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Barn Notes: Wednesday, May 4
LOCAL HORSEMAN JOEL BERNDT IN MIDST OF ‘CAREER YEAR’ IN CHICAGO
Chicago-based trainer Joel Berndt may have been born in Mobridge, South Dakota, (like Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott) but he’s been campaigning his horses during the summers at Arlington Park since 1993 – certainly long enough to be designated as a “local horseman.”
After enjoying his best Arlington season last summer – missing out on a top 10 ranking in the local standings by a single victory – the 43-year-old Berndt stepped it up big-time at Hawthorne’s fall meeting, earning the first leading trainer honors of his career, and then underlined that prowess by scoring back-to-back titles at the Southside oval during its recently completed spring session.
“Yes, we enjoyed a mild celebration when we won the title last fall,” said Berndt, speaking in his tack room at Arlington’s Barn 4 during training hours Wednesday morning. “There were a few toasts and a sense of satisfaction because that meet was so competitive. There were a lot of full fields and the trainer’s race went down to the last day. I had set a goal for myself to win a title. I like to set reachable goals for myself and I finally accomplished that one.
“But what gave me the most satisfaction last fall was all the support I got from so many people after I won the title,” Berndt said. “Past clients, old friends, fellow trainers, and a lot of people who I didn’t even know were paying attention had been following my career on the Internet and called to congratulate me. That was nice.
“My next goal, by the way, is to win a graded stakes,” Berndt said. “I won the 2004 White Oak Handicap here at Arlington with (Terry Renfrow and Eugene Young’s) Silver Bid – he was the best horse I’ve ever had so far – but I’m developing some good young horses now and I’m hopeful some of them will move forward the way I think they can for me.
“Arlington is a new meet and I’ve acquired some new horses already to bring in here,” Berndt said. “One of the keys to being successful in this business is to keep turning your stock over, and another key is to keep meeting the right people to allow you to acquire new horses. As for my other horses that have pretty much run through their conditions, I’ll try to experiment a little bit to find new ways to win with them. Try them on the turf if they haven’t run on it, or try them long if they’ve always been going short. Things like that.”
Berndt’s grandfather, a cattle farmer in South Dakota, started training horses many years ago primarily to race them for fun, and his father Alan trained some horses locally for Arlington chairman Richard L. Duchossois while working primarily as the first farm manager for Duchossois’ Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm in Barrington, Illinois. Tragically, Alan Berndt was killed in a tractor accident on his own farm in South Dakota 20 years ago, but that happened a few years after Joel had ventured out on his own, winning his first race as a teenager in 1988.
“I won my first race here in Chicago at Hawthorne in 1993,” Berndt said. “It was with a first time starter – a Bet Twice filly that my old friend Bill Mott had bought for one of my clients at that time.
“I have my own family now,” Berndt said. “I’ve been married to my wife Allison for 13 years, and we have a 17-year-old son Trae from a previous marriage and a daughter Kelsey together who is now 12. Now, we’re expecting another boy to come along in August and we’re both very excited about that. We love kids.
“In fact, everything in my life my life is going upward right now,” Berndt concluded. “I’ve never been happier in my profession than I am at this time, and, of course, my wife and I are both very happily surprised that we’re going to have this latest addition to our family.”