Henry Graber Jr. needs only one word to describe what he most enjoys about harness racing.
"Winning," Graber said with a laugh. "It's just something you never get tired of. Once it's in your blood, it's there for good."
Graber and his family have been enjoying plenty of winning courtesy of Indiana-bred star M Ms Dream. The filly is undefeated in eight races this season and 14-for-16 lifetime as she prepares to face Hambletonian Oaks champion Fashion Schooner and three other three-year-old female trotters in Friday’s (Sept. 23) $115,000 Moni Maker Stakes at Harrah’s Hoosier Park.
M Ms Dream, an $18,500 yearling purchase who has earned $510,962 in her career, will start from post four with regular driver Sam Widger. She is 8-5 on the morning line, the second choice behind Fashion Schooner at 4-5.
“Everyone is very excited for Friday night,” said Graber, who oversees the family’s 25-horse training stable in northeast Indiana, about 90 minutes from Hoosier Park. “I guess we’ll see what she’s made of. I think she’s got a shot at it. I’m not going to say she’s going to beat them, but I don’t think they’re going to run away from her.
“So far, it hasn’t mattered what the situation was, when it comes to race, she puts her heart into it and doesn’t give up. She is very competitive. And that’s how we are also. We love to compete and be competitive and are always looking for ways to improve.”
Graber and his brothers Chris, Elmer, and Joe handle most of the horse duties on a regular basis, while other family members — Graber has nine brothers and a sister — help on the weekends when not involved with the family’s construction company. Graber’s dad, who races as Eleven Star Stables, introduced them to the sport.
“My dad owned some horses, and it went from there,” said Graber, who has 77 wins and $1.19 million in purses since taking over as trainer in 2020. “We always loved horses growing up. But if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be where we are. He’s supported us. Probably half of the barn was his for a long time. I think last year we had close to 20 owners with different shares of horses. My dad used to own everything himself, but now he tries to have partners on horses.”
Eleven Star Stables bought M Ms Dream, a daughter of Swan For All-Trading Places bred by Mervin Miller, at the 2020 Hoosier Classic Yearling Sale. She was hip number 359 out of 373 in the sale.
“My brother Chris saw her video before I did,” Graber said. “He said he was going to wait for her. I told him we would never get her, that she would go for way more than we could afford. He said she was toward the end of the sale, so let’s try. We were going to go to $20,000 and stop. I guess we got lucky. The rest is history.”
M Ms Dream, now owned by Eleven Star Stables, Frank Baldachino, and Hillside Stables, struggled with foot issues as a two-year-old, but aside from going off stride in her second lifetime start was a nose from being unbeaten. She capped her campaign with an Indiana Sire Stakes championship and then headed to Kentuckiana Farms for her winter break.
When she returned to Graber to prepare for this season, she was a different horse.
“She’s not real big, just a nice-sized filly, but she matured a lot and is not as hard on herself,” Graber said. “Right when she started jogging, we saw the change. She can get a little sassy at times, but she takes care of herself. She seems lazy sometimes, but she just doesn’t do more than what she has to do.”
And she’s a homebody, preferring to stay in her stall rather than a lot of time outside. She enjoys hanging her head out her window, eating (apples are a favorite snack), and sleeping.
“That’s about it,” Graber said.
But when the time comes, she is always ready to race.
“We didn’t expect her to be this good,” Graber said. “I didn’t dream of going 8-for-8, that’s for sure. We were just hoping to compete again.
“We’ve been blessed to have Frank Baldachino and Hillside Stables along for the ride with her. They’ve always wanted to do what’s best for the horse. And Sam has done a really good job with her. He had a lot of patience with her and taught her to race every way. She’s been able to do that because of him.”
It has resulted in quite the ride.
“It’s unreal,” Graber said. “It probably will never happen again.”
The Moni Maker is part of a stakes-filled card Friday that includes a visit from the world’s fastest Standardbred, Bulldog Hanover, in the Harrah’s Hoosier Park Pacing Derby. For free programs for all Hoosier Park cards, visit the track’s website.