Barry Shrum cultivates winners – be it pumpkins or horses

by Chris Lomon

What, if anything, could growing pumpkins and training standardbreds possibly have in common? Barry Shrum has the answer.

For over 20 years, Shrum and his wife Robin, a vice-principal, have grown pumpkins on their parcel of land in Woodstock, VA.

It has been both a labor of love and an award-winning endeavor for the couple.

“We enjoy it,” said Barry, who won first prize at the 2022 Virginia State Fair for his 756-pound pumpkin, while Robin placed third with her 614-pound entry. “Like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it.”

Barry’s winning touch doesn’t begin and end in the pumpkin patch.

Recently, he became an “Own a Horse for a Day” contest winner at Shenandoah Downs.

The initiative has eight fans entered into a draw to own a horse for one race on a designated day’s card. The contestants get to meet their horse, driver, and trainer in the barn area before the race, get pictures taken with the connections, and win their share of the $5,250 purse.

Barry has a connection to a previous contest winner.

His friend, Steve Wetzel, who had been a regular fixture at the Shenandoah County Fair, won the same contest a few years ago and is now a full-fledged, full-time standardbred owner, trainer, and farm owner.

“I was sitting in the grandstand with Steve Wetzel’s wife, watching Steve’s horses,” Barry said. “I said, ‘One of these days, I’m going to win that contest.’ I knew I was likely going to buy a horse one day, but they called my name out. My horse for that day was Leroys Skpn School.”

The 5-year-old son of Schoolkids had a legitimate shot at taking all the spoils.

Unfortunately for Barry and the other contestants, the weather had other plans.

“I figured I had a pretty good chance with this horse, but the races ended up getting rained out that day,” Barry said. “So, they ended up giving everyone in the contest 750 dollars.”

The experience didn’t dampen Barry’s enthusiasm for racing.

A longtime fan of the sport, his interest had grown to a point where thoughts of joining the ownership ranks had become more frequent.

“I worked at a sporting goods store about a mile from the track and I ended up meeting a lot of people in racing, some of whom have won stakes races,” Barry said. “I started hanging around them and learning more about the sport and the horses.

“I have been going to races at the fair since I was a little kid. I have lived here for most of my life, and I have always had a big interest in racing.”

Soon after his contest experience, Barry went online and started to research how to claim a horse.

Step one was joining the USTA.

The second step was looking at pacers and trotters who would fit his budget.

One day, his curiosity was piqued when he came across a grizzled veteran pacer by the name Pacific Stride.

The more Barry studied the son of Art Major—Terri Hall, a $100,000 purchase at the 2013 Lexington Select Sale, the more he believed the bay was a perfect fit.

“I found the horse I wanted to claim, but I ended up going to the owners and asking if they were interested in selling the horse,” Barry said. “They were and that’s how I ended up with Pacific Stride.”

Barry had plenty of support after making the purchase.

“[Trainer] Jimmy Viars, who has raced horses since the 1990s, told me that I could bring the horse to where he is and that he’d show me some of the ropes,” Barry said. “Steve Wetzel has a farm. I asked Steve if I got a horse, would I be able to keep it at his place and he said ‘Yes.’”

The neophyte owner’s original game plan for his horse changed quickly.

Between the spring and fall racing meets, Barry figured he’d have 15 weeks to campaign his horse in Virginia.

He soon realized there could be more opportunities for Pacific Stride to compete beyond Old Dominion.

“Rosecroft is only an hour and a half away,” Barry said. “I didn’t see myself racing there, but we did. I wasn’t listed as the trainer, but we had quite a few races with Pacific Stride there. He was always in the top five, including some nice seconds.

“I had Jimmy Viars and Kevin Altig, who is Brian Tomlinson’s son, as trainers for me before I got my trainer’s license. Jimmy was my trainer for the fall meet at Shenandoah. I helped him clean stalls and jog horses. He showed me the ropes and how he takes care of the business side of things.

“Kevin took me on and helped me a lot. He works for Steve, so it’s been nice to help one another out and I can learn as we go along.”

Barry would prove to be a willing student.

Pacific Stride’s first race under the tutelage of his new trainer resulted in a third-place finish at Shenandoah on April 6.

One race later, also at Shenandoah, the gelding was third again, this time as the 2-1 choice.

The third time would be the charm.

On April 21, with Fern Paquet, Jr. in the race bike, Pacific Stride, at 9-1, was tipped three wide in the final turn and passed four rivals en route to a 4½-length score in a time of 1:56.3.

“Fern was driving the horse for the first time and asked me what I should know about him,” Barry said. “I told him that he’s a good old horse, he tries hard, and he’ll come home strong. I said that if he could stay within 5 lengths coming down the backstretch, you’d have a big shot.

“Fern gave him a perfect drive. They were flying around the turn and pulled away from everybody.”

It was the 20th career win for Pacific Stride and the first for Barry.

“I had bet him to win about four times prior to that race, but on that day, I didn’t,” he said. “And of course on that day, he won. But that was okay. Watching him win as he did and having that first training win was a great moment.

“My wife and in-laws, who are big fans, were there and so were the Wetzels. My parents were there earlier in the card, but my mom got cold, so they left. My brother works in the test barn, so he was excited too. The crowd has become big fans of the local horses and Pacific Stride. They were roaring the day we won.”

The good times haven’t ended there.

There is a good chance Barry might add another horse to his stable.

He is quite familiar with the prospective owner.

“My wife got her groom’s license and I have been teaching her how to hook up the horse,” Barry said. “She jogged him and she said, ‘This is pretty cool… I might want one!’ If we get one, it will be one for her and one for me.”

Teaming up for a successful venture is nothing new for the couple.

When they aren’t devoting time to their beloved pacer, the Shrums dedicate part of the year to a treasured hobby.

Their penchant for producing prodigious pumpkins dates back 20-plus years.

“With racing and growing pumpkins, you get out of it what you put into it,” Barry said. “With pumpkin-growing here, there is another guy I help and that is just like racing. In racing, we all support one another and when it’s race time, we all try to get the win.

“What you put into the horse — the daily care, the time, making sure it is sound and healthy — is the same with the pumpkins, with a few variables, of course. Both are very time-consuming, but also very rewarding.”

On this day, Barry planted his first pumpkin seeds of the year.

“I thought if we do go to the fair, we better get started,” he said. “A lot of people in Virginia have already started. They grow some big ones, but we’ll see what happens.”

The fruits of his labor are still to be determined.

One certainty, however, is that he won’t be cutting any corners when it comes to his craft.

Just as it is with his horse ownership.

Has he considered going with orange as his training colors?

“We have orange and black,” Barry said with a laugh. “I suppose I could add a pumpkin logo on my colors.”

A perfect fit and far more than just a fashion statement.