Sofia Zingale – Newcomer to RUS Already Making a Name

Egosnattitudes, ridden by Sofia Zingale in the Rosecroft Winners Circle along with Joe Colombo (left). Photo courtesy of Ed Cioffioni of Best Bet Photos.

Egosnattitudes, ridden by Sofia Zingale in the Rosecroft Winners Circle along with Joe Colombo (left). Photo courtesy of Ed Cioffioni of Best Bet Photos.

Sofia Zingale with Atout De Fontnaine. Photo courtesy of Sofia Zingale.

Sofia Zingale with Atout De Fontnaine. Photo courtesy of Sofia Zingale.

Followers of standardbred racing in the MidAtlantic region have come to know Sofia Zingale as an upcoming star in RUS as a trainer and rider. She has signified her arrival with the victory of Egosnattitudes over Hyway Marcus in the RUS MidAtlantic Trot at Rosecroft on November 4.  A young trainer of dressage and show jumping horses, Zingale made a relatively smooth transition to the harness sport, exhibiting that with a first year USTR rating of .322.

Prior to moving to Delaware, Zingale wasn’t even aware harness racing existed.  After fourteen years of involvement in non-racing equestrian activities, she came to Delaware to ride for the Delaware State Equestrian team as well as get her college degree in biomechanics/kinesiology.  Soon after moving, Zingale met Leigh and Tyler Raymer who hired her.  Once the Raymers left the sport, Sofia moved on to work for Joe Columbo and the George Dennis Stable.  Saving money, Zingale purchased her first race horse Hybrid Heidi, she continues to campaign this mare.  The purchase of Heidi encouraged Zingale to get her trainers license and go out on her own this past May.      

Since starting her standardbred training career, Zingale has acquired seven horses (in addition to still training four show horses). It was a problem horse, however, which had Zingale put her toes into the RUS pool and fittingly, this horse was Egosnattitudes.  “I love problem horses.  I enjoy the ones that make you think hard and try out of the box, new ideas”, explained Zingale.  “One day I was talking to Jonathan Roberts, he mentioned a trotter named “Egosnattitudes” who was definitely a problem horse.   Jonathan thought RUS might be exactly what this horse needed mentally.  He introduced me to Ego’s owner, Adam Ainspan, and we decided to give Ego a try under saddle”.  The first day of training was tough but after, Egosnattitudes began to enjoy himself with the new racing discipline.  After a few months, Zingale realized what a good horse he was.  No doubt being involved in riding horses for so many years made it easy for her to pick up RUS. 

Training horses under saddle is not just for RUS in Zingale’s barn.  Of the seven horses in her racing stable, four are regularly trained under saddle.  As Sofia says, “With my riding horse background, it’s easy for me to pick out problem areas from on their back. I think training under saddle is great for pullers and horses that get sour to racing as well”.

You may think getting a horse to race under saddle is difficult, especially when they have been racing exclusively in sulky.  Apparently, you would be mistaken.  When asked about this Zingale responded, “Easy!  Standardbreds take to riding so well.  They are such an intelligent breed.  This year, I broke six standardbreds to ride.  Two of those horses, Puddin n Pie and Credit Blues, I only sat on once before we qualified them under saddle”.  She is amazed at how well they handle someone on their back for the first time.  Ironically, the only horse which gave her a problem the first time under saddle was Egosnattitudes.

Some may question if there is an advantage to racing horses both ways and in her response, Zingale’s experience in biomechanics/kinesiology is obvious.  “I think mentally it is great for the horses to race both under saddle and sulky.  I also think it helps to tighten them up”.  Zingale continues, “Although RUS races tend to go slower, I think it’s harder on the horses.  Race bikes are designed to be light, aerodynamic and put a lifting pressure on the horse, whereas under saddle the horses have to carry 130+ pounds of direct weight on their back.  RUS also causes horses to strengthen different muscles they wouldn’t normally use in order to support the weight of their rider”.

Returning to Egosnattitudes, having had two wins on his card ‘in sulky’ this year, one may wonder why the decision was made to race him under saddle.  Besides Jonathan Robert’s recommendation, the decision to commit to RUS was made the moment the horse came into her stable with his large ‘ego’ and plenty of ‘attitude,’ as his name implied; a true problem horse which has been passed around from trainer to trainer for a few years.  Having missed the Ocean Downs race due to an attempt to qualify bare foot after losing a shoe, the horse qualified a week too late and had a long time until the Meadowlands’ leg of the series took place.    Hence, the decision was made to qualify him back to the bike and return to the racing wars.  Ego was racing so well in sulky that Zingale decided to leave him out of the Meadowland RUS race. Out of five sulky races, he picked up a fifth, forth, second, and a win for Zingale. Egosnattitudes may not have raced under saddle at all actually; that is until a driver didn’t hear Zingale mention to avoid the outrider.  Of course, Egosnattitudes was a little fired up in the post parade, so the driver took the horse over to the outrider, and you can guess what happened; he never made it to the gate and galloped the entire mile.  Luckily for Zingale, the Rosecroft RUS race was scheduled for the following weekend and that was just what the doctor ordered. “The Rosecroft race could not have come at a better time”. Sofia continued, “Ego needed a change as he was not going to mentally bounce back from his galloping extravaganza easily.”  A positive change with a resultant victory. 

Was Zingale surprised with the 2:00.0 mile and victory over Hyway Marcus, especially after qualifying in 2:07.3?  Zingale says no.  “Being honest, I wasn’t the least bit surprised with his performance.  He is an amazing horse.  He has so much talent, speed, and stamina”, she said, “I actually didn’t even have a whip in my hand for the race.  I knew if I could get him to stay flat he would have no problem beating Sasha [Moczulski] and Marcus. A good rider/driver does their homework. Ego does best under saddle when he can sit to the outside of a horse, it keeps him focused. Sasha and Marcus usually go a faster first half in comparison to their second half. I knew Ego would have more stamina then Marcus in the stretch. All I had to do was stay close. The race work out exactly as I was hoping it would”. Sofia explained that Ego did not like her monte saddle and therefore she used her riding saddle in the race as well. She joked stating, “He [Ego] wanted to show off by having the heaviest saddle and taking the parked trip with a nail-biting win at the wire.”

Zingale also had a reclamation project by the name of Atout De Fontaine in the Meadowlands and Rosecroft legs of the series; a French-bred horse who had a successful career in France’s monté racing, having a lifetime mark in 1:56 (mile rate).  He did start a few times in the bike in France but with under saddle being a popular style of racing, there was little need to make him do something he didn’t want to.  The horse came to the United States to race in the France-America Trot Series at Yonkers Raceway when he was randomly assigned to, trainer/driver, Pat Berry.  This is when the nightmare started as “Frenchie” made it known he wanted nothing to do with racing in the bike; destroying race bikes, jog carts,  and being a danger in the barn.  Shortly afterwards, Frenchie found a new home with the Amish.  Zingale was contacted by John Wagner who asked her if she would train the French trotter under saddle if he purchased him.  Zingale admits that she knew nothing about Frenchie but having a soft spot for problem horses she could not turn him away. Soon after his arrival, research found the 1:56 mile rate and earnings in excess of 200,000€ under saddle, and Zingale became excited with the new project. “When Frenchie first arrived, he was very nervous. You could not move too fast around him”. Sofia explained, “I let him detox for a few days before trying him out. His whole demeanor changed after the first day I rode him. He became happy and relaxed.” Sofia hopes RUS can expand as she was saddened to see a horse earning 200,000€+ become so useless in a short period of time.  While he may be tried again in sulky, the hope is to find the French-bred trotter an owner who will race him exclusively under saddle. Horses like Frechie really need RUS to grow and develop in America.

As for the future of RUS, Sofia hopes wagering comes to the sport as it is needed to get purses to grow and attract more interest by other trainers and owners.  Nothing motivates participation more than purse money.  While Zingale is a big proponent of RUS, she realizes purse levels must be competitive with current overnight events.  What about allowing pacers to participate in RUS?  Zingale would like to see it come to fruition.  She definitely will participate if it is allowed so horses of both gaits will have the opportunity to freshen up doing something new.

Trotting or pacing, problem horse or not, Zingale is ready for next year and looks forward to expanding her reputation as a dual-discipline trainer as well as RUS rider.

Egosnattitudes Scores Maiden Win in RUS Thriller at Rosecroft

Allan Schott for RUS MidAtlantic

Fort Washington, MD - With the absence of No Recess, the $2,500 Rosecroft leg of the RUS MidAtlantic series looked like a two-horse race between Atout De Fontaine and perennial favorite Hyway Marcus.  Well, a two-horse race it was but it was another Sofia Zingale-trained horse, Egosnattitudes who crashed the party to win a thrilling duel in his maiden RUS start with a mile in 2:00.  The field was reduced to four with the defection of One True Friend who was scratched Saturday.

When the gate opened, Hyway Marcus (Sasha Moczulski) quickly left to get the first call while Egosnattitudes (Sofia Zingales) raced two-wide around the first turn.  By the time Hyway Marcus reached the first quarter, he had a four-length lead over Egosnattitudes in a :28.3 split.  As the duo hit the stretch for the first time, Ego quickly closed on the race leader, racing on the outside to be only a head behind Marcus as the tandem reached the half in :58.3.

Determined to protect his rail advantage, Hyway Marcus continued to park his opponent.  At one point, Egosnattitudes got the lead but by the time the two horses reached the third station in 1:28.1, Hyway Marcus still had a nose advantage.  Marcus attempted to put some more distance between the two, managing a lead of a head over Ego as the duo reached the top of the stretch.  As much as Marcus dug in, Egosnattitudes was not to be denied and by the time the pair reached the wire, it was Egosnattitudes out-grinding Hyway Marcus to score a three-quarter length victory over the RUS veteran.  The other Zingale-trained horse, French trotter Atout De Fontaine (Maria Buchanan) was three lengths further back in third. Puddin N Pie (Stephanie Jacobs) finished fourth.

This concludes the 2018 RUS MidAtlantic series.  Plans are already being made for next year’s series.  Any new tracks (fair or pari-mutuel) wishing to be part of the 2019 RUS MidAtlantic series may contact RUS MidAtlantic at     

Quintet to Battle in RUS Tilt at Rosecroft

(Fort Washington, MD) - A field of five racing under saddle trotters descend upon Rosecroft Sunday evening, November 4, 2018, in the third and final leg of the RUS MidAtlantic Trotting Series.  The non-wagering race has an anticipated post time of 7:30pm, to be contested between the third and fourth races on the wagering program.

All-time favorite Hyway Marcus (Sasha Moczulski, pp 4) returns looking to repeat his victory in last year’s event.  Finishing second in his last start to No Recess who is bypassing this race, Hyway Marcus is coming into the race with a rare two race losing streak.  Atout De Fontaine (pp 1) appears to be the main challenger, having finished third in his first North American start and picks up rider Maria Buchanan for trainer Sofia Zingale who will be riding his stablemate Egosnattitudes (pp 3) who will be making his first start.  Other starters in the race will be Puddin N Pie (Stephanie Jacobs, pp 2) who finished fifth in his first start and the lone mare, My True Friend (Hillary Hartnett, pp 5).

There will be a meet and greet before and after the race.  Race fans will be able to talk to the riders and ask any questions they may have about racing under saddle.  Post time for the first race is 6:40pm.

No Recess is a Double Threat

By Allan Schott for RUS MidAtlantic

Fans of racing under saddle (RUS) have taken notice of ‘new’ rider Sietske Dijkhof and her horse No Recess which have raced on the RUS MidAtlantic and RUS New York circuits this past season as the team went a perfect three for three this year including a sparkling 1:59 mark at Meadowlands Racing and Gaming.  What also drew the attention of fans was the two victories No Recess had ‘in sulky’ during the period the horse was racing under saddle, earning two of the three sulky victories for the year as of the time this article was written.  We talked to Sietske and her boyfriend, trainer Kyle Spagnola about No Recess and the improvement seen in No Recess while doing double duty. 

No Recess (Sietske Dijkhof) qualifying at Saratoga Casino and Hotel.  Kyle Spagnola photo.

No Recess (Sietske Dijkhof) qualifying at Saratoga Casino and Hotel. Kyle Spagnola photo.

First, Dijkhof is no new rider.  Born and raised in the Netherlands, Sietske has been around standardbreds from birth as her parents used to be trainers.  When her parents left the game, she continued working in the industry.  Loving riding, the connection with the horse, as well as the speed involved in monté (the European term for RUS) racing she became a rider back home.  So, while it may appear a new rider has appeared in the RUS universe, it is really a reconnection of old friends.  

How did Dijkhof and Spagnola make the decision to use No Recess?  After Spagnola Racing LLC acquired the trotter, it was noticed the nine-year-old altered son of Rich Boy-Riann Photo (SJ’s Photo) had raced back in 2016 under saddle, learning his lessons from rider Michelle Crawford and finishing third in his only purse start at Ocean Downs behind RUS favorites Mr Protab and Highway Marcus.  After a couple of rides, it was decided to give No Recess another go under saddle, especially since he is not a horse inclined to make breaks.  After two RUS qualifiers between pari-mutuel starts, it was time to make their first purse start at Batavia Downs Gaming where No Recess won by a length.  Subsequent victories at Saratoga (four lengths) and the Meadowlands (ten lengths) proved their faith in the horse well deserved.

“Yes, I do believe it helps him mentally”, says Dijkhof when asked if racing No Recess under saddle has helped his sulky career,” he seems to enjoy the races under saddle and doing something else makes the nine-year-old gelding happier”.  As for training the horse to race under saddle, surprisingly the trotter doesn’t train for the races.  Being a veteran, No Recess knows the game. Racing every week, one way of another, keeps the horse sharp. Skipping the Rosecroft race due to the distance the horse would have to travel, Sietske wished there were more RUS races available either in a circuit or as overnight events.  “I wish there were more races right now, so he could do both and keep his mind ‘fresh’.  

There has been some discussion as to whether RUS should be expanded to allow pacers to race under saddle.  As of now, there has been no movement on the contentious issue but as far as this rider is concerned, she takes the attitude of ‘bring it on’, the more races under saddle the better. 

Of course, racing in non-betting races is one thing, but what about having RUS on the wagering card.  We asked Kyle Spagnola whether he would race horses in his stable in RUS events if there was wagering and he has no problem with entering horses in under saddle races, but he indicated it would be hard to persuade owners to enter horses in non-wagering events at the current purse levels.  “Owners want to make money and win races.  At the level [purses] it is right now, people are not going to invest in horses for RUS when they can race for much more money in the bike”, Spagnola said.  Getting trainers to enter horses in RUS with the current purse structure is difficult as there are more profitable races to compete in.  But if purses increase he feels trainers will support RUS.  No doubt the caliber of horses entering would be higher.  

So, what is more difficult, racing in the bike or under a rider?  Kyle’s take? “I think it’s easier if they are gaited well enough to do it [RUS] because they don’t have to pull the bike and they don’t have to ride as wide”.   Since racing under saddle appears to be easier, participating in RUS is a great way to extend a horse’s career, possibly helping with future horse shortages.

Yes, groups like RUS MidAtlantic have challenges to move on to the next level to get wagering on RUS races and promote interest in standardbreds and harness racing.  Perhaps it is best said by Spagnola. “Overseas there are a lot of racing under saddle events and it seems like people are excited about it”.   

No Recess Scores Convincing RUS MidAtlantic Victory at Meadowlands

No Recess returning to Meadowlands’ winner circle after winning the RUS MidAtlantic Trot. Photo courtesy of Clarissa Coughlin.

No Recess returning to Meadowlands’ winner circle after winning the RUS MidAtlantic Trot. Photo courtesy of Clarissa Coughlin.

(East Rutherford, NJ) – A field of eight trotters converged on Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment Saturday (October 20, 2018) night to compete in the second leg of the RUS MidAtlantic series.  When the dust settled, No Recess, ridden by Sietske Dijhkof scored a convincing ten length victory, stopping the teletimer at 1:59 over the fast track.   Hyway Marcus finished second while French trotter Atout De Fontaine, making his first start in North America and first overall since April at Angers in France, finished third a half-length further back.

When the gate opened, Hyway Marcus went right for the lead with Atout De Fontaine pushing the perennial circuit winner to the first quarter, parked in a :28.3 split.  Keenan, taking advantage of the rail position managed to get away third with Funny Photo parked fourth.  No Recess, the eventual race winner got away sixth.

Through the rest of the race to the three-quarter marker, the race was close as Hyway Marcus took the field through fractions of :57.3 and 1:28.3.  By the time the field reach the three-quarters, a stalking No Recess, made up enough ground to be second.  Funny Photo, who was parked the entire way was third. 

Once the field hit the stretch, No Recess hit his best stride opening a two-length lead over Hyway Marcus, who used early was unable to engage the leader.  Continuing his drive, Recess was the victor by open lengths.  Atough De Fontaine, fourth at the top of the stretch managed to finish third just behind Marcus as the tough trip took its toll on Funny Photo who managed to hold on to fourth, two lengths further behind.  Puddin N Pie, making his first start under saddle picked up the final purse check in fifth.  Finishing further behind (in order) were Keenan, One True Friend, and Credit Blues.

The winner is a nine year-old altered son of Rich Boy – Riann Photo by SJ’s Photo and is trained by Kyle Spagnola for Spagnola Racing, LLC.  With Saturday’s victory, Sietske Dijhkof now has a riding record of 4-3-0-1 for 2018.

The final leg of the RUS MidAtlantic series will be contested at Rosecroft on Sunday, November 4.