Visibility good on Hunter Lofthus’ horizon

by Chris Lomon

Hunter Lofthus was in a fog, literally, during his first standardbred driving win.

The weather was anything but picture-perfect on Dec. 10, 2023, at First Tracks Cumberland, with the oval enveloped in a thick fog for the day’s races.

Fortunately for Lofthus, it was a much sunnier outlook by the end of the $4,400 dash.

“When I got to the track, the fog was ridiculous,” Lofthus said. “I thought there was a chance that they weren’t going to race. But I’m glad they did.”

In rein to Martaritaondarocks, the native of Fairfield, ME, was in search of his first pari-mutuel victory on that Sunday.

The fog that blanketed the half-mile oval at the quarter and three-quarter poles was highlighted on the race charts.

And while some of the action was impossible to see, Lofthus would emerge from the murkiness in front and on his way to a treasured milestone score.

At the finish line, Lofthus and the bay daughter of Pet Rock—Bella Marta were 5¼-lengths clear of their nearest rival.

The Caine Mackenzie trainee paced the mile in 2:01.

“I had around 10 starts before that win,” Lofthus said. “I was on a lot of longshots from the 8-hole. Finally, I got this chance. Cain told me the horse would be a perfect fit for me. And he was.

“I had been waiting for that moment and when it happened, it was exciting.”

It was a mix of playful barbs and heartfelt applause that greeted Lofthus on his way back to the winner’s circle.

“I could hear everyone yelling and screaming,” he said. “A bunch of the other drivers [including Kevin Switzer, Jr., Nick Graffam and Aaron Hall], who I am friends with, came into the winner’s circle. My girlfriend Emily and son [Brooks] were there too.

“There was a lot of teasing. People were telling me that I cut through the infield because no one could see me.”

Lofthus and Martaritaondarocks would team up again for another win one week later at First Tracks Cumberland.

“I was glad to see everything this time,” he said with a laugh. “I gave her pretty much the same trip as the week before.”

This time, however, it was clear sailing.

“I watch a lot of replays on RTN and with the first win, I would have watched it about a thousand times by now,” Lofthus said. “But you can’t see much. This one was way different. But I’m grateful for both those wins.”

Not too bad for a horseman with no ties to the sport.

It was, of all things, a chance meeting at a hamburger joint that led Lofthus to a life in horse racing.

In between jobs, he kept an open mind and watchful eye when it came to his career search.

Horse racing was not on his radar.

“Here, in Maine, it seems like most people get involved with the sport through their family,” Lofthus said. “I had no experience at all.

“Six or seven years ago, I ran into a friend, trainer Benson Merrill. He asked me what I was up to, and I told him I wasn’t doing anything. He happened to have 10 racehorses and asked if I wanted to come help by cleaning stalls, doing water buckets and other jobs around the barn.”

Lofthus decided to give it a shot.

The next morning, he was at the barn.

Little did he know that it was the start of a new career.

“It was fun,” Lofthus said. “I started out cleaning stalls, brushing horses, water buckets, and things like that. I did that for six or seven months.”

His connection to the horses took some time to develop.

“I was very cautious around them at first,” he said. “For some reason, I thought they wanted to hurt me. After a few weeks, I realized how kind, friendly and tame they were. It was then when I started to build those bonds with them.”

One morning, Lofthus came to his boss with a request.

He wasn’t sure what the response would be, but he figured it was worth a try.

“I convinced him to let me jog a horse,” Lofthus said. “Then I jogged two and then I was jogging them all. I trained one and the next thing you know, I’m doing it full-time.”

And doing it well.

Less than 40 drives into his career, Lofthus, who went on to work as a second trainer for Ron and Heidi Cushing, is now in the barn of Jamie Gerard.

The two co-own Forrest Blu, a 5-year-old son of Roll With Joe—Lima Fairest.

“Jamie has around 14 horses,” said Lofthus, who had 27 starts as a trainer in 2023. “I go there every day and it’s just me and him. It keeps me busy for sure.”

It also keeps Lofthus committed to his craft.

He’s determined to make the transition from up-and-comer to established horseman.

“In the last five or six years, I’ve learned a lot from different people,” Lofthus said. “I have also learned a lot from working with all types of horses. There is always more to learn, but I feel comfortable and confident in what I can do.”

It makes his short-term and long-term objectives seem well within reach.

One goal is to have his own stable.

“I would love to have a couple of higher-end horses and a couple of claimers,” Lofthus said. “I would also like to be successful enough to provide for my family. Maybe someday, my son will find his way to racing.”

There are signs it might not be a longshot hope.

Brooks is already showing a fondness for all things horses.

“Emily has riding horses, so he is getting more familiar with them each day,” Lofthus said. “He helps us feed them at night and he’s been to the barn and met some of the racehorses. He has no fear, that’s for sure.”

Lofthus looks forward to those moments.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “I like that Brooks is being introduced to horses at a young age. As soon as he can push a wheelbarrow, I’ll start bringing him with me.”

Outside of family time, in the winter months, Lofthus hits the local waterways for some ice-fishing adventures.

During those trips, he will, on occasion, think about the unexpected career he has found.

Fog or fair skies, Lofthus is grateful for what he walks into each morning.

“Six or seven years ago, I never would have believed I’d be doing this,” he said. “Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”