Chasing 100

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Afternoon showers and driving evening rains left the crimson-colored racing surface at Pocono Downs a sea of slop for the 2013 Breeders’ Crown. Under the glow of the track lights, the surface shined like a marble in the sun and around it, a few thousand racing fans braved the cold and wind for a chance to see the fastest trotters and pacers in the world make their final bids for divisional titles.

Just before 11 p.m., the last race of the night went to post, the $500,000 Open Pace. The heavyweight division for older pacers featured a field of champions, including Clear Vision, Golden Receiver, Pet Rock and Warrawee Needy. Despite the talented cast assembled, Foiled Again was the horse with the target on his back. After winning his elimination the preceding week in 1:48.2, bettors made the then 9-year-old earner of $5.4 million the Open Pace’s 4-5 favorite.

In this setting, Foiled Again achieved his defining moment as a racehorse, according to his driver, Yannick Gingras. “I get goosebumps just thinking about it now,” he said.

When the gate opened, Gingras tried to send Foiled Again to the lead, but he couldn’t outsprint Golden Receiver, Pet Rock and Bolt The Duer, who were three-across entering the first turn. Pet Rock gave in first, dropping in third in front of Foiled Again, who raced half-in, half-out. Golden Receiver stretched out Bolt The Duer for a few more strides before taking the pocket in a :25.3 opening panel.

Pet Rock was out and moving when they came to the top of the stretch for the first time. The 4-year-old superstar’s chest and legs were coated in a thick layer of red mud as he powered to the front. Foiled Again followed Pet Rock’s move, but struggled to make the top. Gingras put the whip on Foiled Again’s tail and let him on a loose line. The gelding brushed to the lead before a :53.4 half-mile.

“It took me a long time to clear the front,” Gingras recalled. “He was going as fast as he could go from the moment the gate opened until I cleared at the three-eighths. From that moment on, he was going as fast as he could go because there was horses coming at him right away.”

Passing a 1:21.4 third quarter, Modern Legend advanced first-over on Foiled Again and drew within a head of the lead, Pet Rock loomed in the pocket as driver David Miller waited for the open stretch and Warrawee Needy rocketed three-wide into contention.

“Turning for home, I thought, ‘I’m going to be lucky to be fifth.’ That’s really all I felt because he was on fumes from the three-eighths on,” Gingras said.

Foiled Again turned back his outside challengers and swung into the lane with the lead. He worked furiously as Gingras took the lines in his left hand and went to a right-handed whip. Pet Rock angled his neck to the left and dove into the passing lane. Dead-game and trying his heart out, Foiled Again braved the challenge of Pet Rock, who made up inches with every stride. Their noses drew even and they zoomed past the finish line together. Foiled Again recorded a nose win in the championship race in a 1:49.2 clocking.

“He was going as fast as he could go for the whole mile, Pet Rock was right alongside of him and he just refused to lose. The Breeders’ Crown to me, that’s what describes Foiled Again: desire that’s unmatched. I think the Breeders Crown at Pocono defines who he is.”

Now 14 years old, Foiled Again can no longer compete at the level of the Breeders’ Crown, or any of his other 26 stakes victories. But the richest Standardbred in history, with $7,568,478 earned, is still racing and still winning. Thursday night at Yonkers, the son of Dragon Again will attempt to earn his 100th victory. If successful, Foiled Again would be just the 15th pacer to reach the 100-win milestone.

Foiled Again began 2018, his final season of racing, with a victory in a $20,000 overnight at Yonkers with George Brennan in the bike Jan. 13, his 99th score. After an outside post position thwarted his first try at win 100 Jan. 20, trainer Ron Burke entered him back at the same level on a weeknight to reunite Foiled Again with Gingras, who is committed to driving at The Meadowlands on weekends.

“Ron and I talked about it last week after he raced on Saturday. I told him I’d really love to be able to get win 100 with him. He thought the same thing, too. He said, ‘he’s in a tough spot this week, but after this, I’ll make it work,’ ” Gingras said. “It definitely means a lot. The horse meant a lot to my career, so many great memories and it would be the icing on the cake if I could be the one to get 100 with him.”

Foiled Again was bred in New Jersey by Barbara Matthews and began his career as a 2-year-old in the stable of Hermann Heitman. He broke his maiden against winners at first asking for $3,400 purse at Freehold Raceway before closing his freshman year with $7,525 in the bank. Foiled Again continued to race for Heitmann at 3, earning $52,015 in 22 starts before moving to the Burke stable in the summer of his 4-year-old campaign.

Gingras first drove Foiled Again in his debut for his new stable July 13, 2008. They won their first stakes together in the $100,000 Hudson Valley Invitational that October. Gingras and Foiled Again’s first victory on the world’s stage came in the $370,000 George Morton Levy Series Final at Yonkers May 2, 2009.

“Racing wise, he was always very similar. He’s a horse that doesn’t really like a trip. He’s always been one that wants to dictate his own pace. That part hasn’t really changed, he’s the same horse that way,” Gingras said. “He definitely got better and better and better for many years in a row. As a 4-year-old, he was good, as a 5-year-old he was good, and 6, 7, 8, he was great.”

At 6, Foiled Again became the only horse to repeat in the Levy, a grueling 6-week series over the half-mile Hilltop Oval. He made $927,365 that year, $1.4 million at 7, $1.2 million at 8, and $1.4 million at 9. Since 2014, he’s won another $1.6 million. All told, Foiled again is 99-for-305 with another 108 seconds and thirds and has raced at 25 racetracks across North America for owners Burke Racing, Weaver Bruscemi and JJK Stables.

Although his career totals and his longevity are impressive, his style of racing stands out to Gingras. Like in his Breeders’ Crown win, Foiled Again enjoyed doing it the hard way. Frequently racing into the stretch first-over or on the lead after setting toiling fractions, Foiled Again’s ability to persevere through brutal trips and tough races gave Gingras confidence.

“When he was on top of his game, he was so tough. I don’t think I’ve seen another horse that could go these miles week in and week out. He would go huge trips and come back the next week and do it again,” Gingras said. “Honestly, when he was on top of his game, you could give him a really tough trip and the next week, he’d be better. It actually woke him up. Some horses, you do that to them and their feelings are hurt for a month. Him, it was the complete opposite. It was so weird that he would get better and better the harder you raced him. He had a great will, no doubt. He is really, really hard to get past. He has a heart that not many horses have.”

Although Foiled Again’s lifetime mark of 1:48.0 pales in comparison to Always B Miki’s 1:46.0 world-record mile at the Red Mile in 2016, Pet Rock’s 1:47.0 win at The Meadowlands in 2013, and countless other faster miles posted by his rivals over the last decade, it’s grit, not speed that characterizes Foiled Again. While other top horses have come, established a fast mile, then retired, Foiled Again stayed the course and beat nearly all of them in the process.

“He’s definitely not the fastest horse I’ve driven, but what he was able to do for some many years is incredible,” Gingras said. “He went through three or four generations of top horses and competed against stars like Lis Mara, Mister Big, Won The West, Captaintreacherous, Sweet Lou, you name it. Crops of great horses.

“People would say, ‘Lis Mara is better than him,’ or ‘Sweet Lou is better than him,’ but he outlasted them all and beat them all. I don’t know if there’s one top horse since 2008 that he hasn’t beat. He was beat, too, he was a true champion. He got knocked down, got back up and fought another day.”

While Foiled Again built his own resume, he also catapulted Gingras to stardom. The Quebec native was a rising star when he teamed with Burke to drive Foiled Again in 2008, about the same time Gingras was breaking onto the stakes circuit. As Burke ascended to harness racing’s peak, eclipsing Todd Pletcher’s North American earnings record for a flat trainer in 2014 with over $28 million won, Gingras became Burke’s first-call driver. Gingras was voted the Dan Patch Driver of the Year in 2014 and the 38-year-old has driven winners of $159 million in his career so far.

“He was so special to me, his whole career. I started driving him in 2008 and that’s when I really started going Grand Circuit. He was the only good horse I was driving at that point,” Gingras said. “There’s no doubt that my life has changed because of him. Would I have become the driver I am now without him? Maybe, but he definitely didn’t hurt, and he probably fast-forwarded it quite a bit for me. My life is definitely different for having him in it.”

Gingras will drive Foiled Again from post 5 in the eighth race at Yonkers Thursday evening, their 200th pairing behind the gate. He is 4-1 on the morning line in the $20,000 pace for horses who having earned less than $20,000 in their last five starts.

“I’m actually surprised he didn’t win it last week because every one of these records, he did it the first time he had a shot at it,” Gingras said. “He had a bad post last week, but I would definitely love for him to do it this week. We’re not going in to finish second.

“He loves Yonkers, he really took to that track. He’s always ridden the left line a little bit his whole life, so the half-mile track definitely doesn’t hurt him. Yonkers has been great to him. I know Ron is looking forward to getting it over there, so let’s try and get it done.”

Post time Thursday at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. ET Free live HD streaming of the races is available on the track’s website.