A Showdown Extraordinaire

Published: November 8, 2013 08:56 am EST

On Saturday night, harness racing fans will be privy to a classic showdown between two outstanding champions to conclude the eight American National Stake championships.

Both Pet Rock and Foiled Again bring super solid credentials into the American National Aged Pace, and both will be seeking redemption of sorts.

Last Friday (Nov. 1), Pet Rock stormed to a 1:50.3 clocking in the $223,400 Hoosier Park Pacing Derby, holding off the hard-trying Foiled Again by three-quarters of a length. In their previous outing together on Oct. 19, in the $500,000 Breeders Crown Open Pace, Foiled Again prevailed by a whisker over the tenacious Pet Rock.

Trained by Virgil Morgan, Jr., who recently nailed down career victory 5,000, Pet Rock is a 4-year-old son of Rocknroll Hanover owned by Frank Bellino of Bronxville, NY, and has amassed $1,892,204 in his career. A multiple world champion, Pet Rock will head to the breeding shed next season to stand stud at Midland Acres for a $6,000 fee.

“His records speak for themselves,” Virgil Morgan noted after the Hoosier Park victory. “He is a true champion, and winning on all sizes of tracks speaks to his versatility.”

As a freshman, Pet Rock amassed $76,866 in seasonal earnings from just five starts, with two wins and a trio of second-place finishes, taking a 2-year-old mark of 1:52.3 in a New Jersey Sire Stake leg on July 9, 2011 at The Meadowlands. He also won the $24,783 Hoosier Stake on Aug. 18 of that year, drawing off by six lengths in wire-to-wire fashion, in 1:53.1 with Peter Wrenn at the lines.

Pet Rock then banked $934,518 as a three-year-old in 2012 from eight wins, six seconds and four thirds in 22 starts, with decisive victories in both the $304,204 Art Rooney on June 6 in 1:51, and $215,000 Windy City Pace on Nov. 16 in 1:51.4 at Maywood Park. He also won his $50,500 Confederate Cup elim on Aug. 12 in 1:52.4 at Flamboro in Canada, and the $10,000 Open at Delaware on Sept. 20 in 1:50.3 by 16¼ lengths, among others. In addition he finished second in the Meadowlands Pace, Battle of the Brandywine, Messenger Stakes and Cane Pace.

This year he has done nothing less than establish new world records—including one at Delaware in 1:48.1h in the $51,250 Winbak Stake on Sept. 19 and another at Scioto Downs of 1:47.2f in the $125,000 Jim Ewart Memorial Invitational on Sept. 7. Pet Rock has also nailed down triumphs in the $471,800 Haughton on July 13, when he was clocked in a heart-stopping, career best 1:47, and in the $184,000 Roll With Joe Open in 1:48.1 on June 9 at Tioga Downs.

“He transitioned well from age three to four, and has been a very consistent horse all along,” Morgan acknowledged. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

He comes into his American National test with $880,820 in seasonal earnings.

Bred by Angie Stiller of Arva, Ont., Pet Rock is the seventh and most prolific of foal out of the Artsplace mare Casual Beauty p, 3, 1:54 ($56,987). He was a $60,000 yearling purchase at the 2010 Standardbred Horse Sale at Harrisburg, and is a half-brother to: Stonebridge Ideal (by Camluck) p,4,1:52.1f ($233,346); Stonebridge Adonis (by Western Hanover) p,5,1:54F ($74,421); Stonebridge Beauty (by Camluck) p,3,1:56 ($44,462); Stonebridge Elan (by Camluck) p, 3, Q1:56S ($21,975); and Stonebridge Wonder (by Western Hanover) p,5, 1:57.4 ($20,601).

The nine-year-old Foiled Again will certainly give Pet Rock a run for first prize.

He’s the richest pacer in history with $5.76 million to his credit, despite never having won a Breeders Crown—until he did so for the FIRST time this year, capturing the $500,000 Breeders Crown Open Pace at Pocono Downs on Oct. 19, in 1:49.2 over a sloppy track.

“He’s been a pleasure to drive and he’s definitely one of the greatest,” said Yannick Gingras, Foiled Again’s regular driver. “He was super sharp in his Breeders Crown elimination and what can you say after his performance in the Breeders Crown Final? If people don’t rate him, if not the greatest, as one of the greatest in history, I don’t know what else he has to do. He gives me chills, I can tell you that. What a horse!”

That victory in the Breeders Crown was his ninth in 25 seasonal starts and pushed his 2013 earnings to $1,024,109.

Consider these fun facts: Foiled Again did not race in any event with a purse of $100,000 or higher until his 50th career start! He never raced for a purse of over $31,000 at ages two and three, and LOST his final 17 starts as a sophomore.

However, now, at age nine, he’s a shining star—with his third million dollar-winning season under his belt he’s tied with the famous retired Italian trotter Varenne as one of only two horses in harness racing history to post three consecutive million dollar winning seasons.

Foiled Again is owned by Burke Racing, Weaver Bruscemi and JJK Stables and trained by Ron Burke. Bred by Barbara Matthews of Aiken, SC, he was originally purchased for a mere $20,000 at the 2005 Standardbred Horse Sale at Harrisburg by Patrick Lacey of Yonkers, NY.

“He’s been unbelievable,” said his trainer and co-owner Ron Burke. “I can’t say enough about him and what he’s done for our family and for our whole stable.”

In 2012, Foiled Again earned $1.20 million, becoming at age eight, the oldest pacer to have a million-dollar year. He also was named the sport’s best older male pacer for the second consecutive year by the U.S. Harness Writers Association. In 2011, at the age of 7, Foiled Again was voted Pacer of the Year by USHWA, and was the first pacer older than age four to ever receive the honor.

For his career, Foiled Again has won 74 of 194 races, and also has 47 seconds and 27 thirds to his credit. Gingras has driven Foiled Again in 120 of his 148 starts since the pacer joined the Burke Stable in July 2008.

“I want him to get the recognition he deserves,” Gingras said. “A lot of people think he’s a small-track horse, and at the end of the day he’s not the fastest horse but he outlasts every one of them. He’s been through about three different groups of horses, guys that retired or went to stud, and he’s still around and kicking butt against some four-year-olds.”

Foiled Again is the second of nine foals out of the Artsplace mare In A Safe Place p,3,1:54.4M ($84,683) and is a half-brother to Manhattan Design (by The Panderosa) p,5,1:55.2 ($68,109); Pinball Machine (by Cambest) p,4,1:54.2m ($31,902) and to Place Your Best (by Cambest) p,3,1:58.4H.

To view the entries for Balmoral's stakes-packed Saturday card, click the following link: Saturday Entries - Balmoral Park.

(Balmoral Park)

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