Trenton, NJ —has long worked with horses at in Minnesota and, three years ago, also opened shop at in western Pennsylvania. Those locations are not a common dynamic in harness racing, but it does allow Jenson to be nearer to his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers during the football season.
“Yeah, it’s very convenient,” he said with a laugh.
It’s also a little odd that a guy born and raised in Iowa would follow the Steelers. But, like father, like son.
“My dad (Larry) said his school colors were gold and yellow and he became a Steelers fan when he was young because of that,” Brady said. “I just grew up cheering for the Steelers with him.”
With the opening of Running Aces this past Sunday, Jenson, O’Connell, and his family, including Larry, mom Linda and brother Brandon, are at the Minnesota oval training another group of horses.
“This is the 12th year Running Aces has been open,” said Jenson, who owns pieces of 20 horses and trains a combined 25 with his family. “I grew up on the Iowa fairs as a kid. Running Aces is just a three and a half-hour trip from our farm, so once it opened we expanded to the Minnesota-breds and Iowa-breds. I’m getting more racehorses and trying to become more than just fair racing, which is how I grew up.”
It’s a business that Jenson had long been drawn to, despite two different stints in college. After one year, he left school to work in the stables. He then returned to the classroom for reasons he still can’t explain, and that lasted four months.
“Honestly, I don’t know why I went back,” Jenson said. “I think I just had some friends that were there, I needed to get that college experience. I got there, was in the first semester just sitting in class on my laptop looking at horses. I’m not even paying attention in class. I’m like ‘Why am I here?’
“The next thing I knowwas needing help. It was in Florida and I’m like ‘heck with it.’ As soon as the semester was over, the day after Christmas I left to go to Florida. I helped them finish the Florida experience, came back to Running Aces that year and went to help the family and I’ve been doing it full time ever since.”
Jenson celebrated his 21st birthday while working with Miller in 2017 and during that time picked up valuable lessons from the successful trainer.
“I actually went down there as a groom, and I think I learned a lot about the basic taking care of a horse,” he said. “And just seeing how a large operation is run, and the system and what it takes to put the foundation in a horse with the young 2- and 3-year-olds.”
Since then, Jenson’s career has been on the rise. He started training and driving in 2015 and has won 119 races as a trainer and 82 as a driver. He established a career best for training victories last year, with 31, and had 22 triumphs as a driver. His career high for driving wins in a season is 26, established in 2019.
“I’ve kind of gotten to the point where I’m really focused on training and building a stable,” Jenson said. “I want to build a good operation in the training aspect of things. I drove a little at The Meadows my first couple years, this last year I went out there, I was like ‘I’m going to focus on training and put down the drivers I trust.’ It really took off, I stuck with that and I drive the project ones out there.
“At Running Aces, I drive full-time. For the most part they are my horses, but I catch drive a little.”
Whatever he is doing seems to be working. This year, Jenson has won 15 of 78 races as a trainer. He is just shy of $1 million in lifetime purses as a trainer.
“The last six months have been the best part of my career,” he said. “Years of building and trying to get better horses every year has kind of worked out. I bought the right horses last fall to take out to The Meadows. I started claiming a little out there, claimed the right horses and had a little success. So far, this year has been my best year to date.”
Asked what he has improved upon over the years, Jenson said, “It’s just making sure you stick to your program and not let a bad week get you down. You need to turn it around toward motivation instead of dragging you down. I’m a big believer in having a program and building a program that works for the horses and taking care of them.”
Jenson has hopes of competing at some of the country’s major tracks, but realizes there is no sense rushing into it until he knows he has the right horses.
“I would like to get out east, stay out east, and try to make a larger run at it,” Jenson said. “It’s always been a dream to race at The Meadowlands and Yonkers, to be able to compete at the highest level. But it takes building to that, you can’t go out there with random horses and expect to do great.”
by Rich Fisher, for the USTA