NBC grad Fon­seca driven for suc­cess in har­ness rac­ing

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - SPORTS - By Ken Wein­gart­ner

EAST WIND­SOR » Josert Fon­seca ar­rived at the Meadowlands Race­track on a Septem­ber morn­ing last year and pre­pared for his first-ever drive in a qual­i­fier. If he hoped to go un­no­ticed and work through any jit­ters, it would be im­pos­si­ble. First, the horse’s trainer, Hall of Famer Jimmy Tak­ter, pointed out Fon­seca to ob­servers. Sec­ond, the horse was Pinkman.

Not of­ten does a driver get to take his first spin around a race­track — even in a non-bet­ting prep race — with a Ham­ble­to­nian Stakes champion. But such was Fon­seca’s op­por­tu­nity, which speaks vol­umes about Tak­ter’s trust and con­fi­dence in the 29-year-old grad­u­ate of North­ern Burlington High School. Fon­seca, who was then in his fifth year work­ing at Tak­ter’s stable and had no knowl­edge of har­ness rac­ing prior to ar­riv­ing there, guided Pinkman to a win in 1:55.2.

Since then, Fon­seca has driven in 18 more qual­i­fiers, get­ting op­por­tu­ni­ties not only from Tak­ter but train­ers Nancy Jo­hans­son, Tony Alagna and Trond Smed­sham­mer, and fin­ished worse than sec­ond only five times. He recently re­ceived his pro­vi­sional li­cense and hopes to even­tu­ally get drives in parimutuel races.

“If you like the sport, you want to try it at least one time,” Fon­seca said about driv­ing. “You can train for so long, but you watch them out on the track (in races) and you want to get a chance to try it for your­self.

“I never pushed the is­sue at all, but I think Jimmy saw that I showed a lit­tle bit of in­ter­est in it and that’s kind of what sparked it. It’s a lot on the line, so for him to say ‘You can take that one,’ is a big deal for me. I’ve been lucky with the ones I’ve driven so far, they’ve all per­formed re­ally good for me.”

Fon­seca’s first qual­i­fier with Pinkman, the 2015 Ham­ble­to­nian win­ner, was spe­cial.

“I trained him when he was grow­ing up, so I’m com­fort­able with him, but it’s still a lit­tle nerve-wrack­ing,” Fon­seca said, adding with a laugh, “I just wanted to keep a low pro­file.

“But (Pinkman) went out there and he was re­ally, re­ally good. And I was sur­prised how com­fort­able I was once I got out there.”

Fon­seca was born in Costa Rica, where he spent his early child­hood be­fore mov­ing to New Jersey at the age of 8. He grad­u­ated from North­ern Burlington, lo­cated not far from Tak­ter’s stable, but spent sev­eral years work­ing in a va­ri­ety of jobs, in­clud­ing a bak­ery and a fine-din­ing Ital­ian restau­rant, be­fore a friend in­tro­duced him to har­ness rac­ing.

“My fam­ily had rid­ing horses in Costa Rica and I al­ways loved horses,” said Fon­seca, who lives in Al­len­town. “I de­cided to give this a try for a cou­ple weeks and see if I got the hang of it. I ended up stick­ing around. There is no bet­ter place to start. I’ve learned a lot in six years. It’s like go­ing to col­lege, but you’re get­ting paid to do it.”

Fon­seca worked as a groom for more than two years be­fore get­ting the chance to join in train­ing.

“He has a lot of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the stable and he han­dles things very well,” Tak­ter said. “I can see who has the talent to do it out there. Ev­ery time he was out there, he got a lit­tle bet­ter, more com­fort­able. He han­dles the horses well; he doesn’t fight with them, he sits right in the bike, he’s very com­fort­able and re­laxed.

“I don’t think he knows pres­sure yet. Of course there is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween qual­i­fiers and races, but he’s go­ing to be fine. He has a fu­ture, I’m sure about that.”

A fu­ture is Fon­seca’s dream.

“I would love to pur­sue driv­ing,” Fon­seca said. “I know it’s dif­fi­cult to get to the level most guys are at, but it’s some­thing I love. I feel re­ally com­fort­able do­ing it; I don’t feel ner­vous. I hope peo­ple see that I try to take good care of the horses out there.

“I just need to keep do­ing what I’m sup­posed to do. If I get a chance, hope­fully I’ll take ad­van­tage of it. If I get the chance, I’ll do my best.”

Ken Wein­gart­ner is a Me­dia Re­la­tions Man­ager for the U.S. Trot­ting As­so­ci­a­tion.


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