When Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Vicar's in Trouble galloped home 6 3/4-lengths the best in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes Jan. 18 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, it brought some well-deserved attention to conditioner Mike Maker's assistant trainer Joe Sharp, who represented Maker at winner's circle ceremonies.
Would Maker be coming to New Orleans this weekend when Vicar's in Trouble tries to make it two in a row in Saturday's Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Louisiana Derby Preview Day at Fair Grounds?
“That hasn't been decided yet,” said Sharp, speaking in his tack room during the morning break in training hours. “It's also Fountain of Youth Day down at Gulfstream so he may have to stay there.”
Actually, that shouldn't matter, because Sharp has proved to be one valuable stand-in for his boss. He looks younger than his 29 years of age but his emotional maturity and sense of responsibility belies his appearance.
“We talk every morning,” said Sharp of his close relationship to Maker. “We talk about every horse every day. Mike Maker is a very good trainer and a great guy to work for. I've learned a lot from him in the two and a half years I've worked for him and I'm learning more every day.”
On Saturday, in addition to Vicar's in Trouble, the Maker barn will start Connie Apostelos' Shanon Nicole in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra, the Ramseys' Gentleman's Kitten in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap and the Ramseys' Awesome Flower in the Bayou Handicap.
“All of them are doing really good and eating good,” Sharp said Sunday, “and it looks like we're really going to get a nice break in the weather for their races. All of them completed their serious work this morning.
“I'm here for Mike in New Orleans and also with him in New York and Kentucky,” Sharp said. “I'm not in any great rush to go out on my own. The way I look at it here, I'm getting paid to go to school to do something I like to do, anyway.”
Sharp has been around horses all his life. He was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to a father who trained and galloped horses around West Virginia's Shenandoah Downs. His mother still gallops horses.
“I grew up hanging out in tack rooms,” Sharp said. “I was a jockey for about a year riding at Canterbury and a little bit around Maryland and West Virginia before I got into the training end of things. I worked for Mike Stidham for about five and a half or six years before I started with Mike Maker.”
Two and a half years ago, Sharp married Fair Grounds' three-time defending jockey champion Rosie Napravnik and together they have a home in New Orleans and have bought a house in Louisville.
“We're pretty lucky because for most of the year we're pretty much on the same circuit,” Sharp said. “From here we go to Keeneland and Churchill and we're together at Belmont and Saratoga as well. Also, Rosie and I both serve as foster parents to several dogs. In fact, this one right here that Rosie adopted is in the dog house right now. This one is doing jail time.
“On our days off, we like to take all of them to the dog park,” Sharp concluded, “but believe it or not, we also like to go trail riding on our days off.”
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