Each year, many stables gather all of their incoming two-year-olds and head south to train at various tracks where the weather is a little more favorable. One destination that is popular with local horsemen is the one-mile red clay oval at the Hawkinsville Training Center in Hawkinsville, Ga. The facility has played host to numerous Indiana champions over the years along with other stables from North America seeking a warmer climate.
Majestic Star Stable under the direction of trainer Jeff Edwards has already arrived in Georgia. The Indianapolis-based operation has seven horses already on Georgia soil under the watchful eye of Shawn Wiseman, Edwards’ longtime assistant. More horses are scheduled to arrive at the beginning of the year. Edwards is scheduled to arrive before the end of the year to begin work on his two-year-olds for next season.
The facility holds up to 450 horses but in recent years, they generally max out at around 250. In addition to the mile training track, there is a half-mile training track in the infield around the property lake, which includes an alligator that sometimes makes its way onto the half-mile oval for some sun.
The town of Hawkinsville embraces the training center. The 8,000 residents have many signs up all over town welcoming their winter friends to the area. Also, numerous hotels, shopping centers and other businesses have harness horse signs up on their properties.
Jim and Brenda Valiante, longtime participants at Harrah’s Hoosier Park in the first eight years of racing and the original operators of Midwest Harness Supply on the backstretch, now live in Hawkinsville full time. They host numerous Indiana horsemen each year who travel down to see the facility and to visit with friends at the training center. Jim served as the training center’s manager for seven years and implemented a lot of upgrades and updates, including a full surface renovation a few years ago with John Betts, track superintendent in Minnesota and former track man in Indiana applying his skills to the project.
The City of Hawkinsville hosts a spring festival each year that includes all types of activities, including matinee races for those stabled at the facility. It’s just in time to send the horses north and give the locals a first look at some of the future champions of the sport.
Other stables connected to Indiana that use Hawkinsville as a winter base include the Dan Shetler Stable and the Jeff Nisonger Stable, to name a few.