Monday is the end of the line for 14-year olds; three tracks are paying homage
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
In Harness Racing, horses can run through age 14. That means, they can race for 13 seasons, from age 2 through 15. Come January 1, all horses celebrate their birthday, meaning that horses born in 2016 can run in the Kentucky Derby on the thoroughbred side and races like the Hambletonian and Little Brown Jug on the Standardbred side.
December is the time to say farewell to some of the old-timers. Freehold Raceway in New Jersey put its best foot forward in that regard when it hosted an Old-Timers Pace On Saturday, December 29. The race was limited to 12, 13 and 14-year olds and the race was written to pay homage to Stormin Rustler, a Freehold regular who was racing for the last time in his career and the other 14-year old, Esprit de Kayjay.
Stormin Rustler came into the $4,000 race with 395 career starts and 55 wins. He is noted for winning at least one race at the Meadowlands for eight straight years (2010-2017). Never a star, the grizzled veteran has earned a little under $500,000 for his career.
On this day, Stormin Rustler tried. He was first over, but couldn’t get it going and finished last in the seven-horse field. The winner was Blue Strike, the youngster and lone 12-year old in the race. Using the passing lane, he overtook the 14-year old Esprit de Kayjay, stopping the clock in 1:59.3. It was the first win of 2018 for the son of Majestic Blue in 21 starts, but 48th overall in 235 career starts. The $2,000 first place check pushed his career earnings to over $270,000. Sent off at odds of 14-1, Blue Strike paid a handsome $30.60 for the win. Must Be The Bunny, a 13-year old was third.
Freehold isn’t the only track that is paying tribute to the old-timers. On Monday, December 31, Monticello Raceway is carding a “Retirement Invitational,” for 14-year olds and believe it or not, as a testament to the sturdiness of the Standardbred, Esprit de KayJay is in the field of six and will start from post position 6. The other five are Artomatic Pilot, Fly To The Angels, B Blissful, Mayflowermoonshine and Delco Toss.
The six horses have combined to run 170 times this year with 31 wins, 25 seconds, and 26 thirds to go with $94,670 in yearly earnings. It’s safe to say that this field is not harness racing royalty, but these are tough horses, reliable horses that make their living in races that feature purses of $4,000 to $6,000. Esprit de Kayjay has the most earnings in the field with $24,039, an average of $1,002 in his 24 starts. Mayflowermoonshine has earned $23,606 this year, but it has taken him 43 starts to get there, an average of $549 per start.
The other noteworthy old-timers race will commence at The Meadows on Monday as Foiled Again, the richest harness horse of all-time will make his last start for trainer Ron Burke. Hall of Famer Yannick Gingras will be in the bike as Foiled Again, with over $7.6 million in earnings will try to win for the 110th time.
It won’t be an easy one for the veteran. He drew post position 8 on the 5/8 mile track and faces some tough competition. The other seven have raced 236 times this year with 34 wins and $381,970 in earnings. Foiled Again has had a very solid 2018; he has started 27 times with 11 wins, 5 seconds and 3 thirds. He has earned $76,460.
For some, Monday may be bittersweet. Those that train these wily 14-year olds all say that the horses are more than capable of continuing to race, but rules are rules and it’s nice to see tracks like Freehold, Monticello and The Meadows do something nice to send these grinders out in style.