Folks in her hometown acknowledge “Mrs. Birzer” for coaching cheerleading and track, being a substitute teacher, and “just another mom.”
But with school already in session this fall, she won’t be found in a classroom or coaching.
At Thoroughbred racetracks, Bonnie Birzer is making a name for herself as a trainer of tough-to-beat racehorses.
Bonnie is the middle daughter of Dennis and (the late) Nancy Good who headquartered their Spooky Business Stables LLC at Council Grove.
“I grew up helping Dad and Mom with their training operations. I always wanted to be with them working with horses,” Bonnie admitted.
With 19 Thoroughbreds in her stalls at Prairie Meadows Racetrack, Altoona, Iowa, Bonnie finally found time to visit.
“My husband Alex is a jockey riding the horses I train as well as for other trainers here,” Bonnie verified. “We have a hectic seven-days-a-week schedule conditioning the racehorses. They race Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and I typically have some horses running about every day.”
While they own their home in Council Grove, Bonnie and Alex Birzer live more in their camper near racetracks.
“Prairie Meadows opens in May and runs through October,” Bonnie said. “Then we’ll go to Delta Downs in Louisiana this winter and back to Will Rogers Downs, Claremore, Oklahoma, next spring.”
It’s still a family operation. “Our children Jordon (24), Brett (22), and Colby (15) all are part of the training business,” Bonnie said. “My sisters, Star Veh and Sandy Black, of Council Grove and my brother Furrel Good, Choctaw, Oklahoma, keep involved too.”
Still the one most responsible for it all, according to Bonnie, is her dad Dennis Good at Council Grove. “I must credit everything I know about training horses to my dad,” Bonnie insisted. “He’s a self-made trainer starting from the bottom working his way to the top with such incredible knowledge about horses.”
Working as an assistant trainer under her dad for several years, Bonnie acquired her own training license when he retired. “I have continued training under his Spooky Business Stables LLC name,” she said.
“Dad came up to help with the horses in training last year, and has come to watch this year,” Bonnie noted. “If I ever have any questions about training any horse, Dad is the first one I ask. He’s the smartest horseman I’ve ever known.”
Nancy Good passed away on June 20, 2020. “It has been a big hardship on us all,” Bonnie grieved. “We were even unable to have a memorial service due to coronavirus.”
So, this summer, the family decided to have The Nancy Good Memorial Race at Prairie Meadows. “We wanted to have the race on Mom’s birthday, August 11,” Bonnie said. “But that date wasn’t open, so the race was August 6.”
Most of Nancy’s immediate family was in attendance. Nancy’s twin sister Nina Imthurn, their mom Gladys Bloomfield, nieces, nephews, and many friends were in the grandstands.
“It was a sad time, but so special to have everybody together in memory of our mom,” Bonnie said. “When the race date was set, I didn’t even know if I would have a horse to enter. But I entered one of our horses in the Memorial Race, and he won it. That will always be the most memorable race of my career.”
Training racehorses is a very complex business, quite different than a trainer of ranch horses, rodeo horses and show horses.
“I oversee everything done with the horses I’m training,” Bonnie said. “That’s feeding, conditioning, exercising, starting gate training, foot care, health management, scheduling races and more.
“I work to make sure the horse is ready to run and do the best to win when the gate opens,” she added.
It’s far from a one-person job. “Of course, my husband Alex helps out, but he’s very busy as a fulltime jockey,” Bonnie said. “I have three other full-time employees who help in all phases of the training business.”
Bonnie trains for several different racehorse owners from throughout the Midwest. “I have racehorses in training for seven owners now, and we do have seven of our own racehorses,” Bonnie said. “My sister Star has interest in some racehorses too and frequently comes up to help with training.
“Dad doesn’t own any racehorses now, but knowing him that could change at any time,” she added.
Son Brett had a successful career as a Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse jockey, but now is a jockey agent at Prairie Meadows. Daughter Jordan is a veterinary assistant at the racetrack, while her husband Kevin Roman is a jockey.
“Colby is staying with his grandpa and going to school at Council Grove this fall,” Bonnie said. “When we head to Louisiana to train in the warmer climate this winter, Colby will most likely go to school there.”
Having been leading jockey several seasons at various tracks including Prairie Meadows, Alex Birzer has an enviable lifetime win record. “Like me, Alex grew up with racehorses, and we met at the racetrack,” Bonnie commented. “All we have ever wanted to do was work with racehorses.”
“Work” is the description of being a jockey as daily demands are strenuous and hazardous. Injury sidelined the 48-year-old, five-foot-three, 118-pounds (with tack) jockey for several weeks this year.
Alex has ridden in 356 races this year, with 64 wins, 66 seconds, and 47 thirds. Athletes in every sport would relish a record such as that.
Bonnie has started 109 racehorses this year with 19 wins, 14 seconds and 17 thirds.
There is no slowing down in sight for the Council Grove family renowned in Thoroughbred racing circles. “We love the horseracing business, all of us. It’s in our blood. It’s what we know. It’s what we do.”
The Nancy Good Memorial Race in memory of Council Grove resident Nancy Good who passed away June 20, 2020, was at Prairie Meadows Racetrack, Altoona, Iowa, August 6. Bonnie Birzer, daughter of Dennis and (the late) Nancy Good, trained race winner Knight Commander with her husband Alex Birzer as the jockey. The winner is owned by the Birzers’ Spooky Business Stable LLC, which they acquired from her parents. (Coady Photography win picture)
Alex and Bonnie Birzer are at Prairie Meadows Racetrack, Altoona, Iowa, where Alex is a winning Thoroughbred racehorse jockey and Bonnie is a leading trainer. (Birzer family photo)
In the saddling paddock, Thoroughbred trainer Bonnie Birzer is at the halter of her next racehorse entry at Prairie Meadows Racetrack, Altoona, Iowa. (Birzer family photo)