By Ken Weingartner
Hightstown, NJ — When Joe Barbera’s father saw a friend that knew nothing about horses end up as a partner on 1974 Cane Pace winner Boyden Hanover, he told his sons, “If he could do good, we could do good with a horse.”
The comment launched Barbera’s career as an owner himself.
“That’s when I claimed my first horse,” the 75-year-old Barbera said, remembering it to be a pacer named Lakewood Joe D. “I raced at Roosevelt a little bit. When Roosevelt closed, I got out of the business for a while. I just wanted to concentrate on working.”
But Barbera, an affable Long Island resident who owns a rigging company, eventually returned to the horses. And on Saturday, he will be among the owners of three Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace finalists: Captain Ahab, U S Captain, and Captain Trevor. All three are trained by Tony Alagna, who also sends Escapetothebeach into Saturday’s $682,650 event for 3-year-old pacers at The Meadowlands.
“(The rigging company) has enabled me at this stage to get involved with these quality horses,” said Barbera, who often partners with his brother Vincent on ownership. “We’ve had a lot of fun in the business and it’s becoming much more fun in my later days because I’m with a group that can produce top horses, the kind that can race in the Meadowlands Pace, that can go to the North America Cup.
“I’ve been close to having something good. I think I’m really close now with the people I’m with.”
Captain Ahab and Captain Trevor were winners on the Grand Circuit last year. U S Captain was winless in 2018 but has won four of five races this season. All three were from the first crop of stallion Captaintreacherous, who won the 2013 Meadowlands Pace and was twice named Pacer of the Year. He was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Overall, five of the Meadowlands Pace finalists were sired by Captaintreacherous, with 2-1 morning-line favorite Captain Crunch and 5-1 third choice Workin Ona Mystery joining Alagna’s trio. Alagna trained Captaintreacherous during his racing career.
“We went all-in on Captaintreacherous,” Barbera said. “He produces wonderful horses. The bad thing about Captain is there are so many other Captains you have to go against. We don’t have the only Captains. They’re all good. The Captains are either good or they’re great, they’re one of the two.”
Barbera, who is the uncle of Dr. Bridgette Jablonsky, the executive vice president/syndicate manager at Hanover Shoe Farms, had his passion for racing in his early days in the sport fueled through a friendship with Hall of Famer Del Insko. Earlier this decade, he enjoyed success with Joe Pavia Jr. on the New York Sire Stakes circuit with horses such as Steelhead Hanover and Bet On The Law. He now owns part of 19 horses in Alagna’s stable.
“If you add up all the percentages, it comes out to about three,” Barbera joked. “Tony is a hard worker and does everything to make those horses as good as they can be. But you still need a little bit of luck. It looks like it could be a very nice year for me. That’s why we keep plugging. We know what can happen if you get a little lucky.”
In addition to the Meadowlands Pace, Saturday’s 13-race card at The Meadowlands includes the Hambletonian Maturity for 4-year-old trotters, William R. Haughton Memorial for older male pacers, divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial and Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old male and female trotters, Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old female pacers, Golden Girls for older female pacers, and a leg of the Miss Versatility Series for older female trotters.
Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT). For Saturday’s complete entries, click here.