Ocala, the official “horse capital,” never fails to prove that it is the home to the best horse trainers in the world. Being home to over 60 breeds of horses with so many different disciplines in the equestrian world, plus a wide variety of show venues and events all year round, truly makes Ocala a haven for horse lovers. With a variety of beautiful horses and ponies scattered across acres of pasture land dotted with barns and oak trees galore, Ocala/Marion County also boasts some of the best soil and water for raising and training horses of all ages.
Ocala is the place where during the fall and winter months, so many yearlings purchased at a variety of thoroughbred sales get their first training. They will be worked with on the ground, probably in a round pen, and learn some basic manners and, when ready, be saddled in a stall and ridden around in the stall to get accustomed to having a rider on their backs. Then they are hacked out to the track and quite often around fields, to get used to different terrain and to allow them to relax and just be horses. In between training sessions, there will be bathing, grooming and, if they are one of the fortunate ones and are a Mayberry horse, they will probably get a lot of scratching, affection and some treats. When mature and ready, jogging the track and eventually gently “galloping” the track will be part of readying them for their racetrack career or for the two-year-old in training sales. When ready, the horses are “breezed,” the fastest speed expected of them at this point over a short distance, much shorter than they will run in a race at the track.
Each year I enjoy following the top stakes horses across the USA and around the world and tracing their roots back home to Ocala. I always find that the thoroughbred trainers from this area are consistent time and time again in producing great results and many wins in the biggest races with their graduates. Just to mention a few, de Meric Thoroughbred Sales, Niall Brennan Stables, Eddie Woods Stables, Mark Casse and his team, Karl Keegan at Lucan Bloodstock and April Mayberry and the Mayberry Farm team are all consistently giving horses the best possible chance at success by giving them a great training foundation.
Back in Ocala, after a trip to Kentucky for the Breeders Cup World Championships, I was provided a wonderful opportunity to visit Mayberry Farm. Thoroughbred trainer April Mayberry and Kim Harrison were watching horses on the track. Mayberry was accompanied by her dogs, who ride with her to the barn each day. While walking down the barn shed row, she stopped to rub on a horse’s face or to touch a muzzle. Each horse was pleased to see her and eager for her visit. Mayberry cares about every single horse, regardless of the price tag and it really shows in her methods and in the results.
While watching horses jog the track with Mayberry and Harrison, they mentioned that three of the eight horses in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic race trained on the track where we were standing. Two of those horses were Flightline and Rich Strike. Mayberry and her team started the training of both Flightline and Rich Strike at her farm. Rich Strike was the long shot 80-1 winner of the 2022 Kentucky Derby and placed fourth in the 2022 Classic. Taiba also started his training at this same track with Hartley and Derenzo, when they trained horses at this track.
While standing there with Mayberry and Harrison, watching young potential future champions walking on to the track, they started sharing stories about other successful grads from Mayberry Farm. This impressive list included super horse Zenyatta, who was known as “the Queen of Racing,” Exaggerator, Accelerator, Honor AP, Express Train, Texas Red and more. With two Mayberry grads both on the board in the biggest race of the Breeders Cup World Championship weekend, the richest weekend in racing, there is much for which this team is to be proud. Edgeway, also a Mayberry grad, ran in the 2022 Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf. This year was not the first time that the horses of Mayberry Farm have really shown up in the biggest and best races and I am quite sure that it won’t be the last.