PLAINS — When Tom Jackson and Howard Taylor bought a yearling almost two years ago in Harrisburg, the goal was to race the horse in the Hambletonian.
That was a pipe dream – until last week.
Jackson, 52, a Pittston resident, will take the horse, Jacksons Minion, to the Meadowlands today for one of the biggest harness racing events in the country. With a $1 million purse, the Hambletonian will be the biggest race in Jacksons Minion’s career.
Jackson, co-owner, trainer and driver for the now 3-year-old gelding, has been working with the horse from day one and feels he is ready. But it wasn’t until a race just two weeks ago that Jacksons Minion proved he could race in the Hambletonian.
At The Meadows, Jacksons Minion was going off at 10-1 in the Arden Downs Division. Both Taylor and Jackson weren’t set on the Hambletonian; instead, the duo was thinking of taking the horse to different, not as prestigious, race.
However, facing tougher competition, Jacksons Minion won the event with a track record time of 1:53 1/5, two seconds faster than the best race in his 15-start career.
“He had to have some something special to even qualify for the Hambletonian,” Jackson said. “We thought he deserved this chance.”
He’ll get that chance today in what Jackson calls the best trotting horse race. The horse’s chances, according to Jackson, are better than ever. Jacksons Minion has now won three straight races heading into the Hambletonian.
There are two heats in the Hambletonian – one nine-horse field and one 10. Jacksons Minion goes off in the 10-horse field. The top five horses from each heat will race in the final. Jacksons Minion goes off at 30-1 in the heat race.
“I think he has a really good chance of making the final,” Jackson said. “All of the top horses are on the outside of me. That gives me the advantage. I have to try and get him out of the game to stay close to those horses.”
In Jacksons Minion’s 15 starts, he’s never raced a one-mile race. The Hambletonian, however, is one mile. The horse has been competing in 5/8th-mile races.
“I think it will only help him,” Jackson said. “He never ran the half mile well. I still think he’s going to step up on the one mile track.”
Why ‘Jacksons Minion’?
Race horses are known for having eccentric, sometimes inexplainable, names. There’s a story behind Jackson Minions’ name.
Years back, when Taylor’s father passed away, Jackson made his way to Taylor’s house for Shiva, a week-long mourning period in Judaism. Jackson wasn’t planning to stay for the Minyan, a quorum of 10 men for a traditional Jewish public worship.
The rabbi was scheduled to arrive at the house a few hours later. In the meantime, Taylor opened a bottle to pass the time and convinced Jackson to stay for the Minyan. While passing the time, the duo decided they should buy a horse and name it Jacksons Minion in honor of Taylor’s father. Although Taylor spelled the name wrong, it stuck.
New home at Pocono Downs
Jackson grew up in Maryland and has been around horses his entire life. He watched his father compete, and has been involved in the sport ever since.
Formerly, Jackson was on the board of directors at Rosecroft Raceway, just outside of Washington, D.C. He
could see some things weren’t working out there. In the meantime, Pennsylvania got its slot bill approved and Jackson put in his application for stalls at Pocono Downs.
In 2004, Jackson had his first season at the track. That winter, he moved back to Maryland. In the spring, he sold his house and moved to Pittston permanently.
“I love it up here,” he said. “I did very well at the Rosecroft but it was five miles from DC. That wasn’t where I wanted to be.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick