My foray into Standardbred ownership
by Dick Powell
It’s official. I have lost my mind.
For many years, I have been asked if I own any racehorses. The answer was always “No.”
Being around the game too much opens your eyes to too many negative outcomes. Plus, way too expensive for my blood.
Don’t worry, we, or I should say my wife, owns two dressage horses. One a 12-year-old who shows at the highest levels and a five-year-old who is just getting started but has a world of talent and sound mind. So, it’s not like we don’t like owning horses.
But then it all changed. Heidi Garofalo, a friend of mine who used to work for me at Vernon Downs, has been in and out of training Standardbreds, and after a long time away from the sport she called and told me she was back in. She wound up with two pacing fillies – a yearling and a two-year-old whom she raved about.
When Heidi talks about horses, I listen. She is one of the hardest working horsepersons I have ever seen. No shortcuts, just old-school methods. Back in 2002 and 2003, she had two horses and both were stakes winners and one, WIZZARD WONDER, won five in a row as a three-year-old.
The problem she had was that there were some ownership issues with some people who walked away but had their names on all the registrations. She contacted an attorney for help but by the time he got around to getting it resolved, the New York Sire Stakes season was over.
Once she got clear title to the horses, she got serious with their training. The two-year-old filly is named UNIMPEACHABLE, or “Peaches.” She raced a few times at Monticello then came back there with a promising fourth when she raced greenly.
In her next start, she got locked in going around the first time and had no room when they straightened out on the backstretch the final time. Driver Bruce Aldrich finally got her clear halfway down the backstretch and, when he asked her to go, she exploded by horses.
The problem was that she was going so fast into the final turn, she broke stride. To show you how good she is, and this is a two-year-old pacing filly facing older horses, she got back on stride and passed a few in the stretch.
On paper, it was not much. Visually, it was awesome since you want to see that kind of brush, especially on a half-mile track. That was enough for me and I texted Heidi after the race and we agreed that I would buy 40% of Peaches. I had to get a New York license, which took me a while, and some other paperwork so you will not see my name on any of the entries since the deal had not gone through.
Peaches came back the next week at Monticello, went up after the lead heading to the quarter, and opened up four lengths on the far turn to cruise home an easy winner. The following week against non-winners of two pari-mutuel races, she raced similarly, taking over after the first quarter-mile.
But this time, she was challenged hard when the horse sitting in the pocket pulled turning for home. It looked like he might go right by her but Peaches dug in and repelled him. They could have gone around another lap and it would not have mattered.
Last week, on a sloppy track, Aldrich left from post one and she just dominated on the front. Peaches was the easiest of winners and she and Heidi got a lot of publicity out of it since it was Aldrich’s 6,000th career win as a driver.
Monticello races year round so the purses get a bit diluted. But many Standardbred race conditions use money won in them so Peaches is still eligible for non-winners of one or two at bigger tracks like Saratoga Harness and Yonkers.
Peaches will be eligible for the 2016 Sire Stakes races that will start up around May and it should be a lot of fun. For now, she will probably get a rest even though she has thrived on racing every week. Heidi wants to keep her fresh for next year and her plan to get her some experience this year has worked out brilliantly.
I am just along for the ride. My role is to handicap the race that Peaches is in and try to help with strategy. Heidi is in charge and makes all the final decisions. Her care for her animals is beyond reproach as the horse always comes first.
Peaches has a yearling full sister who is supposed to be ahead of her when she was just about to turn two. It could be a fun summer of racing for Heidi’s Rhythm Stables.