“It’s a very humbling business, which I think anybody in the horse business will say, but it’s exciting.”
Breeder/owner Fred Hertrich knows all about the highs and lows of horse racing. He’s been in the business for a quarter century, but this year has been a microcosm of the extremes.
The automobile dealerships businessman, who also owns All American Harnessbreds and breeds thoroughbred horses with partner John Fielding, had a talented three-year-old trotting filly, Spirit To Win, that he bred and co-owned suffer a catastrophic injury in a freak training mishap in early August. Spirit To Win had to be euthanized the same week she was scheduled to race as a favourite in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks. She had won her Oaks elimination race two days before the accident and also won impressively in the Del Miller Memorial two weeks before.
A month later, Hertrich along with Blue Chip Farms and thoroughbred breeder Taylor Made Stallions bought into Travel Playlist, a precocious two-year-old pacing colt that had just won his fourth race in a row with a mark of 1:49.2. He followed that up with a win in the $225,000 New York Sire Stakes final, but had his streak ended last week in the International Stallion Stakes at Lexington, finishing second by 3½ lengths as the 1-5 favourite. The winner, Racing Hill, paced the final quarter in a snappy 26 seconds flat. They will face one another again tonight in a division of the Breeders Crown, and Racing Hill is the 9-5 favourite.
Hertrich also bred and sold Hurricane Beach, the highest-priced pacing colt at $230,000, at the Lexington Selected yearling sales the same week.
Coinciding with all that was the news that same week that Rock Fall, a top thoroughbred in which Hertrich and Fielding bought into as a stallion prospect a month ago, had to be euthanized following a workout. The horse would have been a top contender in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint later this month. Hertrich, who is a member of the Breeders’ Cup board, was scheduled to present the winner with the trophy.
“I had all these high hopes and emotions and that’s how fast life changes in the game,” he said. “Did I feel sorry for myself? Absolutely not. That’s the humbling thing that we all get into in this business. The stories that I’ve been involved in, everybody’s got those stories. There are highs that are higher than high and there are lows that are lower than low. As I say to anybody who comes to me for advice and wants to get into the business, you better be able to weather the lows.
“In any athletic contest there’s nobody that’s undefeated. There’s nobody that is not going to taste defeat. And of course the great lesson for any youngster is they’ve got to be a better loser than they are a winner. Everybody can be a good winner. It’s tough to be a good loser. So there are massive highs and massive lows.
“Was I devastated and down (about what happened to Spirit To Win)? Yes. But you know who I really felt for? It was (trainer) Dustin Jones’ son, Tyler, who was there when the accident occurred. If I felt bad on a scale of one to 10, maybe I was a two. They were 10½. Dustin couldn’t even talk to me. It was devastating to him.
"It’s really all about the animals. The other thing is the people involved in the business. I’ve made great friendships in the business. The people that work in the Standardbred industry -- and I don’t care at what level -- it is an unbelievable group of people."
Hertrich has confidence that Travel Playlist, who was purchased with the intent of becoming a replacement in the breeding shed for his aging sire, Art Major, will bounce back. Hertrich won’t be in attendance for the race because he is getting married.
“Were we disappointed that we got beat? You’re always disappointed when your horse gets beat, but he raced well. He didn’t race great,” Hertrich said. “But it wasn’t the time for him to race great. The time for him to race great is (tonight and next week).”
Although Hertrich has yet to enjoy the thrill of winning a Breeders Crown race as an owner, he has bred multiple winners.
“I’m probably a very unique individual,” he said. “I am just as excited about breeding one as I would be about owning one. Having a mare, foaling a foal, raising it, selling it as a yearling to a high-quality owner and operation and then seeing that horse perform is every bit as rewarding as owning a horse that wins a similar race. We live and die with our owners that have bought horses from us over the last 25 years. That’s exciting.”
In 2002, Allamerican Native, bred by Hertrich, went into the Breeders Crown two-year-old male pacing race as the 6-5 favourite and finished second. The same night, Allamerican Nadia, won the Breeders Crown two-year-old filly pace at odds of almost 50-1. It was the first Breeders Crown win for Fielding, who is second on the list in total money won and overall winners in Breeders Crown history behind Brittany Farms. Fielding will be represented by a slew of top horses in the Breeders Crown elimination races.
When Fielding won the Hambletonian Oaks with Wild Honey, he felt bittersweet about the victory because of what had happened to Spirit To Win and said so when interviewed in the winner’s circle. It was the ultimate in sportsmanship and understanding of how the tides can quickly turn in the horse business.
Hertrich bred three-year-old filly pacer Bettor Be Steppin, who is entered in Saturday night’s Breeders Crown races. Trained by Joe Holloway, the daughter of Bettors Delight has won five of 14 races this year and more than $450,000.
Hertrich said he’s experienced highs and lows with horses Holloway has bought off of him.
“He’s owned some very, very good horses and he’s paid money for some that didn’t turn out, and we can still laugh about both,” Hertrich said.
To view the entries for the Breeders Crown eliminations, and for past performances for the Breeders Crown entrants courtesy TrackIT, click one of the following links:
Friday (Two-Year-Old eliminations):
Saturday: (Three-Year-Old & Open eliminations):
(with files from Breeders Crown)