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.