Flashback to ten to fifteen years ago-In harness racing, there were very few women trainers in the business. Tracks across the country were full of men who raced their horses on a daily basis. In the last few years, more and more women trainers have been in the forefront of harness racing success with top horses and racing in major stakes events. In addition, smaller stables have women trainers, chalking up wins in overnight races and claimers. One woman who has moved up through the ranks and is quietly making a name for herself is Marta Piotrow.
Her family is from Poland, and they moved to the states when she was 11 years old. Not coming from a racing family, but one that was involved with hunters/ jumpers; dressage; and Polish Arabians; horses were still in her blood. Originally planning on a career as a vet, Marta obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and her Masters in Equine Reproduction from Michigan State University and began working at Delaware Valley as an Assistant Equine Standardbred Manager, teaching equine reproduction classes part-time. Eventually moving on from her teaching position, she purchased her first two-year-old and started working for a lot of different people. “Because I didn’t come from the industry, I was always trying to educate myself a little more,” she explained, adding that she paddocked horses at Harrah’s Philadelphia on the weekends and then worked for Nancy Takter, (then Johansson) and Trond Smedshammer, all the while with her goal to get her trainer’s license. During her time working with Nancy, Marta met one of Pocono Downs’ leading drivers, Anthony Napolitano, through his older brother George Napolitano Jr., and he would often visit her at the farm, where he would help her with jogging and training.
The following year she spent working with Jeff Gural’s Allerage Farms in Pennsylvania assisting the staff with the breeding of the mares. At the close of that year, Napolitano was involved in a harrowing accident at Pocono, and she moved closer to him to help with his recovery, and ultimately got more involved with training. “Anthony had Winbak Prince, who he retired because he got out of training, and he kind of gave him to me. He said ‘see if you can bring him back and it will be a good start for you’,” she remembered. “We ended up getting a few more horses, working together as a team, him driving and me training, and we got the attention of bigger owners.”
Working with her significant other so closely, Marta says it has its ups and downs. “We are both very stubborn and both have very strong opinions and don’t always agree, so it hasn’t always been an easy road. He started me out with the training because in the past he’s had a barn, he’s grown up in the business with both his dad and brother George having horses, and he has tons of experience. And he’s a very good driver. He has taught me so much, but after standing over my shoulder and holding my hand for a while, I wanted to do it on my own. Sometimes that can cause some issues.” For the last two years, they have been working smoothly with him driving and her training, and her hard work is starting to show.
Marta loves racing at Pocono, complimenting the surface that is so forgiving on the horses. She races there from their opening until the end, and at Harrah’s Philadelphia after Pocono closes, and she does it alone. “I do all my work. I ship my own; I paddock my own, unless I need a second hand; I warm them up. And I want to be doing everything. I want to make sure nothing is missed in their care.” At the Napolitano/Piotrow farm, she’s up early feeding them, and then exercises and jogs them until their lunch. “It’s nice to have them at the house where I can look out my window and see what they’re doing in the field. I’m like a caring mother with my eyes on them 24/7 making sure they are happy, safe, and sound,” she said.
Wrapping up what she calls a “difficult season” after several months off, and the fear of Covid-19, she’s looking forward to racing a few more weeks at Harrah’s and then shutting down until Pocono reopens.
Her advice to women looking to break into the business? “Well, we have big hearts, and we love our horses. People will hurt your feelings, and we are not like a guy that can just brush it off. But you have to. Be strong. Ignore the negativity. You don’t have to grow up in the industry to be successful as the majority, you just have to have the drive, persistence, and most importantly, passion, to achieve your goals.” Sound advice from a strong woman who looks to be in the harness racing business well into the future!
**Marta Piotrow ended the season at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono with a record of 75-15-7-13 and a .314 UTR. She has 64 career wins and has made $525,910.
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