Some people are destined to do certain things, and Oregon resident Mark Headworth is a prime example.
Headworth, 43, has been a horse trainer and owner ever since he graduated from high school in Lebanon, Ohio.
“My grandfather (Angus Lake) and some of my uncles raised horses, so I’ve been around it my whole life,” Headworth said. “My uncle raced at Lebanon Raceway and I helped him out. They raised horses and I was around them a lot.”
Headworth and his wife, Kristy, own land in Oregon they bought in 2004 that features a half-mile harness racing track. They own and train horses for themselves and for other owners, and their son Connor, 7, helps around the stables, too.
|Harness racing driver Mark Headworth and his horse are leading the field.
“Counting the ones I own, we have 15 horses at home here,” Headworth said. “Sometimes we have more, sometimes less.”
Raising and training race horses is not for everyone. It consists of long days and lots of patience.
“Usually I come out around 7 or 7:30 in the morning and feed, and we do the water buckets,” Headworth said. “Then we start jogging the horses and training. Then we go out and jog on the track and then my wife cleans the stalls. Then we start wrapping them up and putting them away.
“If we’re racing, we get done around 1 p.m. and go to the house and take a shower and head to the race. There’s days I enjoy it more than others. Some days you start at seven in the morning, and if I’m racing, say, in Cleveland, I might not get home until two or three in the morning.”
Headworth had five horses – which he also drove - entered in the Ottawa County Fair on Monday.
“We had three wins, a second place and a fourth,” said Headworth, adding that one of the best things about training horses is being your own boss. “Three of them were my own and two were other peoples’ horses. It went as well as I could expect.”
Headworth said he began training pacers and trotters the day he graduated from high school.
“I walked out the door and got in my car and went to Toledo Raceway,” he said, “and I’ve been here ever since. Lebanon didn’t race in the summer and we used to come to Toledo in the summer and race. I liked it here and I just stayed here. I won my first race in 1989. I drove a little bit before that, at fairs and stuff. I started driving all the time in 1989. We used to be at the tracks where they had dorm rooms you could stay in. I didn’t have to make a lot to stay going, but raising horses has really gotten expensive in the last 5-6 years.”
Headworth pays the bills by training horses for other people, including Emil Konesky of Pemberville. He also works with Emil’s brother, Eddie, in Woodville.
“Emil and I will go down to a sale and buy yearlings and start from zero,” Headworth said. “Other horses, we claim them at the track and they are seven, eight, nine years old when you start training them. Emil likes to go to the fairs and race the young trotters. I’ve had horses with him for 12-15 years.”
Pemberville native Mick Foster, who drove horses competitively from 1991-2004, met Headworth at the race track in the mid-1980s. Foster, who was also an owner and part owner of 6-8 horses in his heyday, called Headworth “a hard-working son of a gun.”
“That’s all he’s ever done,” Foster said. “He was brought up in it. He’s just a genuine good guy and he’s a very successful trainer. Of late he’s gotten some decent horses, sires stake horses, to train and drive, and that’s good to see. He’s always gone about it in a day-to-day, this-is-my-life-type racing, instead of trying to go to the big time and go to the bigger races.
“The neat thing with Mark is, anytime he’s been given an opportunity, when Northfied Park (near Cleveland) was at the height of its success, he went over there and raced with all the big dogs. He raced right with all of them.”
While Headworth said he’s had enough success as a trainer to make ends meet, he added that he “can’t say I’ve gotten rich, by any means.” He said it was a huge blow when he learned that Penn National Gaming, which owns Raceway Park and the Hollywood Casino downtown, will shut down in Toledo in mid-September and move the track’s operations to Dayton.
“I was contemplating looking for a different line of work, with Raceway Park moving,” Headworth said. “Penn National Gaming doesn’t want to put the slots (machines) into the track and compete with the casino. I basically bought this place in Oregon with the intention of racing at Raceway Park. I’m not real happy. Now I have to race in Cleveland or Dayton. That’s a long drive back and forth every day.”
Foster said Penn National Gaming took advantage of the local horsemen. He said the company told them one thing and followed through with another.
“They told them initially, when they came in a few years ago, they were going to do all these great things for the horsemen,” Foster said. “That was not true. They were going to get slot machines out at the race track and were going to try to increase purses, and none of those things occurred. They knew the entire time they were going to come here and build a casino.”
Foster added that losing Raceway Park will “devastate” local drivers like Headworth.
“Mark has his own farm right here,” Foster said. “Trainers and drivers like him will either have to uproot and move - shift to Indiana, Cleveland, Columbus or Detroit - or get out of the business. All the locals in this area, the ones with the smaller stables, it’s really tied their hands.”
Oregon resident Mark Headworth on the outside during racing at the Ottawa County Fair. (Press file photo by Harold Hamilton)
Harness racing driver Mark Headworth. (Press file photo by Harold Hamilton)
Harness racing driver Mark Headworth.