Smicksburg trainer knows how to bring out horses’ best
SMICKSBURG — On a chilly November morning under a sky thick with rain clouds, Dave Brickell, 62, headed out to his barn to give each of his six bay Standardbred horses a workout, training and conditioning them for a chance to win big at the track.
Six days a week, Brickell begins the day by giving each horse a 45-minute workout. He has trained all of his horses in harness racing. “I race full time now. I enjoy the challenge of developing (the horses),” he said.
His movements were relaxed as he harnessed his 7-year-old horse, JC MicMac Jillio, and hitched her up to a jogging cart. Wearing jeans and a baseball cap, his blue eyes protected behind sunglasses from the dirt kicked up by JC, Brickell held the reins in his gloved hands and steered his harness racer up the hill behind his house. JC MicMac Jillio’s name is made up from the initials of six of his grandchildren: Jocelyn, Camden, Mickayla, Mackenzie, Jillian and Olivia.
“It took a lot of riding around on the cart to get that name,” he said.
JC jogged along the grassy track, circling the hilltop lap after lap, effortlessly pulling her trainer and the cart behind her. Acres of trees and Amish pastureland spread out in the valleys below.
Brickell said he won about 25 races with JC within the past three years, winning $90,000 in total. According to the United States Trotting Association’s Web site, www.ustrotting.com, “an average of $350 million has been paid each year to winning owners at racetracks in the United States.”
“You can make money if you start small and go slow,” Brickell said, adding that a horse can cost anywhere from zero to $400,000, a cart can cost $15,000 and a harness can cost $400. “You’ve got to be flexible and do things within your means.”
When it comes to buying a horse with a winning potential, Brickell said, he takes note of the pedigree and the way the horse looks. “I check out the record of the dad and check to see if the mother has produced other babies who have turned out to be winners,” he said.
Jeff Altmeyer, of Altmeyer’s Western Wear & Trailer Sales in Kittanning, said he has known Brickell for years. “I’ve known Dave for a long time. In fact I bought my first horse from him,” he said.
Finding that winning combination has a lot to do with having an eye for the horse’s ability, Altmeyer said. “The thing about Dave is he doesn’t necessarily buy the most expensive horse. He just knows how to get the most out of horses.”
Brickell said he and his brother, Dean, who has Parkinson’s disease, grew up around horses at their home in Rossiter, a mining town near Punxsutawney. Both of them got into harness racing. Dean gives 10 percent of his horse’s winnings for Parkinson’s research, Brickell said.
Although Brickell has raced in Ohio and Maryland, he tends to stay in Pennsylvania competing in county fairs and at The Meadows Racetrack in Washington. He’s been involved in harness racing for most of his life, even though he took a break from it for several years because his job with 84 Lumber often took him out of state, he said.
Back at the barn, Brickell unhitched JC and let her loose in the paddock, where she rolled around on her back. It was time for the 2-year-old, DVC Havalittleheart, to go through her paces even though she has yet to compete in a race. Brickell harnessed her to a two-wheel race bike with a single seat. DVC can pace at 35 mph in spite of a leg injury.
Brickell bought her at a Delaware Valley College sale and said when he noticed she had a problem with her right foreleg, he had it X-rayed. “We found a bone chip the size of a little finger cracked out in her knee,” he said. “We’re going to let nature take its course. So far, she seems to be overcoming her problem.”
When it comes to working with horses, patience is the key, Brickell said. “Every horse I own is a candidate for winning. Horses are a lot like people — if you’re nice to the horses, they’ll be nice to you. They’ll give you their best.”