Some time into their relationship, Regina Brennan relayed that she thought Donnie Reeder was from Oklahoma. He explained that he was actually from Beaver Falls, Pa. and said “that only crooks and thieves come from Oklahoma.’’
“Yeah,’’ Brennan replied, “and so does my mother.’’
Such was their wonderful time together that lasted several decades. After Reeder, 81, passed away on the last day of July, Brennan remembered a horse trainer who loved the game and the people in it.
Parx Hall of Fame trainer John Servis, then a jockey’s agent, first met Reeder in 1979 at Penn National when he shipped a horse in from Waterford Park. He’d heard he was a terrific horseman.
“I made it a point to introduce myself to him,’’ Servis said. “We hit it off and we’ve been friends ever since.’’
Brennan wonderfully described Reeder as “good time Charlie, he lived the dream with no money in his pocket.’’
Servis concurred that Reeder loved to have a good time.
“He worked hard, taught me a lot watching what he did,’’ Servis said. “He was great working on horse’s legs. And he got results with horses he was holding together.’’
Parx HOF trainers Scott Lake and Phil Aristone were regulars by the rail with Reeder. Brennan, a trainer at Parx with such good horses as Promised Storm and Rock On Luke, said: “I’d be doing all the work. They’d just be up there laughing.
“`Did you see that horse work,’ she would ask. `Ah, I missed it,’’’ Reeder would say.
Lake called Reeder: “the classic definition of a race tracker, have fun, good guy.’’
Reeder had some solid horses in a career that spanned four decades and included 978 winners.
“He didn’t have the good horses either, he had the ones you had to work on,’’ Brennan said.
Heart’s Cry and Stephan’s Prize raced a combined 152 times, the vast majority of them with Reeder. They combined to win nearly $500,000 with Reeder, a few years before the slot-infused purses came to Parx.
Reeder’s best horse was the wonderful sprinter True Passion, winner of the 2002 Grade III Philadelphia Park Breeders’ Cup Handicap, the end of a six-race winning streak. True Passion, owned by Eliott Krems, was later named PhillyPark Horse of the Year for 2002.
True Passion, like many of Reeder’s top horses including Tizagal, raced in Southern California with limited success until they came east and Reeder got them to the winner’s circle over and over again. Tizagal won seven races from September 2001 until May 2002.
Brennan remembers putting $9,000 on her credit card for Tizagal before she saw her past performances and noted that “she had been beaten for $6.500 at some fair.’’ Then, she won all those races for them and was claimed for $50,000.
“Well, I guess you’re off the hook,’’ she told Reeder.
Even as he had a few horses of his own to train, Reeder was an assistant to Parx Hall of Fame trainer Dennis “Goose’’ Heimer. When Heimer died in 1989, Reeder got some of his owners and horses. His best years were 1999 with 85 winners and 2004 with 80.
Reeder served as PTHA president from 2009-2011. His preference was to remain in the background, but when needed, he was there.
“He was all about race trackers,’’ Brennan said. “Whatever they needed, he would try to get it done.’’
Reeder retired from training in 2012. According to Brennan, after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001, Reeder had been cancer free until the past couple of months when the cancer returned. He was in hospice when he died.
“I knew Don before we ever started dating,’’ Brennan said. “Just from being race trackers.’’
Reeder, she said, “just had that charisma. He always had something funny to say.’’
And he had stories, especially about riding in rodeos before becoming a trainer.
“His father got him a pony as a little kid,’’ Brennan said. “They’d go to the fairs…Every time something came on TV and I’d say `I’d like to go there,’ he’d say, `yeah I rodeoed there, I’ve been there, done that.’’’
True at the rodeos, true at the race track; Donnie Reeder has been there, done that.