Many standardbred trainers often gain an affinity for one of the sports two gaits, trotters and pacers, but Hughesville resident Jason Walters has enjoyed ample success with both at the current Rosecroft Raceway winter-spring meet.
Walters, 41, has won with 14 of his first 54 starters and enjoyed success this year with an aged pacer named Lil Johnny and a veteran trotter named Explosive Drama. Lil Johnny, an eight-year-old Big Bad John gelding that he owns and trains, has won two straight, five of his last six starts and six of nine outings overall this year en route to banking nearly $20,000.
"Really the key with both of those horses is just keeping them sound and keeping them happy," Walters said of Lil Johnny, who prevailed last Sunday, April 25 in 1:52.3. "Lil Johnny has been really good since he's come back. He got some time off and he's come back really good. I think he's probably won five or six races at the meet and he can probably compete in the Open here."
Last Wednesday, April 21, Explosive Drama (Russell Foster) finished fourth in the $11,000 Open Handicap for trotters at Rosecroft following a long, first over bid. The nine-year-old Explosive Matter gelding owned and trained by Walters has won three of nine starts this year, with his most recent score occurring on Feb. 24 in the Open in 1:55.3 with Foster in the bike. He had earlier won the first two Open events of the meet on Jan. 20 & 27, respectively, with catch driver Frank Milby in the bike.
Walters grew up just outside Vernon Downs in New York and his family relocated to Maryland when he was young. When he began his training career as a groom, Walters worked for trainers John Wagner, Tony Sapienza and then Greg Trotto and credited all three with helping him learn the ropes. Wagner has won over 5,500 races as a driver.
"When I worked for John, I learned a lot from him," Walters said. "He never really says a lot, but if you watch what he does he teaches by example. I learned a lot working with Tony and with Greg. We don't have a training track at the farm down here, but I jog the horses in the field. They get conditioned and they stay sound."
Walters has used different catch drivers throughout the current winter-spring meet which runs through May 26, including youthful Trae Porter, 21, who steered Lil Johnny to his latest tally on April 18 in 1:52.4. Russell Foster had guided Lil Johnny to his two previous wins, including an identical 1:52.4 score over a sloppy track on March 28.
"There are a lot of good drivers at Rosecroft right now," Walters said. "I really don't like to tell the driver how to drive in a race. So much can change once the gate opens. Trae is young but he's always eager to talk to me before and after the race. He's young and he's learning and I like to see those guys do well."
Last Sunday night at Rosecroft, Alexis' Futurity captured a $13,200 Maryland Sire Stakes event for four- and five-year-old pacing mares. A five-year-old daughter of The Faternity Pan trained and driven by Timmy Offutt for owners Gerald & Tammy Lafferty of Huntingtown, Alexis' Futurity forged a 12-1 upset by scoring in 1:55.2 for her first win in 11 seasonal outings and lowered her lifetime mark by a full second in the process.