For trainer Kevin Joy, 1000 wins, one complicated journey

Charles Town-based conditioner Kevin Joy has seen a lot in a journey that began nearly 40 years ago while he was living in a feed room at New Hampshire’s now-defunct Rockingham Park not long after purchasing his first race horse.

From those humble beginnings as part of a once-thriving New England racing circuit to today, plying his trade in West Virginia while New England racing has ceased to exist, Joy has experienced plenty.With a victory by Blame It On Honey June 21 at Mountaineer Park, Joy reached the 1,000-win plateau

Joy’s early success came at Rockingham Park and Suffolk Downs in New England, both now closed. That forced him to relocate, and these days he’s enjoying a strong season at Charles Town, much of it via horses he’s claimed. Among those is Widget Factory, who won July 9 at Charles Town with Victor Rodriguez aboard.

He’d lost Widget Factory by the claim box in February but grabbed him back in March. Widget Factory has a win from six starts this season.

Joy’s recent milestone win has put him in a reflective mood.

“Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of my wife, Maureen, and the grooms and the hot walkers and the riders and the vets and the blacksmiths,” Joy said. “I’ve met so many people that work long, hard hours. My assistant trainer, Chris Villeda, and my groom, Heather Booterbaugh, both work very hard. Heather is the first one in the barn every morning at 4:30, and they’re both there on race nights.”

Like many trainers, Joy struggled through the early stages of his career, saddling only one winner in 13 starts in 1987, then six winners in 1988 and seven more the following year. But Joy failed to win a single race from 1990-93.

Then things started to turn around. He won a dozen races in 1994 and built from there, eventually recording a career high of 117 wins in 2004, when his runners earned over $1.75 million.

“There were a few years there when I didn’t have a lot of horses and had to take some time away from training and work other jobs to support my wife and our two kids,” Joy said. “Then I had some success at Suffolk Downs and Rockingham and was able to get a few horses out of New York. When [race days started to decline at Suffolk] and I came down here to Charles Town, it wasn’t long until I lost most of my stable to the claim box. You know, that’s part of the game.”

Joy went from sending 348 starters at Suffolk Downs in 2003 to 12 the next year and none the year after that. His total starters declined from 607 in 2004, his best year, to just 57 in 2012. But he’s rebuilt, and now Joy is en route to his highest seasonal earnings since 2009.

Along the way, Joy has won a few minor stakes including one with Loanmark a Maryland-bred son of Sitzmark that he bought privately before the gelding’s first race from late Bowie-based conditioned Eddie Gaudet, a fellow New Englander. Loanmark would capture Suffolk’s 1999 Private Terms Stakes, named in honor of a Maryland-based runner who suffered his first career setback as the favorite in the 1988 Kentucky Derby but later won the 1989 Massachusetts Handicap.

“Eddie Gaudet was a great horseman and quite a character,” Joy recalled. “I usually bought four, five horses each year off of him. Some of them turned out to be okay, the others did not. But I always enjoyed going to back his barn at Bowie, barn 50 way back in the corner by the woods. He always had some fascinating stories to tell, and he loved the horses and loved buying and selling horses. Loanmark was the best one I ever bought off of him. He always showed me that he had some ability and one year he won the Private Terms Stakes and finished third another year in there.”

When Joy relocated from New England to Charles Town, his career again sputtered initially. He posted only single-digit win totals from 2011-15, but he has recorded at least 10 wins since. He has already saddled 22 winners this year, equaling his win total of a year ago. On the night that Blame It On Honey prevailed at Mountaineer Park for Joy’s 1000th tally, Joy also saddled Federale to a victory in another claiming event at the West Virginia oval in the Northern Panhandle.

In all, Joy’s runners have made just about 7,500 starts, and their earnings are nearing $11.5 million. He’s done it the hard way.

“Looking back on it, that first 1,000 wins was not easy to reach,” Joy said. “I’m very proud of that accomplishment and it reminds me how many people you need around you to be successful in this game. My wife has been my biggest supporter. I wouldn’t have been able to succeed without her. There was a stretch of time at Suffolk where I had the same grooms and assistants for 12 years and the barn just worked smoothly. It’s tougher to get consistent help now, so it’s important to have people like Chris and Heather, a single mom, being so dedicated and loyal.”


  • Trainer Kevin Joy with Widget Factory. Photo Ted Black.
  • Trainer Kevin Joy with Widget Factory. Photo Ted Black.