It’s been 13 years since Stacey McLenaghan made her first — and to this day only — training start at The Meadowlands, but she remembers it well. Not so much for the outcome, but the horse involved.
McLenaghan was in her second year as a trainer when she sent four-year-old female pacer Beyond Perfection into a start at the Big M in December 2010. Beyond Perfection left from post nine in a field of 10 and was at the rear of the field for three-quarters of a mile but rallied with a three-wide move to finish fifth. Nearly 10 lengths back at the half, she was beaten by 3-1/4 thanks to a :28.3 last quarter, second fastest in the race.
“She was always a closer on a big track,” recalled McLenaghan.
McLenaghan had purchased Beyond Perfection in June 2009. She notched the first driving win of her career with the then three-year-old filly that season and added nine more driving victories and 27 training triumphs before the horse retired at age eight in 2014.
“I do [remember that race at The Meadowlands], probably because she was my favourite horse,” said McLenaghan. “She was the first horse I won a race with and I won a bunch with her afterwards. I still have her to this day. My parents have a farm in Virginia and she’s turned out there.”
On Friday, McLenaghan will return to the Big M for the first time since her trip with Beyond Perfection. McLenaghan will send out trotters Jammin Jack, in race seven, and DWs Revenge, in race 12. Both horses will be driven by Corey Braden, who is McLenaghan’s fiancé.
“We don’t get up that way very often,” said McLenaghan. “This winter, we might. We have four kind of upper-end trotters in the barn and we’re stabled in Maryland for the winter. Trying to get them all in at Rosecroft [Raceway] hasn’t been working out -- they don’t have a lot of trot classes -- so we will probably be shipping up there a little bit more.”
McLenaghan has spent this year racing at Rosecroft, Shenandoah Downs and Tioga Downs, which is her typical schedule. She has set career training highs this season with 50 wins and $422,886 in purses. She won a total of 19 times at Shenandoah’s two meets, spring and fall, which was second most among trainers and just one shy of the top spot. She had 20 wins at Tioga, good for sixth. She is winning at a nearly 15 per cent clip at Rosecroft.
“We’ve had a great year,” said McLenaghan. “We had some great horses in the barn for owners and a couple of our own that Corey and I own, and they’ve made it a great year for both of us. Hopefully, it keeps going in that direction.”
McLenaghan followed in the footsteps of her father, Ron, in getting into harness racing. Her dad, who passed away in 2020, drove and trained horses in addition to owning and operating a construction company. The family raced primarily at New Kent’s Colonial Downs, where McLenaghan spent her formative years, and added Shenandoah Downs when it began racing in 2016.
In 2021, McLenaghan tied for the most wins among trainers at Shenandoah with 10. Last year, she led the way with 15.
McLenaghan played softball, volleyball and basketball in high school, and then played softball for four years at Averett University, where she was an honourable mention all-conference selection in 2005. She got a degree in sports medicine and added a master’s in physical education, but the allure of racing proved too strong.
McLenaghan, who has made one lifetime driving start at The Meadowlands which came in March of this year in an International Women’s Day race and resulted in a second-place finish, is looking forward to racing at the Big M again.
Jammin Jack has hit the board in 14 of 23 races this season, winning three. DWs Revenge has been in the top three in half of his 24 starts, also with three victories.
“It definitely is something special, going to the bigger show, as they would call it,” said McLenaghan. “These guys have been very consistent all year and they both give their all when you take them to race. They’re both in classes where I think they should be competitive and hopefully make the trip worthwhile.”