Russell Foster was the spring driving champion at Rosecroft Raceway and is the leading driver this summer at Ocean Downs, but the 28-year-old Maryland native never imagined this kind of success in the sulky. Prior to October 2015, Foster had won a total of 67 races over a span of more than six years. Since then, he has won 403 times.
Foster’s success can be traced to his purchase of pacer Hi Sir in June 2013. By the end of 2014, the Foster-trained-and-driven Hi Sir was a force on the Maryland circuit and helped propel Foster’s career to new levels.
In 2016, no one won more races than Foster at Rosecroft (96) and he visited the winner’s circle a total of 192 times. This year, Foster has already won 185 races, good for 33rd most in North America, and his $1.2-million in purses is nearing his $1.35 million in 2016.
Foster, the son of trainer Arty Foster Jr., recently took time to speak with Ken Weingartner from the U.S. Trotting Association’s Harness Racing Communications division about his career.
KW: You’re having another great year. What have been the keys to your success?
RF: I don’t really know if there has been a key to it. I’m just showing up every night and trainers have been putting me on a lot of good horses. That makes my job a lot easier. I’ve just been lucky to get some good drives.
KW: What have the last two years been like? Did you foresee this type of success?
RF: No, I didn’t. It’s been a big lifestyle change. I had a horse of my own (Hi Sir) that I took over to Rosecroft and was doing really well there. My dad brought a couple over and they started doing well and people just started listing me (to drive). I didn’t really think I was going to be a catch driver. It just took off on me.
KW: At what point did you realize it was going in that direction?
RF: I would say last year. I didn’t realize it was going to take off the way it did. It just kept going the way it was going and I took it as it came.
KW: You mentioned it’s been a lifestyle change. What kind of adjustment was it?
RF: You’re spending a lot more time at the track. I worked for my grandfather for the last 10 years, so I was always at the track a lot paddocking horses for him. But I wasn’t at the track every night until the last race every night. It’s a lot more late nights, a lot more time at the track. It’s tough to get used to, but you get used to it after a while.
KW: Is it tough mentally, too, as you’re getting acclimated?
RF: It was tough at first. I was used to driving only a couple horses a night, so I was really focused in on those horses. Now when you’re driving 10 or 12 a night, you don’t really have the time to put all that much thought into every race. I really think that’s better in a way because a lot of times when I was driving just a couple I’d really overthink things. Now I just kind of go with the flow of it. I think it’s better.
KW: Are you the type of person that would dwell on things when they didn’t go well, or were you able to turn the page?
RF: If I drove a bad race it used to really bother me and it took me a while to get over it. Now, five minutes later you have to get right back on the next one. You’ve got to learn to turn the page. That makes it a lot easier. You still feel bad about the bad ones, but you don’t have time to dwell on it. You’ve got to be ready for the next one.
KW: Is that one of the biggest adjustments you have to make?
RF: Yeah, I would say so. You’ve got to be able to move on to the next one.
KW: What have been the highlights for you so far?
RF: I’ve had success with my horse (Hi Sir) at Rosecroft. He got horse of the meet a couple different times over there. Mr Ham Sandwich, I won three or four (Maryland) Sire Stakes finals with him. That was a big thrill.
KW: Your family has been involved in racing for a long time. Is this something you always wanted to do?
RF: Yeah, I always enjoyed it. When I was 10 or 11 years old, I loved going to the track with my dad; I loved going to Rosecroft. It’s where I wanted to go every weekend and I had a lot of fun with it. Whenever I had spare time on the weekends and during summers, I spent a lot of time at the barn and always enjoyed jogging horses and all that.
KW: How old were you when you started jogging horses?
RF: I’d say 12 or 13.
KW: Did you work with the horses during high school, or were you involved in other things?
RF: I played soccer my freshman and sophomore year, but after that it was pretty much all the horses.
KW: When did you decide you wanted to start training and driving a little on your own?
RF: Right from the time I was 16 I wanted to try to have one or two of my own. When I turned 19, I got my driver’s license and I gave it a shot. It didn’t seem like it was a realistic thing for me at the time; I didn’t do very good starting out. I just focused more on working for my grandfather. He had 20 head racing at the time, so I didn’t really have time to focus on much else. Then around 2012, 2013, he started to cut back on horses. So I got focused more on driving at Rosecroft. That’s when things kind of went that route.
KW: Have you had any other jobs?
RF: No, never had any other job than this.
KW: What do you most enjoy about working with the horses?
RF: I just love being around them. Even now with driving all the time, I still work at the barn every day. I still enjoy that aspect of it. I just love it. There’s nothing else I ever wanted to do.
KW: Is it nice to have success so close to home?
RF: That’s definitely a plus. Of course it would be nice to have success somewhere else, too, but I loved going to Rosecroft when I was growing up, I used to love watching races there. So to have success there is pretty cool.
KW: Have you thought about expanding to other tracks more?
RF: I drive a few for my dad at (Harrah’s Philadelphia) here or there. It’s definitely tougher up there, tough to break in. But I give it a shot every now and then. I drive quite a few in Delaware. It’s tough there also, but I’m trying my hand there. I hope to pick up a few drives this winter at Dover.
KW: Do you see yourself doing more of that as time goes on?
RF: I think so. Hopefully as I get better and my name gets out there more. Hopefully I can keep making the right moves and people give me a chance.
KW: How have you seen yourself improve, what have you learned, in these last couple years?
RF: You just feel a lot more comfortable out there. You become a lot more patient. I used to always press a little too hard, I think. The more you’re out there, the more comfortable you feel. You get a better feel for how the races are going and take your shots at the right time. When you first start out, you’re more nervous and worried about making the right move. Once you do it more and more, you stop thinking so much and it just kind of comes to you.
KW: When Ocean Downs closes you’ll have some time before Rosecroft reopens, so what are your plans?
RF: Harrington goes four nights a week, so I’ll be there every night. Those other three nights I’ll just try to get some family time in before Rosecroft opens up. I’ll be going six nights a week then. So now I just want to spend time with my wife (Megan) and son (Blake). My wife is a big help to me. I wouldn’t be able to have horses on my own if she wasn’t there. She takes care of things when I’m on the road.
KW: What do you like to do when you’re not busy at the track or at the barn?
RF: I just like hanging out with my son and watch him play. He’s almost a year-and-a-half now; he’s getting to the fun stage. Other than that, I always liked fishing, going out on the boat and being on the water.
KW: Where do you like to fish?
RF: Just around here locally, the Chesapeake Bay, the Wye River, places like that.
KW: Looking at your stats, you’re going to go past last year’s numbers pretty soon. That must feel good.
RF: Yeah, coming into the year I was just hoping I would improve a little bit. I kind of set a goal for myself to get over 200 wins this year. I’m just hoping things keep going the way they’re going. I never set any goals before, but I thought if I could get to 200 wins this year it would be a pretty good step up.
KW: It’s got to feel pretty good the way everything has come together these last couple years.
RF: It definitely does. I didn’t think it was going to happen, so it’s a very pleasant surprise.
KW: What does the future hold? What would you like to accomplish down the road?
RF: I’ve never been real big on setting goals, so I haven’t put much thought into that. I just hope to keep getting drives, keep competing and keep progressing each year. I’m just taking it as it comes right now. I just want to keep moving in the right direction.
KW: That’s worked for you so far.
RF: Yeah (laughs), we’ll just keep doing it the way we’re doing it, I guess.
This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.