Reverend Chimes In On Harness Racing

The Rev. Stephen Heinzel-Nelson now has an answer for those who say he works only one day a week


“Now I can tell people that when I’m not preaching I’m out at the track, training horses,” the Rev. Heinzel-Nelson said, laughing. “It gives me a good excuse.”

The Rev. Heinzel-Nelson is the pastor at Allentown Presbyterian Church in central New Jersey. That makes him the 'Pastor Stephen' behind the two-year-old trotting colt Pastor Stephen, from the harness racing stable of trainer Jimmy Takter. Pastor Stephen, the horse, will be in action Friday in an elimination for the $515,000 (estimated) William Wellwood Memorial Stakes at Mohawk Racetrack. He has won four of five races this season (he was disqualified from first in the $500,000 Peter Haughton Memorial on Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands) and earned $102,315.

“I was very surprised, to say the least,” the Rev. Heinzel-Nelson said about having a horse named after him. “It’s a real honour that they even thought to name a horse after me. It’s fun.

“Jimmy is a great trainer and a wonderful guy. He’s been a close friend of our family since we moved here 13 years ago. I did the weddings for his daughters when they got married. They’re just wonderful people. I’m happy they’re doing well. I just hope Pastor Stephen can win some races for him. What a talented man he is.”

The Rev. Heinzel-Nelson visited Pastor Stephen at Takter’s farm, near Allentown, but has not seen the colt race yet. However, he has no trouble keeping track of the horse’s progress.

“We have a lot of horse people in our congregation,” the Rev. Heinzel-Nelson said. “Every Sunday after he races people are coming up to me and saying, ‘You did really well yesterday.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean I did well?’ They mean Pastor Stephen won. So people are keeping me posted on how I’m doing.

“I think I’m doing better on the racetrack than I am in the pulpit,” he added, laughing.

The Rev. Heinzel-Nelson hopes to see Pastor Stephen race in person when the horse returns to the United States from Canada.

“I might even bet on myself,” he said. “You never know.”

Pastor Stephen, driven by Yannick Gingras, enters his Wellwood elimination race coming off a three and three-quarter-length victory in a division of the Champlain Stakes at Mohawk on September 3. It was Pastor Stephen’s first start since the Haughton.

“He hadn’t raced for a month and he raced really good,” Takter said. “Yannick was very happy with him.”

Takter’s Wellwood hopefuls also include Not Nice and Leader Of The Gang.

Not Nice is coming off a win in the $200,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship at Harrah’s Chester on September 5. He has won three of seven races this year and earned $183,408.

“I know he’s a little green, but if he’s going to have a shot to race in the Breeders Crown, he’s got to come up here,” Takter said. “All three are very good, actually.”

This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit