MOUNT VERNON — A lifelong love of horses is starting to pay off for one local trainer.
Mount Vernon’s Kurt Lepley got his first taste of victory as he got to watch pacer Coras Grace romp to a 2 1/2-length victory at Northfield Park back in April with jockey Aaron Merriman aboard.
Lepley, who got his first horse in 1999, got his start with local trainer Doug Rine.
“Actually, (Doug was) a brother of a buddy of mine, who raised horses and we went with him quite a bit,” said Lepley. “We were 14. We cleaned out stalls and worked with him and I’ve been with it ever since.”
Horse training is a part-time passion for the 36-year-old Kenyon College employee.
“It grew on me. After I was 18 and a lot of my buddies went off, there wasn’t anyone to hang around with in barrel racing, so I got into harness racing,” said Lepley.
Becoming a trainer was a natural progression for Lepley.
“I bought a brood mare off of Doug and Todd (Rine’s) dad,” said Lepley. “I bred and raised that one from a baby up to training. We still have her.”
The training is a long, slow process.
“Usually, they are a year and eight months or so,” said Lepley. “Usually around the first of October of their yearling year, you bring them in and start breaking them to the harness. It’s a slow process. Once you get them broke to the harness, you put the cart on them. Then you go a couple of miles every day. It usually averages about 400 to 500 hours of jogging before you get them to the race.”
Lepley, who keeps his training horses at the Knox County Fairgrounds, gets plenty of help.
“I have two 2-year-olds in here now and a 3-year-old,” said Rine. “Todd helps me a lot. He pretty much takes care of the 2-year-olds, because I work full time and I don’t get in here until about five. One horse takes enough time for me after work.
Lepley worries about the survival of his business, which is tied to the survival of Ohio’s race tracks.
“A lot of Ohio tracks that didn’t get slot machines are looking at folding,” said Lepley. “Some trainers are looking at breeding out of state. The industry is bottoming out in Ohio, which is a shame. We used to be one of the top states for harness racing.”
While Lepley continues to train new pacers, Coras Grace continues her success. She races Fridays at Scioto Downs and is being leased by the Rines for the summer. Lepley is hoping that she will race on her home track at this summer’s Knox County Fair.\