On a stop in Ontario before Christmas, Mickey Burke, Jr. said the end of the Foiled Again Farewell Tour has been a poignant experience.
by Dave Briggs
In a stall adjacent to the track and underneath The Carousel Room, one hell of a ride is slowing to a stop as one man and one horse entertain a small group of fans wishing to touch, get a close-up look at, or take a photo with one of the most remarkable horses to ever pull a sulky.
The Raceway at The Western Fair District in London, ON is the third last of 18 stops on the Foiled Again Farewell Tour and its namesake is eying the first group of a string of admirers that night with ears rarely up and a slight bemusement on his face — like a celebrity that both needs and has grown weary of granting selfies with the public.
His best traveling pal seems to be enjoying the attention more, not ready, just yet, for it all to end.
For the better part of 10 years, Mickey Burke, Jr. — brother of the horse’s trainer and part-owner, Ron Burke — has been on the road with Foiled Again perhaps more than anyone, and with just 10 days left to go, the emotions are beginning to bubble up in the man.
“Somebody said something to me about shedding a tear and I said, ‘I guarantee the next two weeks will be tough,’” Mickey said, his eyes becoming damp and his voice thick just talking about it.
It is four days before Christmas, one night before the 14-year-old horse — a senior among youngsters — will storm to a stirring victory at Woodbine Mohawk Park in his last Canadian start and 10 days before he will go to the gate a final time Monday night (Dec. 31) in a New Year’s Eve race at his home track, The Meadows. Just a few hours later, at the stroke of midnight on his 15th birthday, Foiled Again will be forced into retirement from pari-mutuel racing by rule .
“We’ve had him 10 years. I’ve traveled a lot with him. I’ve been here with him many times,” Mickey said of the site of 11 starts, including two victories (2011, 2012) in six appearances in The Raceway’s premier stakes event, the Molson Pace (now called the Camluck Classic).
In 13 years of racing, Foiled Again has earned more racing than any standardbred in history ($7,634,938) and has won an incredible 109 races in 330 starts.
Canada was the site of Foiled Again’s richest win — a 1:48.3 victory by a neck in 2012 in the $794,870 Canadian Pacing Derby at Mohawk Racetrack — but Mickey said his favorite of Foiled Again’s victories is either the Breeders Crown open pace triumph in 2013 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in the slop or the TVG at the Meadowlands later that same year.
“Probably the Breeders Crown just because for a nine-year-old to do it, on that track, in that mess, in that mud, against those horses he beat and held off… probably that will always be the biggest win for him over the years. At nine, they are not supposed to still be doing that stuff,” Mickey said.
Mickey has been hearing a lot of the fans’ favorite memories on the farewell tour that started in August and has hit 11 states and provinces. Along the road, Foiled Again has almost warmed up to his faithful.
“I will say this, he does take to people a lot better,” Mickey said, laughing. “He was never a bad horse, but he was just kind of standoffish. Like in Delaware (Ohio), if I took a picture, I took 1,000 pictures. It was three hours of a continuous line-up coming up and if you walk up and touch him, you can pet him.
“I don’t know if he appreciates it, but he understands it. I think he gets that it’s his duty somehow and that’s what he’s supposed to be doing.”
As for getting Foiled Again’s ears up for photos, Mickey said it can be tricky.
“I sometimes can get them up, but sometimes I can’t. If I chirp to him, that means to go, so then he puts his ears back because it’s time to go,” Burke said, laughing.
Mickey said the gelding is pure racehorse, which is the reason the connections raced him to the end and went to so much trouble and expense to showcase Foiled Again to the fans — a move that earned the horse the Proximity/Stan Bergstein Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association.
“If you’ve never met the horse, worked with the horse, then you don’t understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and who he is,” Mickey said. “He is a racehorse. First and foremost in his life, he’s a racehorse and he loves what he does.”
As for what comes next for Foiled Again, Mickey said some plans are in the works beyond the racetrack.
“We could race in matinees and amateur races, too, but I think we’ve gotten to the point that we’ve done enough with him,” Mickey said.
As for talk about retiring Foiled Again to the Kentucky Horse Park, Mickey said that will have to wait — if it ever happens.
“When you give him to the Kentucky Horse Park, you give them all control, so there’s a few things we want to do with him yet next year. We’re going to see what he’ll do, what he likes. He’s going to tell us a little bit about what he wants to do,” Mickey said. “If you turn him out in the field, in about two hours he’s standing back at the gate. He’s had about enough, so it’s going to be an adjustment for him and for us figuring out what to do.
“We have one of our girls in Florida, who is going to put a saddle on him and see how he takes it. If nothing else, maybe he’ll be in a few of the standardbred horse shows.”
Next summer, Foiled Again will be in the care of Mickey’s parents at their Pittsburgh area farm. But, before all that happens, Foiled Again will get a break.
“We’ve put him through a lot this year… we’ve traveled pretty heavily… but I can tell you that the first thing that’s going to happen is that on the fifth of January, he and I are getting in the truck and he’s going to Florida,” Mickey said, laughing. “He’s going down and he’s going to spend the winter with my dad and we’ll let him play down there and see how he feels about everything. He can tell us what he wants to do and how he wants it to go.
“He’s always told us how he wants to race, so we’ll let him tell us how he wants to live his life.”
As for the horse’s final start on Monday night, Mickey said being surrounded by the entire Burke Brigade and Foiled Again’s hometown fans at The Meadows will make it one of the easiest stops on the tour, “until they pull the shoes. Then that might get a little tough.”