Ridgefield man returns to childhood passion for ‘exhilarating’ sport of harness racing

RIDGFIELD — Resident Scott Keppler, 55, is living the dream, because at this stage in his life, he can.

Growing up, he attended Morrisville-Eaton High in Morrisville, NY, where he loved playing football. But he also developed a passion for another sport: harness racing.

His father, Richard Keppler, who passed away five years ago, owned and trained harness racing horses and introduced Scott to the sport. He learned to train and race as a teenager, but left the sport in 1986 to pursue a career in the software industry.

His passion for harness racing was rekindled thanks to the Internet.

“One day, out of the blue, I searched the internet to see if I could find anything about the harness racing industry,” Keppler said. “I was surprised to see some great industry websites like ustrotting.com. I was reading all these articles about people that I competed with when I was young or that I knew through my father.

“That got me hooked again and I started following the sport again on a regular basis. “

In 2020, with the support of his wife and two children and the finances to do so, he returned to harness racing to follow his childhood dream. He bought three little hands and returned to the sulky, the carriage used in the sport, to drive in his first race since 1986.

In 2020, he was winless in three starts in amateur division races at Yonkers Raceway in New York and Monticello Raceway in New Jersey with purses up to $15,000. He won his first race of 2021 on his horse, Judge Ken, at Yonkers on Aug. 6. Last year he finished with three wins, five second places and three third places and earned $29,960. In 2022 he has three wins, two second place awards and one third place in 15 starts for $12,663 in earnings.

“My first win back in the sport was special,” Keppler said. “But I have to be honest, I really enjoy every interaction that I have not only with the racehorses, but also with people in the industry.

“That’s another big part of the connection I have to the sport, the people. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met are people who are in the horse industry. Colorful, generous and hard-working, these people remind me of where I grew up in the rolling hills of central New York. I just enjoy talking to them sharing a laugh or two.”

‘Hooked’ on the sport

Scott Keppler spent his early childhood in northern New Jersey until his father moved the family to upstate New York where they owned a 50-acre farm. It was there that Richard Keppler realized his own dream of owning and training a stable of harness racing horses at Vernon Downs in Vernon, New York. he races at state fairs in 1983 at age 16.

“Once I was introduced to the racing side, it was clearly the speed and the competition that appealed to me,” Keppler said. “Working with the horses to compete at speed really got me hooked.

These horses trot at speeds of over 30 miles per hour and you are competing against seven or eight other horses in a race. It’s exciting when you think about it. I got hooked and all these years later, I’m still having fun here.“

As a young man, Keppler thought he would have a career in harness racing. But after graduating from high school, reality set in. If he was going to be successful in life, he wasn’t going to be in harness racing. In 1986, at age 19, he ran his last race and kept going. As a driver from 1983 to 1986, in 29 total starts he had three wins, two second places and four third places, with $1,716 in earnings.

“When I realized that harness racing wasn’t my path, I went back to school, followed the Grateful Dead for a while, and eventually got a bachelor’s degree (bachelor of science) in finance and an MBA in marketing,” said Keppler, who works at home for ServiceNow, a software company based in Santa Clara, California. “I got involved in the software industry and was lucky enough to work with some very successful companies.

“For a long time, I was a professional guy with a great wife (Katie) and family, and I was excited to move to Ridgefield and continue raising our children,” he said.

They moved to Ridgefield about 11 or 12 years ago. Her oldest son, Liam, graduated from Ridgefield High School last year and is a freshman at Penn State. His youngest son, Max, is a freshman at Ridgefield High School.

Liam Keppler was a standout wrestler at Ridgefield High and Max is on the Ridgefield High football team.

In addition to Judge Ken, the other two Keppler trotters are named Lincoln Tunnel and Brilliant Bob. They are competing in the North American Amateur Drivers Association Spring Series, a 10-race event with the races split and held in Yonkers and Monticello, Virginia. Stage four took place on Thursday and Keppler is looking for his first victory in the Spring Series. . Horses are awarded points on a first-come, first-served basis, and the top eight advance to the $15,000 prize pool final in Yonkers on May 19.

“My horses are stabled at Monticello,” Keppler said. “I use share farms near there when I give them their regular breaks from the race track. I would love to find a farm near Ridgefield where I could leave them for a week or two so my wife and kids could spend more time with them too.

“I enjoy introducing people to these beautiful equine athletes. In my opinion, they are special and often leave a lasting impression on people.“

Keppler said he enjoys both the training and driving aspects of the sport.

“I like to be hands-on and work with them as much as I can,” Keppler said. “These animals are the result of decades of refined breeding that allows them to perform at a high level.

“When you work with them, you become teammates and when you win a race, I think they feel the achievement as much as I do. It’s really something special.”

When it comes to driving, training and owning his horses, it’s still a learning experience for Keppler. But the end result is that with the profits he has made from the races he is meeting the cost of keeping his three horses. More important to him is that he is having fun.

“With my family, my job and harness racing, I’m living my best life,” Keppler said. “When you have an interest in something, but it’s not part of your life, you need to turn it around and say ‘why not me.’ My dad taught me that.”