COLUMBUS - Justin Hall never forgot the lessons his grandfather taught him at the Ross County Fairgrounds.
"Take your time with a horse," the older man counseled the boy. "Have patience. You won't be successful with young horses if you rush them."
His grandfather also taught Hall how hard a life in horse racing can be. There are no guarantees and many disappointments, he stressed, and you might want to get a job with a dependable paycheck.
Hall listened to everything that his grandfather said, but he ignored that last piece of advice. Horses were in his blood. Maybe the old man knew that and sensed he was wasting his time warning him about the hardships, but he had to say it.
Last Saturday night [July 5] Hall drove the pacer Gerald N Sam to victory in the fastest race of the season at Scioto Downs. The mile was timed at 1:52-4/5 and Hall drove his horse perfectly, waiting for the final quarter to make his move and pass the tiring leaders.
He's established as one of the top drivers at the Columbus track and his grandfather would indeed be proud.
Hall's grandfather was the late Harry Richardson, a Chillicothe horseman who won many important races in his career and also won the respect of his peers.
Richardson was a kind man with a horse, never raising his voice and causing a scene. In some ways, Richardson was an easy man to overlook except when he was in a horse race.
And then he was always a threat.
It's not surprising that Hall is much like his grandfather because he spent his boyhood shadowing Richardson at his stable at the Ross County fairgrounds.
"When school got out, the other kids would go off and play sports, but I'd head for the fairgrounds," laughed Hall. "Whenever I wasn't in school, I was with my grandpa. I'd spend the whole summer with him."
His grandfather's best days on the track were behind him when Justin was a youngster, but the old man could surely sense the youngster's talent and determination. Hall got his license to drive horses as a teenager and Richardson got to see his grandson win several races before he died in 1994. You can only imagine how rewarding that was to a true horseman and proud grandfather in his final years.
And it certainly made Richardson proud that his grandson wore his maroon-and-gold racing silks when he raced.
Hall, 33, has now won 588 races in his career and horses he's driven have earned about $1.7 million. He says that 2007 was his best year ever with 90 wins and 90 seconds in 551 drives.
"I was fortunate to drive some good horses last year," he said modestly.
Among them was Nite Train, a horse he trained and drove to a second-place finish in the $100,000 Ohio Sires Stakes final in Cleveland. He also enjoyed success with the trotting mare Foxy Caller, a winner of more than $76,000.
He's already driven in 228 races this year and he's a regular on the Wednesday through Saturday racing program at Scioto Downs. Periodically he'll race at other tracks when big-money events are contested there.
Hall also gives credit to trainer Dan Ater of Clarksburg for teaching him valuable horsemanship lessons when he was younger. Ironically, Hall often competes against Ater's son Kyle in races at Scioto Downs.
Hall now lives in Clarksburg and trains about 15 horses at the Ater farm for various owners, most of whom have sought out his services as a trainer.
"My best owner has been Chester Corbitt from Columbus, who had horses with my grandfather about 40 years ago," says Hall. "I've trained horses for Mr. Corbitt about the last 10 years. I haven't really gone after owners. They come to me to ask them to train horses for them."
It also should not be surprising that Hall prefers to work with young horses, the ones who need so much extra time and attention. But patience is a virtue that Hall inherited from his grandfather. Young horses can be ruined forever if handled improperly, and Hall knows that slow and steady is the way to develop them.
Like his grandfather, Hall is anything but slow when it's time to race. He drives the horses he trains, but he also is in demand as a catch-driver, a harness racing term for an expert at driving horses for other trainers. In fact, this summer Hall has been driving Gerald N Sam, the fastest of the season at Scioto Downs.
"Gerald N Sam has it all," Hall says. "He's got speed, a good gait, and desire. He'll do anything you ask him to do. He drives like a Cadillac. It's a pleasure to drive him."
Hall has high hopes for Sizzling Lavec, a 4-year-old trotting mare that he has owned in partnership for several seasons. She's earned $54,324 in her career and he feels she might have better days ahead of her.
Accidents are an unfortunate part of horse racing and Hall says he's been bounced on the track "maybe eight or nine times." At Lebanon he once sustained a compound fracture of his arm, but was back driving horses in six weeks.
It will take more than broken bones to keep Hall away from the horses. The sport of horse racing is in his blood, and it's a passion that he inherited from his grandfather.
Every time Justin Hall wins a race, you can be sure that Harry Richardson is smiling down on his grandson.
(For more information, contact Hoffman at (614) 457-8750)