A visitor to the Joel Berndt barn Saturday morning approached the leading trainer as chores were wrapping up with an observation that all the employees seemed quite happy. “It’s payday,” Berndt quipped as he made the rounds distributing paychecks. But the happiness is not an aberration constrained to that moment in time. “I have a good team,” he said. And he does. Berndt has a crew of 14 employees that are very experienced, tending to more than 50 horses. Winning undoubtedly helps the mood. And they win a lot, 26 times this season, but these are dedicated horsewomen and men doing what they love. There is an unmistakable positive vibe in barn A5.
Berndt is fast approaching his 1,000th career victory. He sits at 998 going into the Sunday program at Canterbury Park after winning twice Saturday. His first recognized win came at Fonner Park
on March 24, 1991 with a horse named Sweet Cap. He raced a bit on the fair circuit in his native South Dakota prior to that and actually had his first win, in an unrecognized race, at Fort Pierre in 1988. Berndt raced at Canterbury in the summer of ‘91 for the first time and went winless in eight starts. He returned the following season and Sweet Cap provided him with his first Shakopee win on June 14.
Both his father and grandfather were in the sport before him and Berndt’s daughter Kelsey represents the next generation, working for her father.
Joel learned a lot by observing, racing much of his early career in Chicago. “I came up around a lot of good trainers. Now they had better horses of course, but the principle was the same. I realize now how much I thought I knew then that I did not know.
“I set a goal of winning 1,000 races when I started. It didn’t seem possible.”
Yet it is and could become a reality on Wednesday if he wins Sunday or Thursday. He has one entered both Sunday and Wednesday and four Thursday. Berndt has won two titles at Canterbury Park and leads the standings this season.
One takeaway learned during his career that may be the most important to his increasing success is patience, something he tries to instill in his team. “Patience is the number one thing. Patience with the horses, patience with entries. Don’t just enter to enter. There are trainers that enter just to stay alive,” he said.
Berndt, 55, has trained many accomplished thoroughbreds including last year’s Canterbury Horse of the Meet Midnight Current. He has a soft spot for Illinois-bred Silver Bid, a multiple stakes winner of $775,784. “Silver Bid was the best. He earned the most. He beat open company,” the trainer said. “Hogy was good. He ran out a lot of money, not all of it for me but I had him at the start. Hay Dakota was good too.” Hay Dakota won the 2016 Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs. “He won the [2017 Mystic Lake] Mile; should have won the [Mystic Lake] Derby. Lost by less than a half length.”
The 1,000-win milestone will be reached. The team and the trainer will celebrate. Then it will be back to work the next day with the same positive attitude.