Cover-Girl Looks, Front-Page Success

Published: May 16, 2011 02:18 pm EDT

Within four years of coming to Canada, Riina Rekila has shown she's by no means just a pretty face in the standardbred racing world. The Finnish-born beauty has proven she can train and drive racehorses with the best of them

… and win.

Starting this Thursday evening, when live standardbred racing returns to Mohawk Racetrack for its 98-day meet, Rekila will be out to prove it again.

The 29-year-old had a career year in 2010 with a pair of star three-year-old fillies, Random Destiny and Christiana Hanover.

Christiana Hanover had a stellar sophomore campaign with four wins, five seconds, and four thirds from 18 starts, good for $303,589 in earnings.

But it was Random Destiny --- who won six races, including a stunning victory against colts, and banked $490,923 in purses --- who put Rekila on the map. The lass would go on to be the 2010 O’Brien Award winner as Canada’s top three-year-old trotting filly.

Rekila’s 2010 season was so strong, in fact, that it earned her a nomination for the O’Brien Award of Horsemanship.

She fashioned a training record of 27-17-13 from 104 starts with $900,136 in earnings, and a driving record which was equally impressive: 25-12-10 from 80 starts with $857,363 earnings.

Finland was where Rekila’s love of horses developed. No one could keep the then-four-year-old away from her neighbour’s standardbreds.

“I was there before I went to school, I would feed them, and go after school,” said Rekila, in a strong Finnish accent.

When Rekila was six, she told her grandmother that she was going to be a veterinarian and everything she did from this point was in preparation for that.

By eight, the little blue-eyed blond would drive coldblood work horses that hauled loads of wood in large sleighs.

“These horses were racehorses and they race at racetracks like in Canada, but that was part of training to work with them,” Rekila explained. “That how I got into racing, we used to race these same horses we worked with.”

At 16, Rekila, who also learned to shoe horses, was racing competitively and grooming horses in Sweden for prominent stables.

In the midst of learning all she could about horses in preparation for veterinarian school, she had to deal with a devastating personal loss, her uncle died in a car accident when she was 15.

“He was just 7 years older than me and we lived very close to my grandparents, so he was like my brother. That was very hard for me for a long time,” recalled Rekila. “But that’s starting to be alright.”

After graduation, Rekila worked in one of the best veterinary clinics in Finland, but training and driving horses was her true calling.

Rekila and her husband, Esa Lahtinen, decided it was time to leave Finland. After some research, they determined Ontario was the place for them with its attractive purses, quality horses and strong grassroots program.

When she set up her stable in Campbellville in 2007, she figured, 'why fix what isn't broken.' The successful training techniques she used in Finland proved to work just as well in Canada.

One secret to her success is that her horses stay out in the paddock for extended periods of time. “They are not out 20 minutes,” the conditioner explained. “It can be six hours if it’s daytime. Or nighttime, it can be 15 hours. They have shelter, warm water in the winter, hay, and we feed them four times a day.”

Rekila also doesn't jog her veteran racers.

Although Rekila is reluctant to let others drive her horses, Luc Ouellette is one who has and can tell a difference in her horses.

“She spends a lot of time with her horses. Usually when she races one, the horses are really well conditioned,” said Ouellette. “Besides being a very nice person, a very good mother, her work ethic is second to none.”

While training and managing a stable of 30 with 17 racehorses, plus several broodmares and foals, Rekila balances a family life as well. Three-year-old Ilona has not only inherited the same blond hair and blue eyes as her mother’s, but her work ethic as well.

With one O’Brien Award sitting on her mantel, amongst Ilona’s artwork and the Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final trophy, Rekila hopes one day to win another of the bronze awards.

“We were talking we should get the breeders award because we have so many mares. That’s our goal now, but you never know. We’ve always got to believe in our foals,” Rekila said of her Overseas Farms Ltd. homebreds.

With smarts and an incomparable work ethic, Rekila has made a name for herself on the harness racing scene and has risen to the top of the game. From the outside looking in, the petite blond has also looked beautiful doing it. But she has remained modest.

“I don’t think it is that way, I’m just working and working and my hands look like that,” said Rekila, extending her dirt-stained palms. “I’m just a working woman.”

A woman who has the drive and desire to be a genuine standardbred success story.




She brings class to a sport that needs it. I hope she will bring faith in the possibility
off succeeding in this sport beeing a woman and not only too often as a groom.

You not only have the looks, you are good and professional.

Best of luck,


She is such a delight in the sport. She doesn't race every night but only when she has her horse at top condition & has shown she can beat the boys. Lots of luck Riina !!

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