by Debbie Little
According to Merriam-Webster, a renaissance man is a “person who has broad interests and is expert in several areas”.
It would be hard to find a more fitting description for Peter Kleinhans, who is, or was, an owner, trainer, rider, breeder, handicapper, TV talent and race caller, and that is just his harness racing resume.
Kleinhans, 57, will don the helmet at The Meadowlands tonight (May 26) to call the races while Ken Warkentin is on assignment. He was given the option to call tomorrow night as well, but his significant other, Ivy, put the kybosh on it since they are getting married on Sunday.
Kleinhans became addicted to horse racing in his youth when his parents took him to Belmont Park when he was just 6 years old. Before that, the only horses he had ever seen were pulling carriages where he grew up in Lower Manhattan.
“And I was so in love with it all, especially the announcer, it was Dave Johnson, who I’m still friends with now,” Kleinhans said. “I guess it was 1972.”
A few years later, while visiting his grandparents in Pittsburgh, he was introduced to standardbreds at The Meadows. You had to be at least 10 to attend the races and since he was only 9 they had to sneak him in.
From that day on, he was hooked.
“Then I found sports eye, which I would buy every day on the way to school and read it on the subway,” Kleinhans said. “Then I wanted to become an announcer. I started watching the Channel 9 show with Stan Bergstein and Spencer Ross and imitating the announcers, who at the time were Bob Meyer at Yonkers and Jack E. Lee at Roosevelt.
“Every night I would watch it and mute the sound and announce the races.”
Kleinhans was also a big baseball fan and wasn’t sure if he wanted to advertise the diamond or the diamond spats.
“I made the decision to make horse racing my ad focus, not baseball or some different sport that probably would have had a better trajectory for actual prestige these days, but who knew at the time. “, said Kleinhans. “I was doing well in school and enjoyed a lot of school subjects, but I was really obsessed with running before I graduated from high school.”
Kleinhans graduated from high school at age 16 and attended college at Pennsylvania’s prestigious Carnegie Mellon, chosen in part for its proximity to The Meadows.
“So I basically went to The Meadows every night they ran during my college years,” he said. “And when they weren’t racing, I was going to the Thoroughbreds in Waterford, which is now Mountaineer.”
Kleinhans got a big break thanks to the kindness of Meadows track announcer Roger Huston.
“I knew a guy who was a cashier there and he gave Roger a tape of my race calls and Roger liked that,” Kleinhans said. “Roger said, ‘We don’t have a spot here, but we’re opening this new Lake Shore Meadows track in Erie, which would be a sister track. “”
Kleinhans believes Lake Shore Meadows was the first track in the country to have the simulcast.
“Because they would have a six-race live and six-race Meadows card and they were one of the first places to do that,” Kleinhans said. “I announced all the races live. They raced two years, 1984 and 1985.”
In addition to calling the race, Kleinhans wrote the tip sheet, delivered the programs and kept all the driver statistics.
“I was doing like six jobs at a time, but it was heaven for me,” he said. “They were $1,500 contenders running for $800 scholarships, but that didn’t matter to me.”
That same year, 18-year-old Kleinhans started stopping off in Erie, unexpectedly becoming the owner of a horse.
“There was a horse [Flip Collins] that I had bet at The Meadows during the school year that I had a nice win as a longshot once and he started taking breaks and I could see he was starting to hurt,” Kleinhans said. “And he showed up at Lake Shore Meadows. In his first race, he finished fourth in a $1,500 claim, and then he kind of crumbled the next time around.
People were telling Kleinhans that the fate of this lame horse was in question and that he should consider buying it.
“So in this panic, I basically called my mom and asked her if she could loan me $500 to buy this horse,” he said. “So that’s how I started to become an owner.
“He had two flexed tendons, so he had to be fired for a year, but he came back the following year and he actually won the last race they ever raced at the track. He only raced twice and he won his second start and that was, to date, my happiest moment.
For Kleinhans, it was a tough choice between announcing and coaching because he loved them both so much, but that choice was made easier when he got a full-time job in 1994, as a color commentator. at The Meadows.
At the same time, he was hired by The Meadowlands publicity manager Ellen Harvey as a part-time co-host for the track’s internal run.
“I put Peter in the rotation and he did a great job,” Harvey said. “He does a good job at everything he does.”
Huston also had nothing but praise for his young co-host, but, on top of that, he remembered a funny story.
“He can train a horse,” Huston said. “He knows how to ride a horse. He has his musical career. He is very intelligent. It can advertise horse races. He really can do it all.
“One time he was with me as a co-host and he bet a horse,” Huston said. “Someone else in the race was the heavy favorite and he couldn’t see why anyone would bet that horse was the heavy favorite. He said something on air like, ‘I don’t see how this horse is the favorite.” After the race was over, he saw that he had bet on the wrong horse and made the horse that was supposed to be a longshot the heavy favorite.
Harvey recalls being contacted by Hoosier Park’s Tammy Knox, who was looking for an announcer for the brand new track, and told him Kleinhans would be a perfect fit.
“I was hired at Hoosier Park in Indiana in 1995 and worked there for four years,” Kleinhans said. “I loved this job and I quit to go to law school, which I don’t know if it was a smart move. In fact, it certainly wasn’t because I hadn’t used the law tricks at all. But I really liked law school itself.
“But it cost me all my momentum with the announcement and it was unfortunate. I had a lot of little gigs but never got back to full-time work. started doing whole pork with the horses and had 20 horses at a time.
The 2000s were great years for Kleinhans as he would go on to become an owner/trainer and occasional driver of top horses Lavec Dream, Wearable Art and double champion Dan Patch Enough Talk, the first trotter under 1:50.
Additionally, he also welcomed his son, Quinn, in 2005, and daughter, Becky, in 2009.
In 2007 Kleinhans gave a very special horse a home. Harvey’s Starfish Stable had bid against the killers to save a chestnut mare at the New Holland sale, which it named January for January Davies, who died earlier that year.
“I knew [January] good to work at the Red Mile and was devastated by the news,” Kleinhans said. “When it turned out that the horse bearing her name needed a home, I was happy to help her. She was already an older horse; she lived on the farm for about 10 years before to die.
When the barn closed at The Meadowlands, it was too difficult for Kleinhans to continue training as his children were in school in New York. He still owns horses and competes with the Meadowlands Amateur Drivers Club but currently leaves training to John McDermott, although he has had horses with Simon Spicer, Jennifer Bongiorno and Dan Smith.
Although the lineup isn’t currently monopolizing his time, Kleinhans has found other projects to fill the void.
He became a songwriter, released two albums, a third of which is on the way, and performs quite regularly at the Bitter End in New York.
He also raises chickens, beef and lamb on his New Jersey farm which he says is “more organic than organic.”
He and his daughter, Becky, recently took part in the winter edition of The Meadowlands Chili Cookoff with their stock-raised beef. Her daughter loves to cook and although they didn’t win this time, they plan to come back for the next contest.
Kleinhans will call several race cards in Yonkers starting in June on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays for about a month and would have done more, but his son is getting ready for college, his daughter is going camping and he is going on honeymoon; after Hambletonian Day, of course.
He hopes to one day have a full-time gig again by calling errands, but with his new wife planning to go to law school, he knows he’ll have to be flexible for a while.
“If I had stayed in Hoosier Park, I would probably still be there,” he said. “I loved this job.”