Final Round

by Tim Bojarski

FOILED AGAIN has been in the harness racing limelight for many years now. But time has a way of catching up to everyone and such is the case for the richest Standardbred in the history of the sport.

With a reduced class workload and mandatory retirement approaching in January, Foiled Again’s career is winding down. But he still has a lot to offer his legions of fans before heading off to his well-earned farewell when he turns 15.

Foiled Again is a generational horse. Purchased for $20,000 as a yearling by Patrick Lacey at the 2005 Standardbred Horse Sale, he was broke and trained by Hermann Heitmann and raced for those connections until midway through his 4-year-old season. That is when Weaver Bruscemi, Sylvia Burke, and JJK Stables made a private offer and purchased the horse that would eventually change their careers and their lives forever.

Foiled Again went on to win just about every major stake an older pacer could. A quick look at his lifetime numbers will show he is just shy of the century mark for wins, has more than $7.5 million in earnings and has paced 86 sub-1:50 miles.

The bulk of that work was accomplished through his 11-year-old season, and the last couple years have shown that Foiled Again “is only human” and the years of hard work had finally started to show in the champion’s performances.

The last major race Foiled Again won was the $165,000 Hoosier Park Pacing Derby in 2015, capping off a year during which he banked $436,207 on the strength of three wins. While that is certainly no paltry sum, it was the lowest he had earned in seven years.

The two men responsible for Foiled Again’s success as an older performer are trainer Ron Burke and driver Yannick Gingras. As this great horse readies for the final miles of his illustrious career, “his people” tell how they handled his last couple racing years and reflect on the horse that made history.

Burke realized when Foiled Again couldn’t get himself in the right spot anymore, the top pacing stakes for older horses were becoming too much for him to handle.

“The only thing that’s changed with him, like any person getting older, is he doesn’t quite have the twitch he used to a few years ago,” Burke said. “He  doesn’t have the ability to go a 26 quarter at any point of the mile. But when he can get wheel to wheel with a horse, he can still out-will them. He’s still fit, he’s still sound, and he’s still trying. But he doesn’t have that quickness anymore. That’s just like any horse, but it’s amazing how long he’s held onto it.

“He would pace home and make up a length or two, but I could tell he just couldn’t figure out how to out-leave the guy outside him. It started to look like he needed the perfect situation all the time. He can still beat a good horse, but things need to kind of go his own way for him to do it.”

In 2016 Foiled Again had one major stake engagement all year and that was in May when he finished a disappointing sixth to Wiggle It Jiggleit in the $200,000 Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield Park. From that point on, the decision was made to step away from the tougher events for older horses and race him in overnights where he could still perform within himself.

Last year he competed solely in upper-level condition races at many tracks on the East Coast. He won seven and took a season’s mark of 1:51.4 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. And he did show some of his old speed finishing second at Harrah’s Philadelphia in September, pacing his mile in 1:49.4, with his last quarter in 27.4.

Foiled Again continued to race through the winter and started off 2018 with a win at Yonkers Raceway in January, but his performances seemed to tail off after that. Burke realized the thing that was probably affecting the horse the most was the number of starts in a row he’d had.

“He had raced 36 straight starts going back to last year and I had never raced him that many starts without a break,” Burke said. “And I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ I’m just going to shut him down and get him ready for his farewell tour. When we bring him back, he’ll be sharp and we’ll have some fun with it. We’ll take him to as many tracks as possible and it will be a blast.

“I want to make it a good experience where as many people as possible can see him. And in the end, have him come off the track sound the last time. My owners are 100 percent behind anything we can do to promote the sport and will consider any ideas that do it.”

Anyone who has seen Foiled Again race in person understands how popular this horse really is. Win, lose, or draw, Foiled Again always seems to have the hometown advantage.

“I have been blown away; people truly love him,” said Burke. “They truly enjoy when you bring him there. When some people criticize me for racing him, I think, ‘Just come and see when we bring him to places how much joy people get from him, and tell me I’m wrong.’”

Burke recalled when Foiled Again raced in the Gold Cup and Saucer in Prince Edward Island. The prime minister of Canada was in the grandstand and 500 arrived to view him. Foiled Again, however, was on the backside in a little round pen and 1,500 people arrived to catch a glimpse of the gelding.

Several tracks approached Burke to have special nights for Foiled Again through the end of the year, and The Meadows will probably be his last stop as the track races on New Year’s Eve and he can conclude his career right in his own backyard.

Burke has trained many great horses and for earnings, Foiled Again tops the list. But there is more than just the bottom line that goes into distinguishing who is the best.

“Mission Brief, to me, was my favorite horse of my whole life; she was like live or die,” Burke said. “I have never had a connection to a horse like I had with her.

“But with Foiled, I have the greatest respect for him. It’s the amount of times I can remember something special he did and where I was when he did them. I remember the Breeders Crown at Pocono when they put his number up after the photo with Pet Rock. The place erupted; they were so happy he won! It’s something to hear a whole grandstand cheering for a horse that isn’t doing anything for them but letting them enjoy his greatness.

“I really love having him in the barn, and the day he leaves we’re really going to miss him. He doesn’t even really like me, because every time I walk in he knows he’s getting trained. But I respect him and I respect the way he goes about his work.”

Burke was quick to point out what Foiled Again’s accomplishments have meant to his own success in the sport. The gelding entered Burke’s stable in 2008, which just happened to be the first year Burke surpassed $1 million in earnings, and he has contributed to Burke’s lofty earnings numbers every year since.

“Foiled Again has meant a lot to both my and Yannick’s (Gingras) careers,” said Burke. “If there was never a Foiled Again, I’m not sure there would have been a me or him. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have done it, but he gave us a lot of exposure when we were trying to get known and win big races. So we both owe him a lot, along with Mark Weaver’s family. We all appreciate what he’s done for us.

“I never really sat back to think about it until now, but it’s been cool (racing Foiled Again). It’s been a great experience.”

Yannick Gingras echoed Burke’s sentiments. He drove Foiled Again when the horse was at his best and, like Burke, knew when it was time to back off.

“Foiled Again can’t do things now like he did a few years ago, just like us,” Gingras said. “He doesn’t bounce back the way he used to, but that is expected. He doesn’t have the same desire he used to, although he still wants to race. When he goes on the track he enjoys his work, he likes being out there, and he’s still a sound horse. But he’ll fool you now. He’ll warm up great and you’ll think maybe tonight he’ll be really good, and then his body won’t do the things he wants it to do.

“I have never driven a horse with Foiled Again’s desire. He’s not the fastest, the biggest, or the strongest, but it’s his grit and his desire that made him Pacer of the Year. He always had the ability to put a bad race behind him and come back and throw a monster mile the next week. Every time he set foot on the racetrack, he only wanted to give 150 percent.”

Gingras recalled three races that really stand out for him.

“When he won the Canadian Pacing Derby, it was a special day for me because he went over Gallo Blue Chip’s Final Round earnings record,” he said. “He came from seventh off the pace, went up inside, and squeezed through in the stretch and got his nose up front. It wasn’t a Foiled Again type of race, but it showed his versatility.

“The other was when he won the TVG final. He wasn’t the favorite, but he raced so good that night. It was shortly after my grandfather had passed away and the win meant a lot to me.

“And the third was the 2013 Breeders Crown at Pocono; that race had Foiled Again written all over it. He had to work so hard to make the front; he was going all-out the minute the gate opened until the minute he cleared. Modern Legend came at him with Warrawee Needy second-over, and Pet Rock was on my back.

“Heading for home, it looked like they all had me beat, but he just refused to lose and kept fighting the whole stretch to win. I think that’s the race that really defined him. He was allout the entire race without one breather and he just refused to lose.”

Gingras was driving good horses like Darlin’s Delight when he first started driving Foiled Again. But it was Foiled Again that put him solidly in the spotlight week in and week out during the early years of his career.

“He meant so much to my driving career; I look at it like we both took off at the same time,” Gingras said. “When I first started driving him, I had one or two better horses on the Grand Circuit. Then I got him racing there too and my career became stronger as a result. By the time he was 9, he was on top of the sport and I was (near the) top of the earnings standings. We went up together and he went from being nothing to being the champ.

“Would I have gotten to where I am today? I’m not sure. But I know he helped me get here and he’ll always have a special place in my heart. It’s been a pleasure for me to drive him for many years and it still is. Every time I sit behind him, it’s a special moment. He’s in a league of his own; there is nothing like him.”

Tim Bojarski, chairman of the board of the U.S. Harness Writers Association, is a freelance writer living in New York. To comment on this column, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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