Wiggle It JiggleIt took harness racing by storm last year and continues to thrill fans every time he runs. The 2015 Harness Horse of the Year, being referred to as perhaps the best Standardbred ever, is continuing to rack up wins and is taking the team at Teague Stables on the ride of their lives.
The man at the middle of Teague Stables is a veteran of the sport often called “the working man’s racing”. Renown for his instincts when it comes to breeding great horses and his talent for conditioning them, his greatest strength may be how he leads the people around him to be better, and that seems to be paying dividends at the track.
“I know that our success depends on our horses and our people. I hire good people. I just let them do what they do—work hard and take care of the horses!”- George Teague, Jr., Owner of Teague Stables & Wiggle It JiggleIt
Father and son, George and Montrell Teague prepare a young pacer for a morning exercise.
PHOTO BY DAN TRADER PHOTOGRAPHY
The owner at Teague Stables is a longtime harness horseman that literally grew up in the barn. His parents were a husband and wife team that showed their children the value of hard work. Instead of daycare, George and his siblings spent afternoons learning the family racing business, cleaning, working and developing horse skills. It was a humble start that has shaped his vision for Teague Stables today. “I started off poor like everyone else,” Mr. Teague said. “I started off with nothing. I built a good work ethic and had a good talent of training horses and picking them out.” When Teague’s parents had both passed before he turned 25, George went to work for trainer Jim Case. Since then, Teague has served in all capacities of the business, as a successful driver, trainer, owner and breeder. But talking to him, you get a sense that seeing the people around him succeed is the real reward for him. George has passed his passion and skill for racing onto his own children. His two daughters work in the office at Teague Stables and his son, Montrell, is a 25-year-old driver.
Success occurred periodically early in George’s career, punctuated with a filly he both drove and co-owned named Rainbow Blue. "Even though I’ve had a little success since then, she was the first one that put me on the map," remembers Teague. After winning 20 races in 21 starts and earning more than $1.19 million — (a single season record in earnings by a 3-year-old filly pacer), Rainbow Blue was honored as the 2004 Harness Horse of the Year. She went on to win 30 of 32 starts in her career. Not knowing what the future held with the amazing gelding Wiggle It JiggleIt, he said of Rainbow Blue, "I hope I get another one as great as her someday."
“Our job is to support him and stay out of his way! It’s been fun to be a part of his story.”- Dr. Denise McNitt, Teague Stables' Veterinarian said about Wiggle It JiggleIt
People in his business are intrigued by Teague and his reputation for making a world-class champion out of what Teague referred to as "a cheap–to moderately-priced horse." He was often spending only about 20 percent of the going rate for a horse. He relies on pedigree, overall appearance and instinct when he’s buying or breeding a horse. In addition, stable veterinarian Dr. Denise McNitt, claims, "there’s nobody better at conditioning a horse than George Teague!" Teague had the instinct, the bloodlines and the staff in place when his dream colt arrived.
Teague decided to breed his own mare (Mozzi Hanover) to his own stallion (Mr. Wiggles), making the offspring a true homebred. Known for his instincts when it comes to equine bloodlines, Teague puts more emphasis on the dam’s line than most breeders or buyers, going back several generations to look for winners and producers on the bottom side of the pedigree. The resulting colt this time was Wiggle It JiggleIt, a gelding that has gone on to win over $3.4 million ($3,481,582) and has won 35 of 46 starts. "He’s a very determined horse, with a big, huge respiratory capacity," says Dr. McNitt.
His win in the 70th Little Brown Jug in 2015, harness racing’s closest parallel to the Thoroughbred world’s Kentucky Derby, is often mentioned as the greatest harness race ever. Wiggle It JiggleIt edged out Lost For Words by a nose in an epic battle to the wire. The two horses gutted out a blazing pace and looking tired coming out of the final turn, Wiggle It displayed grit and courage, dug deep and refused to be beaten. The victory made George, Montrell and Clyde Francis the first black owner, driver and trainer in history to win the prestigious race. The result also cemented the horse’s reputation as the best pacer running today, if not ever. He was unsurprisingly named the 2015 Harness Horse of the Year. Teague compared his two stand-out horses saying, "Rainbow Blue and Wiggle It JiggleIt are totally different, but they both know how good they are. She intimidated horses before the race with her size and presence. Wiggle It, however, came up and surprised a lot of people." McNitt summed it up with, "our job is to support him and stay out of his way! It’s been fun to be a part of his story."
Most people never have a chance at winning a Horse of the Year honor, and here’s George Teague, a guy who does it his own way with two on his shelf. How’s he doing it? It appears to be the intangibles that create the environment for greatness to appear. His humility is inspiring, and his work ethic is motivating. He is humble, deflecting personal praise toward a top-notch team he’s assembled. But where you see the true nature of his leadership is in how he feels about the horses and the people who work at Teague Stables. It’s apparent he’s invested in their lives and livelihood as much as his own. "You know, I make decisions everyday that impact the horses and the people in our barn, and I feel responsible to do my part to secure the future of the employees and their families. We are all owners. We are all important to the health of these horses and the success of our business."
His throwback approach to leadership is refreshingly simple. "I know that our success depends on our horses and our people. I hire good people. I just let them do what they do—work hard and take care of the horses!" In a barn where they start work at 4 a.m., 6 days a week, his style of not over-managing is rewarding for the staff. "I’ve surrounded myself with friends and people who love horses. So, I just want to make it fun and not manage-down to them."
Montrell Teague prepares to tack up a horse at Teague Stables.
PHOTO BY DAN TRADER PHOTOGRAPHY
Trainer Clyde Francis and groom "Big" Mike Taylor with Wiggle It JiggleIt at his stall.
PHOTO BY RAY LANCE HARNESS RACING PHOTOGRAPHY
REINSMAN or REINSWOMAN — The driver of the horse.
STANDARDBRED — breed of horses that are named so because the American Harness Studbook used the ability to cover a mile in a “standard” time (initially 2 min, 30 secs) as the criteria for entry. The French Trotter, Scandinavian Cold-Blood and Russian Orloy are also used in harness racing.
SULKY — The sulky is the two-wheeled cart, sometimes called a "gig" that is attached to the harness in which the driver rides. The sulky weighs around 55 lbs.
PURPLE PATCH — A horse or trainer is said to be hitting a "purple patch" when they are experiencing a run of success.
MOVING START — In harness racing, a mobile barrier that consists of two folding arms is attached to a motor vehicle that gathers speed in front of the moving horses as the race starts, then speeds away out of the path.
GAIT — Harness racing horses are either "pacers" or "trotters" and named for the gait they naturally have. Pacing is a natural gait for about 80-90% of all North American Standardbreds and 70% of Standardbreds worldwide. Pacing is faster than trotting by an average of 3 seconds per mile.
PACING — Pacing is a "lateral" gait in which the horse moves the legs on the same side back and forward together.
TROTTING — Sometimes called a "diagonal gait" or "square gaiting", trotting describes a horse that stretches its left front and right rear legs forward almost simultaneously, then follows suit with its right front and left rear legs.
STRAPPER — A groom, also known as an attendant who assists the trainer, cares for the horse and helps outfit the horse in its equipment.
PULLING THE PLUGS — Drivers who "pull the plugs" are releasing the plugs that have been in their horse's ears. Ear plugs can help keep a horse's mind on the job and help nervy horses stay calm. When released, (often nearing the finish) the sudden exposure to more noise may help spur on the horse.
Today, George Teague spends his days excited about the next race his 4-year-old pacer is being prepared for. Teague Stables is full of “family” members like Wiggle It’s trainer, Clyde Francis, who has been friends with George since childhood. It was Clyde that first noticed potential in the young gelding.
"Big Mike" Taylor is the groom and has been taking care of Wiggle It JiggleIt since he was born. Mike is also the only person charged with handling him in the winner’s circle, where the gelding is frequently unruly after the excitement of a win.
George’s son, Montrell, is the driver on the team who has stepped up with poise to the responsibility of having a great horse. He’s had success with several other horses as well, but early on some criticized George for putting his son at the reins of his promising gelding. But the elder Teague knew that “greatness comes with opportunity." The younger Teague has responded by handling the pressure with hard work, confidence and humility. According to George, "the best part of having Wiggle It is that I get to share the experience with Montrell. How many fathers get to throw a pass in the Super Bowl to their son at wide receiver?" It’s obvious George is a proud father but not only because of Montrell’s success as a driver. "He’s a good young man, works hard, is quiet by nature and a good listener. I can hand the lines to him and have total confidence. I live for the moment to see him do well," says George.
Dr. Denise McNitt is also a regular presence at Teague Stables and closely monitors all the horses. She’s the person that recommended that Teague Stables supplement the horse with Platinum Performance® Equine Wellness formula to help maintain health and support his immune system. With a long race season that requires a lot of shipping, she knew it would help him maintain health, soundness and recovery after races. As George said, "it made a difference right away. Denise pulled blood on him every 1-2 weeks and his levels were consistently good." McNitt added, "Wiggle It showed so much stamina. He was at peak racing condition from January through November, and that’s a pretty rare thing." When Teague saw the results he got with Platinum, he put the rest of the barn on it. "Now, every horse gets it 7 days a week!
Francis and owner Teague, Jr. were childhood friends. George is thrilled with what Francis has done in training Wiggle It JiggleIt, saying, "Clyde was the first person to see potential in him as a colt, and he’s done an excellent job. I truly treasure our long friendship but, even more so, the great job he does by the horse. I truly couldn’t have asked him for more."
This 25-year-old driver has had to deal with more pressure than most, being the son of an owner that put him on a promising horse. But he’s proved he can race with the best of them. This well-spoken, hardworking horseman is also the second-youngest driver to ever win the Little Brown Jug.
This "gentle giant" of Teague Stables is the groom and has taken care of Wiggle It JiggleIt since he was a baby. He has a strong connection to the horse and is the only one that can handle the excitable gelding after a race.
McNitt lives within a mile of Teague Stables and is a daily presence there. She has practiced equine veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and takes a very hands-on approach to horses. About George, McNitt says, "the best thing about George is how well he treats people. He recently referred to me as his "partner" when he introduced me to a new acquaintance. And that’s how I see it, too. We partner on the health of his horses."
The hope is that Wiggle It JiggleIt stays healthy and keeps racing for many years. "He’ll let us know when he gets tired of racing," says the owner. "He’s just so much fun to watch do his thing." Wiggle It JiggleIt also has two full siblings, both fillies. One is a growing 2-year old. The other is a spunky yearling. So, there is even more to be excited about in the future for Teague Stables.
When asked about how he feels about being the first black man to own a Little Brown Jug winner, he says proud, "I envisioned myself succeeding, believed in my gifts, recognized good horses and I think we worked harder. People thought we were crazy! I think we’ve shown them that everyone has a chance to own a Wiggle It JiggleIt. Anyone can be George Teague. That’s what I’m proud of."
Montrell and George Teague, Jr.
exercising young standardbreds at their farm in Delaware
PHOTO BY DAN TRADER PHOTOGRAPHY
by Amy Quintana