Weller, a charter at the fair races, seemed like a 1-9 slam dunk.

But it wasn’t the case; at least for a time.

“I honestly never really had [the racing bug] until later on in my life,” Jayme said. “It was always there, and it was always available to me, so it was part of my life for such a long time.

“I moved away from home when I was 21. I went down and I started working for the USTA [United States Trotting Association], which I did for 13 years.”

Midway through her time at the USTA, Jayme experienced a first; something that would eventually change her career path.

“Probably about my sixth or seventh year there, I went into partnership on a horse with my dad,” she said. “It was a great feeling to have a horse and to watch it race.”

Eight years ago, Jayme made her own purchase.

The racing bug had finally got her.

“I had around $2,500 to $3,000 saved up,” she said. “I ended up buying a horse by the name of Talkaboutaqueen for $2,500.”

A modest price tag didn’t prevent the daughter of Oaks Enforcer—Trouble Talk from finding success on the racetrack.

The pacing mare did it all under the watchful eye of Jayme.

“This is the first time that I really started conditioning on my own,” she said. “My dad was always there to help me. He took care of her during the week, and I would come up on the weekends.

“She was my first for everything. She was the first one I really went an actual training mile with and who I conditioned from being a yearling into [an older] horse.”

Trainer and Talkaboutaqueen proved to be a winning duo.

“She raced until she was 8 and then I retired her,” Jayme said. “She gave me my first fair win, my first parimutuel win, she was part of my first training double. I won an Ohio Sires Stakes with her.”

Jayme, who receives a helping hand from her sister Courtney at the barn on the weekends, is enjoying everything associated with the training life.

She is equally grateful for all the advice and support from her family.

“My family is very old school,” Jayme said. “I think, technically, I’m like a fifth-generation horseperson, as my great-grandpa used to do farrier work. So, I’ve always been taught there’s the right way, there’s the wrong way. There’s my dad’s way, there’s my aunt’s way, and then there’s finding my own way.

“A good feed program is always going to be the base, a good conditioning program, but one of the things I guess they’ve always taught me is to take it slow, not to rush things, and to let the horse tell you when they’re ready. You’re going to get a lot more longevity out of those than if you push them to fit into cookie-cutter training.”

That recipe for success continues to serve Jayme well.

Currently, she has five horses racing and 12 in training.

It’s no surprise that her trainees display the same work ethic as Jayme.

“I can’t say I necessarily gauge success all on money, but more on the performance of the horse from where they start, and where they finish and how much they’ve grown in between,” she said. “I put in an honest effort every day, every minute, every hour. I might not have the highest-class horses, but for the stock that is available for my budget, they give their all every race.”

Jayme also tends to other horses at her breeding farm, which is home to broodmares, sucklings and weanlings.

It’s a busy life, but a fruitful one for her.

When she isn’t overseeing her horses, at the barn or on the farm, she devotes a majority of her free time to her 15-year-old son.

“He is very interested in baseball,” Jayme said. “He’s got Stage 3 kidney disease, so we’ve been working through it for about five or six years. When I have the time, playing catch, playing baseball with him, and trying to be a parent at the same time while managing a stable; you find a way to make sure everything is taken care of.”

In one year, Jayme and her son can add a new shared interest to their list.

His view of racing, like his mother’s once was, will soon change.

“So, he’s got one more year before he can come to the paddock,” Jayme said. “He’s been to the fairs, but he’s got one more year until he can really be licensed as a groom, and he can be in the paddock too.”

Jayme is certain he’ll like what he sees.

After all, she knows just how it feels.