Department of Agriculture | NJDA HONORS AL OCHSNER AS NEW JERSEY HORSEPERSON OF THE YEAR skip to main content skip to main navigation
Equine Awards - Click to enlarge

June 5, 2024
PO Box 330
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0330                      

Jeff Wolfe
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Others Also Awarded At 67th Annual Celebration to Mark Month of the Horse

(TRENTON) - The 2024 Governor’s Award for Horseperson of the Year was awarded to Al Ochsner for his service to the equine industry over the last several decades. Ochsner accepted the award at the 67th Annual New Jersey Breeders Awards Celebration at the Horse Park of New Jersey on Tuesday to mark the Month of the Horse in the state.

“Al Ochsner’s dedicated service to the industry and passion for horses makes him an exemplary person to be honored with this award,” NJDA Secretary Ed Wengryn said. “His work with the Standardbred Owners and Breeders Association of New Jersey (SBOANJ) has allowed the state to remain one of the leaders in the industry.”

In 2006, Ochsner became a director of the SBOANJ and served in various capacities there before being appointed executive administrator in 2016. Over the years, he has worked to ensure the strength of the racing industry, whether through on-track initiatives, or programs to promote breeding and owning Standardbreds. Also, he helped secure the five-year $100 million state racing appropriation.

Over the years, Ochsner owned and bred more than 100 horses. He bred and raised Precious Bunny, who in 1991 won 20 of 25 races, earned $2.21 million, and was named Horse of the Year in the U.S. and Canada. The pacer’s victories included the Meadowlands Pace, North America Cup and Little Brown Jug, and Ochsner was recognized as the sport’s Breeder of the Year.

Ochsner’s other top horses included Golden Greek, Keystone Harem, Seminole Lobell, and Town Council.

Ochsner attended New Brunswick High School, where he was president of the school’s FFA chapter. During that time, he began raising and marketing pheasants, a business that later funded his education at Utah State University. He graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and economics.

Shortly after starting his professional career, Ochsner got involved in harness racing with a childhood friend. He began with claimers but soon was drawn to higher-level racing and breeding. He started racing horses with the Stafford family and then became involved in partnerships where his horses were trained by the great Billy Haughton, Jan Nordin, and other top trainers.

Other awards presented were:

Secretary of Agriculture Award for New Jersey Standardbred Horse of the Year: Tactical Approach – Tactical Approach became the first horse since Muscle Hill to win the Hambletonian, the Kentucky Futurity, and the Breeders Crown. Sired by Tactical Landing, and out of the Donato Hanover mare, Sarcy, he earned $1.35 million as a 3-year-old, including a mark of 1:50.1 He raced lightly as a 2-year-old, making five starts with two wins in the Kentucky Sire Stakes Commonwealth Series. Trained by Nancy Takter, he is owned by Robert LeBlanc, John Fielding, Joe Sbrocco, and John Fodera.

New Jersey Sire Stakes Premier Horse of the Year: Voukefalas – Bred and owned by long-time Standardbred horseman Michael Pagonas of Saddle River, Voukefalas is a home-bred from Pagonas broodmare, Inittowinafortune. Trained by Michael Russo, also of Saddle River, in his first two starts, Voukefalas was second and then won a baby race at Gaitway Farm in 1:56.1. Then he went to the Meadowlands where he was third twice in the two $30,000 preliminary legs of the New Jersey Sire Stakes. He ran his 3-year-old record of 1:49.2 at the Meadowlands.  His earnings for 2023 were $571,250.

Secretary of Agriculture Award for New Jersey Thoroughbred Horse of the Year: Book’em Dano – Owned by Atlantic Six Racing LLC, Book’em Danno won his first career race by 9 1/2 lengths against fellow New Jersey-breds on August 12. The son of Bucchero out of the Ghostzapper mare, Adorabella, followed his maiden win with a victory in the $100,000 Smoke Glacken Stakes at Monmouth Park. Book’em Danno traveled to New York for his next start and won the $150,000 Futurity Stakes at Aqueduct by 6 1/2 lengths. Trained by Derek Ryan and bred in New Jersey by Gregory Kilka and Bright View Farm, Book’em Danno finished 2023 with three wins and one second in four starts, earning $230,625.

Breeder of the Year: Southwind Farms The farm located in Pennington in Mercer County is home to notable stallions Muscle Hill, Tactical Landing, and Waldner. With Tactical Landing being the sire to Hambletonian winner Tactical Approach, it added another prestigious jewel to the farm’s already well-known successes. Colts sired by Southwind Farms stallions are annually among the top money makers at the Lexington Yearling Sale that takes place each fall in Kentucky. Southwind Farms sits on about 235 acres in Pennington and grows its own hay and straw on about 800 acres in the township. The well-known farm has about 400 visitors a year. It is operated by General Manager Laura Young, Grounds Manager Chris Pazdan, and Syndicate Manager Mike Klau.

Horse Park of NJ Volunteer of the Year: Dr. Carey Williams – A constant at the Horse Park of New Jersey for more than a decade, Dr. Williams has been a key volunteer for multiple events at the Park. As the Volunteer Coordinator for each of the recognized horse trials, Dr. Williams donates weeks of her time recruiting, organizing, and instructing hundreds of volunteers to ensure the recognized horse trials succeed. In addition to chairing the volunteer committee for those events, she uses vacation days from her job as a Rutgers Professor to decorate the entire cross-county course both for optics and the horse's safety.

New Jersey Youth Horseperson of the Year: McKenzie Jones – McKenzie is a member of the New Jersey Region Pony Club and has numerous achievements in eventing and horse knowledge. She provides youth with learning disabilities a chance to connect with horses through riding lessons.  A junior in high school, McKenzie is a member of her school's leadership team, the Honor Society, and is earning her Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish. She also volunteers with the "Girls Who Code Club" which aims to encourage girls to pursue a career in the STEM field.

Bell Scholarship: Colton Grzankowski – The $1,000 scholarship is presented by the Equine Advisory Board and named for Ernest C. Bell, a horse breeder and one of the founders of the Equine Advisory Board. Colton is a recent graduate of the animal science program at Rutgers University. He is scheduled to attend The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine and is interested in large animal and wildlife medicine.

Superior Achievement Awards: Wisenheimer and Chocolate Delight – Wisenheimer’s honors include being a champion in English Equitation, Intro Level Dressage, High Point Adult Exhibitor, and United States Trotting Association Standardbred Incentive Program Champion Awards in the Dressage, English, and War Horse divisions. Chocolate Delight’s honors include winning the National Standardbred Horse Show Champion Western Speed Division for three consecutive years (2023, 2022, 2021), and when racing as a 3-year-old, winning the New Jersey Futurity at Freehold Raceway. He retired from racing in 2018. Each year he is the breed ambassador at expos for the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Horse World Expo in Pennsylvania.

Ronald Dancer Memorial Scholarship Awards: Colton Grzankowski, Sarah Paladino – Sarah will be a senior at Rutgers University in the fall and is an employee at the Rutgers Equine Science Center (ESC). Her work includes being involved in a study on the use of Equine Assisted Activities for veterans with PTSD and several other ESC projects. The scholarship award, each for $1,000, is named after late New Jersey Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, who served in New Jersey’s 12th Legislative District. He was a former horseman, trainer, driver, and the son of the late Hall of Fame harness horse racing driver Stanley Dancer. Assemblyman Dancer professionally raced and trained harness horses from 1968 through 1998.


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