The horsewomen of the ‘Mighty M’

Part II

Posted 7/26/22

MONTICELLO, NY — A couple weeks ago, this sports scribbler came up with a rather rare idea, at least in his allegedly wandering mind.

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The horsewomen of the ‘Mighty M’

Part II


MONTICELLO, NY — A couple weeks ago, this sports scribbler came up with a rather rare idea, at least in his allegedly wandering mind.

How about covering the reinswomen of Monticello Raceway, known in its glory days as the Mighty M?

So one thing led to another, and as the dedicated coterie of horsewomen at the local harness track had so many fascinating stories to share, the River Reporter returned to the paddock for more tales of women in the business of sulky racing.

While females are often in the driver’s seat Down Under, and are fairly new to the game in North America, they are rapidly gaining ground in the United States, laying down some stiff competition for their male counterparts on the spidery two-wheeled carts.

Regardless of geography, women have always been a vital part of the harness racing scene as owners, breeders, trainers and grooms.

Brenda Gill originally hails from the Constitution State of Connecticut, but these days calls Monticello Raceway home as she works with her husband and horse trainer, Daniel Gill.

“I help set up the feed, take care of the horses and ship them,” said Gill, adding that since 2013, she’s “officially been barn manager and groom” for their stables.

“The raceway is a tight-knit group, everyone helps one another,” replied Gill, when asked about their home track.

Barbara Berger was raised around horses as her parents William and Johanna Powell used to race at the Mighty M back in the late 1950s and ‘60s.

“I grew up here, and my first job was here,” Berger recalled, standing next to Springsrollin, her three-year-old filly, a standardbred she “bred, raised and broke” to harness racing.

These days, she counts almost 40 years at the local track, and works as a groom for her husband, noted veteran driver John Berger.

Asked what it was like to be a woman in harness racing, Berger replied, “It’s challenging [but] things have come a long way. Originally, there weren’t a lot of women drivers and trainers… now that’s changed. Actually, I’ve found that women make better grooms and are better with the horses as trainers. They have a lot more finesse sometimes… not to discredit the male sex.”

More than a few years ago, Berger ran an adult educational BOCES program at the track under the watchful eye of John Manzi, Monticello’s legendary promoter and writer of all things harness racing for decades.

Noting that things have evolved a bit in the industry, “casinos and [electric betting] took away a lot of the money, and fewer people are in the grandstands. It’s sad,” she said. “This has been my home for years and years… it’s like a family. I love horses; they are beautiful and therapeutic.

“There’s a big push to keep the industry going,” said Berger. “It’s huge, from farming to breeding, to blacksmiths and feed stores.”

Marinna Monaco grew up in Yonkers, NY and stables nine horses at Monticello Raceway, where she drives in both amateur and overnight races, along with training her speedy sulky steeds. “My parents owned horses, on and off over the years. I just love the sport. It’s given me something to look forward to every day.”

Her take of being one of the female drivers at Monticello?

“You get an adrenaline rush,” she said. Of the male drivers, she noted, “They don’t treat you any differently out there, especially when you drive with the professionals… in a sense, they look out for you at the end of the day. 

“I go race by race, day by day… as long as my horses are happy,” said Monaco.

Bruce Aldrich Jr. is one of the all-time leading drivers at the local harness track, and on May 14, he got hitched to Laura Piero, thus renaming their joint venture the Aldrich Racing Stables.

Since starting at Monticello in 1998, he has posted eight driving titles. And now, “Being together 24/7 isn’t always easy, but we’re a great team. She’s the smart one; I’m the driver. She’s the brains behind it; I’m the jackass,” he said.

Laura Aldrich said she’s been involved in the sport for about 10 years, and not being born or raised into harness racing, she “sort of had to work my way into it.

“Ever since I was a kid, what I always wanted to do was thoroughbreds, but I ended up with standardbreds,” she recalled, at which point Bruce talked a little horse sense, explaining, “Thoroughbreds are the ones you ride, standardbreds are the ones you sit behind in the cart.”

“I went to school to learn how to be a blacksmith, and got hooked into harness racing,’ said Laura Aldrich. “Now I manage everything… the trainer, blacksmith, the shipper.”

On their wedding day at the horse farm of John and Barbara Berger, close friends both on and off the harness track, she rode into the ceremony on one of the newly joined couple’s own horses.

Talk about getting hitched, harness racing style!

For a view of the “Superstar Females of Harness Racing,” take a look at a series of articles by Victoria Howard, published by Harness Racing Update at https://harness

Monticello Raceway opened on June 27, 1958 and is located at 204 NY-17B. For more information about the raceway, which is owned by Empire Resorts, visit or call 866/777-4263.

horse riding, monticello, raceway


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