05/30/2017 4:13PM

Bergman: Long term approach works well for Jeff Gregory

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Nikki Sherman
Barn Doll heads the 15-horse Jeff Gregory barn.

Changing careers in midlife is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges any person can go through. Jeff Gregory was one of the leading drivers at Yonkers Raceway for some time but after a series of injuries decided it was time for a change. Gregory, who still accepts catch drives occasionally, has managed to build a stable of 15 into a mini-powerhouse that has become a force in the metropolitan area.

“I can’t say that I miss catch-driving,” Gregory said. “I’m much happier the way things are today.”

There’s a good reason for Gregory’s current attitude. In a word it’s success. But in reality what Gregory has been able to assemble is the best of both worlds. He has a few owners that have years of experience. “It’s great to have owners that have been in the business a long time and know what to expect,” Gregory said, referring to partners Steve Finkelstein (Jesmeral Stable) and Bill Richardson.
The 4-year-old Tight Lines is off to a blazing start this year, having swept the lucrative SOANY Bonus Series at Yonkers and most recently finishing a respectable third behind Broadway Donna and Dayson in the Graduate at The Meadowlands.

“We were kind of lucky with him,” Gregory said. “He was scratched sick in his last two starts and they were races that he could have won. If he had won either he wouldn’t have been eligible for the SOA series.”

Last year’s troubles have been swept away now that Tight Lines has already exceeded his earnings ($110,000) of his entire 3-year-old campaign in the first five months of racing. Tight Lines, with five wins in seven tries, is still fresh and can go on any sized track. “I think he’s as good on a big track. The Bonus Series races were good for him. We’ll see how he does at the higher level,” Gregory said.

Barn Doll is perhaps the best of Gregory’s band of trotters and she’ll return this Sunday at Yonkers. “I thought it was a good idea to give her a few weeks off,” said Gregory, who hasn’t raced Barn Doll since a third-place finish on May 6 in the Yonkers Open Handicap.

A winner just once as a 4-year-old, Barn Doll has returned this year and looks to have improved. “She wasn’t finishing her races like I thought she should last year. We put her on Lasix and towards the end of the year she was racing much better,” said Gregory.

This year Barn Doll has already won at the top level at Yonkers and Gregory is in no hurry to leave the facility. “The purse money at Yonkers is outrageous,” Gregory said. “I don’t think it’s great to race them every week on the half-mile track so I’ll move them around.”

As for Barn Doll, outside of Yonkers she could have a shot in the major stakes races if she continues to improve. “We’ve made her eligible to some of the bigger races, Gregory said. “If she’s good enough we want to give her a chance.”

For owner Steve Finkelstein, under Gregory he has found the winner’s circle a lot more often. The long-time owner has generally focused on trotters and often not very good ones, but he has turned the corner and Gregory appears to have found the right combination that works for himself and the owner.

“We’ve rejected a few horses that were recommended to Steve,” said Gregory. “We’re looking for something that can race over the half-mile track because Steve loves to come to the track and warm the horses up. We also want a horse to last for four to five years.”

That attitude probably wouldn’t play very well with most owners in the business today but for Gregory and Finkelstein the long term keeps them grounded and gives rise to a strong relationship.

Most recently the pair stepped out to purchase the 3-year-old Point Somewherelse. “Steve got a call on the horse. I went down to train him and liked him. He was very good gaited and I thought he would do well on the half-mile track,” Gregory said.

Point Somewherelse finished fifth in his first start for Gregory, a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at Pocono this past Sunday. “I don’t think he can go with the Huntsvilles out there, but we are more interested in racing him for the next four to five years.”

Point Somewherelse was a six-figure purchase and is a well-bred son of Somebeachsomewhere with an immediate maternal side that goes back to the great Silk Stockings.

Gregory, who trains at Gaitway Farms, has a couple of Pennsylvania-bred juvenile fillies that he’s looking forward to racing later this year. “We’ve actually gotten rid of three New York-bred horses that we just don’t think will do at Yonkers. It makes no sense for us to venture upstate,” Gregory said, invoking a strategy that his owners are most comfortable with.

Gregory, Finkelstein and Richardson have made the most of the private purchase of four horses owned by the late William Weaver. “I had a chance to buy Mr. Weaver’s horses after he passed,” said Gregory. “Steve said that he would be very interested and we made the deal. In addition to the aforementioned Tight Lines and Barn Doll, Spicedbourbongirl has been a solid performer. Spicedbourbongirl finished second to Broadway Donna in last year’s Kentucky Futurity filly division earning in excess of $185,000 on the campaign.

“The three of them pretty much paid for the entire group,” said Gregory.

Spicedbourbongirl recently won at Pocono in a high level condition race and appears headed for another solid season.

Gregory credited Roni Newhart and the rest of his staff for much of the stable’s recent success.

In an era where instant success seems to be all anyone is chasing, it’s refreshing to hear Gregory’s stance on horse racing and the care and training of the trotter. It may be “old school” but he’s got the connections that allow him to think of the best interest of the horse near and long term.