The owner of the Indiana-bred trotter wrote the $62,000 check because he thought the horse deserved a chance to again show how he stacked up against Grand Circuit competition.
by James Platz
John Barnard spends his days handling investments in the stock market. So when it comes to the racing business, the Miami resident is not averse to risk. That is why he chose to point his trotter, Breeders Crown 2-year-old champion Fiftydallarbill, to this afternoon’s Kentucky Futurity, paying the $62,000 supplement to enter the contest. Call it a gamble or calculated risk, Barnard wants to pit his Indiana-sired champion against the best at Red Mile.
“If you look at what I’ve done in putting him in this race, I guess I’m gambling, because everybody would say it’s safer to stay in Indiana,” the owner said. “I think this horse is good enough that he deserves a chance to show what he’s got. You don’t get a lot of chances with horses to do this.”
The Swan For All—CR Dixie Chick sophomore currently sits atop his Indiana Sires Stakes division. He could have competed last week in a $75,000 final, the last before next Friday’s $220,000 Super Final at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. Barnard, however, decided to deviate from the plan established earlier this year. With aspirations for a return to the Breeders Crown, the owner saw an opportunity, and he had the confidence in his horse to write the check.
“I just felt the horse deserved a chance coming down here. He’s not going to have the opportunity until the Breeders Crown to race again against all the other good horses,” he said. “I just figured it’s close enough I didn’t have to ship him that far. It’s worth giving him the opportunity.”
The reality is that the 2018 campaign has been one of hard luck for Fiftydallarbill when it comes to racing on the bigger stages. That is hard to say for a horse that has won seven of 12 seasonal starts and earned close to $240,000. When Barnard mapped out the season, however, he had hoped for better results outside the Hoosier State. In the $266,000 Goodtimes final, the trotter had to go three-wide when his cover, Hat Trick Habit, broke stride. Ceding considerable distance to the leaders turning for home, Fiftydallarbill would also make a break and finish well out of contention.
Returning to U.S. soil in the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial eliminations, the sophomore was plagued again by back luck. Third over on the backstretch, the Bill Crone-trained trotter nearly came to a stop when a first-up Alarm Detector broke stride. Fiftydallarbill would rally to finish fourth for Brett Miller, nosed out of a chance to advance to the final. In the $75,000 consolation, the colt would win as the post-time favorite, circling The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in a lifetime best 1:52.1.
Prior to his most recent start, an ISS elimination at Hoosier, Fiftydallarbill again shipped to Woodbine Mohawk Park for the $665,000 Canadian Trotting Classic. He would trot third in the race despite a tough trip where his cover, You Know You Do, made a break in front of him. The colt would power home in :26.4 to hit the board. He hasn’t received any favors when it comes to the post draw, either. In the Goodtimes final and his Beal elimination, Fiftydallarbill lined up in post seven. In the Canadian Trotting Classic, he was saddled with post eight.
“He has raced really well, but hasn’t had the wins to show for it. He’s been run into, he’s been interfered with in a couple of races where he raced really well and was able to catch up. The last time he raced in Canada he was covered, and then the cover broke in front of him and hurt him,” Barnard said. “I know how good this horse is. I want to give other people a chance to see what he’s capable of.”
The owner does not consider himself superstitious, but when it comes to this trotter, he almost made a change before the colt ever made a start. Gamblers consider $50 bills to be bad luck. Barnard was keenly aware of that fact when he purchased Fiftydallarbill for $16,000 out of the Hoosier Classic sale in 2016.
“Any gambler will tell you, $50 bills are unlucky. Gamblers never carry them. I almost changed this horse’s name from Fiftydallarbill because I thought it was unlucky,” he said. “It’s also unlucky to change the name of a horse sometimes, too. Every horse that I’ve ever changed a name, they haven’t done very well for me.”
He kept the name and watched last season as the colt won seven of 17 starts, capturing two Indiana Sires Stakes finals and becoming eligible to the Super Final. However, on that night in mid-October, Fiftydallarbill, a narrow second choice in the race, made a break at the start from post 10. Dead last in the field, he would rally to finish fourth that night. Just as he is taking a shot in the Kentucky Futurity, Barnard hedged his bets on the Breeders Crown last fall.
“He really hadn’t been trained to follow another horse to the gate. That was our mistake. That was not the horse’s fault. We should have probably thought about that,” he said. “He got up to the gate and had nowhere to go and didn’t know what to do, and ended up breaking because of it. But he was also able to come back and race like a monster in that race, which showed me so much. He probably showed me more than if he had won.”
Fiftydallarbill would go on to win the $600,000 Breeders Crown for freshman trotting colts by a length and a quarter. Barnard took the risk, and Fiftydallarbill’s richly rewarded his connections. He looks to repeat that again in the Kentucky Futurity. His colt has drawn into the second of two $93,000 eliminations, starting from the outside in post six. The trotter has to beat one horse to make it into the final.
“I don’t think any particular horse has an advantage in the way this is laid out. When you only have six horses in a field, post position, I think, it not as significant. The good horses, hopefully, have a chance to show they are the best,” Barnard said. “I think this is a format that gives him a chance to race against the best and see how it plays out. We are racing against some tough horses. Our competition is really tough.”
The owner knows the safe play would have been to stay in Indiana. Nevertheless, he sees Fiftydallarbill as a special horse, and he wants to give the trotter a chance to prove it. He has pushed his chips to the center of the table, taking a calculated risk that the reward will be there. The racing world will find out Sunday afternoon if Fiftydallarbill gets the racing luck that has eluded him on the Grand Circuit this season.
“You have to have a lot of things in your favor. They are not machines, and there is a lot of timing in this, getting your horse right at the right time of year. No one cares if a horse was great back in May if he’s sick in October, because you can’t prove it in the big races,” Barnard said. “He’s an exceptional horse. God willing he stays healthy, we’re going to keep going with him one race at a time, and try to take him to his potential.”