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$4,000 Colt Wins Million-Dollar Race for 26 Year Old Trainer

by Jennifer Autry

To the untrained eye, Lebo Farm in Carlisle appears to be one of many private horse facilities in Southcentral Pennsylvania. A quiet, tree-lined drive leads to a small, weathered barn filled with cobwebs and horses munching their morning hay. The barn radio stays tuned to a local country music station, and a dust-covered Siamese cat darts quickly down the aisle.

To Justin Lebo, however, the farm is home to Major In Art, the richest 2-year-old Standardbred harness racer in the world. The farm lacks mahogany stalls, monogrammed polo shirts and acres of green pasture, but to the sleek, dark bay colt, Lebo Farm is his castle, and he is king.

On Aug. 30, Major In Art won the $1 million Metro Pace at Mohawk Racetrack in Toronto, Canada, the world's richest harness race for 2-year-olds. Lebo expected Major In Art to finish in one of the top three positions, but never imagined the colt, driven by Brian Sears, would pace to victory.

"It didn't sink in for awhile," Lebo said. "I was in disbelief. There were three very good horses in the field, so it was amazing for him to actually win."

Major In Art's dominant performance in the Metro Pace made Lebo, 26, the youngest trainer to ever win the race. He earned the same honor when Major In Art won the $350,000 Woodrow Wilson Pace on Aug. 1 at The Meadowlands in Rutherford, N.J.

To date, Major In Art has bankrolled $726,400 and won five of his six races. Considering their unprecedented success, Lebo and the colt are shaping up to be harness racing's next dream team, and their careers have barely started.

Hilly Track

Every morning, Major In Art paces around a narrow, half-mile, hilly training track covered in stone dust, unable to train at full race speed because of the track's small size and terrain.

On this particular crisp, fall morning, the colt prances and half-rears, eager to begin his workout. Although his training sulky occasionally drifts off the stone dust path and onto the grass, Major In Art remains composed. His trainer, Justin Lebo, carefully guides the colt over, straightening the sulky, and the workout continues.

Under the watchful eye of assistant trainer Roy Dinges, Major In Art paces about fives miles a tune-up workout for his next race, the Governor's Cup at Woodbine Racetrack in Ontario, Canada.

"If top trainers and owners saw where he trains, they would probably have a heart attack," Dinges said. "They just don't know."

Lebo eventually slows and halts Major In Art, who stands regally with his head up and ears pricked, barely breathing despite the long workout. As Dinges leads the colt back to the barn, Lebo walks slightly behind, checking the colt for any signs of lameness. But Major In Art looks perfect, as usual.

"He felt good really good. You should have seen him take the turn in the far corner," Lebo said. "He's not the fastest 2-year-old in the world, but he's fast."

Long Road

Although Lebo now trains one of the top Standardbreds in the world, the road to his current success has been a long one, he said. "Horses have been in my family for a long time, since the 1950s."

His great-grandfather and father, Charles G. Lebo Jr., raced trotting ponies at the Carlisle Fairgrounds before his father became immersed in the Standardbred racing industry in the mid-1980s. After graduating from Big Spring High School, Lebo knew he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and received his trainer's license in 2006.

When Major In Art stepped into the picture last winter, Lebo knew this was the horse that could put him on the harness map. According to Lebo, Ernie Martinez of Dillsburg, who has worked with the Lebos to purchase harness horses since the mid-1990s, originally bought Major In Art for $4,000 from Southwind Farm in Gilbertsville, N.Y.

'It Factor'

"He had the 'it' factor," Lebo said of Major In Art when he was only a few months old. "We saw he would be a decent colt and decided to take our chances."

Major In Art is now owned by a syndicate called Major In Art Stable, comprised of Chester G. Lebo Jr., Tina Martinez of Dillsburg and Jerry Silva of Bellmore, N.Y., who buys into many of the best harness racers in the world, according to Lebo.

Lebo has worked with talented horses during his short career as a trainer, but none of them have come close to touching the raw talent and star quality of Major In Art. "It's all about the horse," Lebo said. "The good ones are easy to train. It's the bad ones that test your skills as a trainer."

The proverbial rags to riches tale has forged a special bond between Lebo and Major In Art, who dislocated Lebo's shoulder after his victory in the Metro Pace. The unexpected turn of events occurred after the colt arrived home at Lebo Farm and Lebo took him behind the barn to let him graze.

Dislocated Shoulder

"He was feeling so good after the race that he jerked his head up and took off," Lebo said. "He broke the lead shank and I ended up on the ground with a dislocated shoulder."

Although Lebo sat in the emergency room at Carlisle Regional Medical Center for hours, nothing could spoil Major In Art's spectacular performance. "I couldn't be mad at him, not after that weekend," Lebo said.

Although Lebo is a man of few words, his affection for Major In Art is apparent in the way he carefully wipes water out of the colt's eyes after his bath and smoothes his forelock between his ears.

"He's just special," Lebo said. "Horses like this only come along every once in awhile, if they come along at all. He's got class and he doesn't do anything wrong. He looks the part of a million-dollar winner."

Lebo currently has his sights set on the coveted Breeders Crown races Nov. 29 at The Meadowlands. After the Breeders Crown, Lebo plans to give Major In Art some well-deserved time off during the winter, with intentions to train for some of the biggest races in pacing next year, including the $1 million Meadowlands Pace and the $1.5 million North American Cup.

The Pacing Triple Crown, which includes the Cane Pace, the Little Brown Jug and the Messenger Stakes, may also be in the cards for Major In Art. To date, only 10 horses have won all three races of the Pacing Triple Crown.

As to whether or not Major In Art will continued to race after his 3-year-old season, Lebo remains unsure. "If he is good enough to go to stud, then there is a good chance he might retire at the end of next year," Lebo said.

A son of Art Major voted 3-year-old Pacer of the Year and Aged Pacer of the Year and winner of $3,273,217 -- Major In Art certainly has the bloodlines to become a world-class sire.

Until then, Lebo hopes to expand his training operation by adding an additional 20 to 24 stalls and a top-quality training track to the farm "as soon as possible." If Major In Art keeps winning million dollar races, Lebo may see construction start at the farm in the very near future.

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