Jimmy Freight: The Comeback, Part 2

After sustaining a mild injury, Jimmy Freight is getting closer to a return to the races.

by Melissa Keith

The Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial at Saratoga Raceway was supposed to be a highlight of Jimmy Freight’s 2022 campaign. But the star pacer was notably absent from the July 23 event, following a minor accident and a major turning point in his career.

Owner Adriano Sorella of Guelph, ON said that after new partners joined him in a partnership on Jimmy Freight, the stallion injured himself. The horse had recently relocated to the stable of US-based trainer Brett Pelling.

“He basically cut himself on the trailer,” said Sorella. “When he shipped, they probably thought he was just going down the road for 10 minutes, so what’s the likelihood of him doing something to himself on the trailer? Well, sure enough, he went for a 10-minute ride, and they opened the trailer and there he was [bleeding].”

Veterinarian Dr. Patty Hogan notified him that the leg injury was superficial.

“Patty had messaged me and said, ‘We checked him out, we x-rayed him and everything, and everything looks fine.’ He didn’t get down to the bone or anything, but he needed 10 sutures.”

Sorella noted it wasn’t the first time that the most famous Iowa-bred standardbred had gotten agitated in transit.

Earlier this year, “He was going to Winbak [Farm] one day and he had back boots on, but he didn’t have front, and he struck himself and needed four or five sutures. That was in the middle of March. He was already entered and he raced four days later in the [Woodbine Mohawk Park] preferred. That’s actually when he went on his win streak.”

Seven-year-old Jimmy Freight was in the midst of a stellar season prior to the recent mishap. He won his first Mohawk preferred handicap this year on Feb. 12, and began his aforementioned top-class win streak on March 25. The fifth straight victory, in the May 14 free-for-all, was a standout for his owner.

“I don’t think anybody thought he was going to win. Going to the three-quarters, he was like 10 or 12 lengths behind, but I knew what the game plan was. We knew there was going to be a lot of speed up front, those two horses [Tattoo Artist and American History] were prepping for the Camluck, and [Jimmy Freight’s driver] Louis [Philippe Roy] said, ‘I’m just going to sit and wait, and I’ll come the back half in like :52.” It took a :25.1 closing quarter to overtake Tattoo Artist and Funatthebeach N, strides before the wire.

“Everything that’s in Canada, he’s been able to win,” said Sorella. “There’s some very good horses out there throughout the older [pacing] category, but he’s just done everything we asked for him to do here. He’s won the Camluck Classic; he’s won the Mohawk Gold Cup.”

Rallying back against a persistent Linedrive Hanover in the latter, Jimmy Freight took a new lifetime best of 1:48. Then Sorella’s phone started buzzing.

“I was talking to [Eric Cherry] and I was talking to Mark Weaver as well. There were two separate deals that I could have possibly done with them,” he told HRU. “When I talked with Eric Cherry, he said, ‘Well, let’s see what happens in the Gold Cup.’ And then when I was going to the winner’s circle, he was sending me text messages: ‘Are we getting this done tonight?’ So I already knew.”

The stallion’s ownership group now consists of Cherry’s Let It Ride Stable of Boca Raton, FL; Robert Cooper Stables LLC; Jesmeral Stable; and Howard Taylor. A condition of the partnership was non-disclosure of the deal’s financial side, although Sorella could confirm that each of the five owners was an equal partner, with Cherry and Sorella making the decisions about Jimmy Freight’s next moves, including the move to stateside trainer Brett Pelling.

Then came the accident. Jimmy Freight’s foreleg injury resulted from antics familiar to his original Canadian trainer Richard Moreau and caretaker Richard “Pic” Beaulieu, but not yet familiar to all his new connections, explained Sorella.

“He’s not a mean horse at all. Like if you go next to him, he’ll put his head on your shoulder. It’s just when he gets on that trailer, he knows it’s one of two things: He’s going to race or he’s going to breed.”

In early August, Jimmy Freight began training with Pelling, with Aug. 27 eliminations for the Canadian Pacing Derby as the immediate objective.

“I guess if he comes up [to Canada] earlier for a qualifier or a qualifier and a preferred, Brett might not be here, so he might go back into Richard’s barn for that,” said Sorella. “I’m guessing he will probably ship back up here to qualify or go into the open, because Meadowlands is shut down now, after the Hambo.”

He added that Roy will remain the pacer’s regular driver.

“I went to lunch with Louis before I even sold the horse, because Louis knew that there were rumors of the horse being sold… I gave him the brief of what’s going on… I don’t like taking horses away from people, but it just made sense to do this, because he’s seven, he can possibly have a different breeding career in the US. There’s a lot of different things that can happen for him that weren’t happening for him here, aside from the racing part of it. So that was part of the deal. When I spoke to Louis about it, he basically said to me, ‘I know there’s a possibility I can lose this drive, but you’d be crazy if you didn’t do this.’”

Jimmy Freight’s comeback comes at a moment when the older male pacing division is stacked with talent. Fortunately, his return to training is well underway, with Pelling recently telling the owners that the stallion doesn’t even breathe hard after training.

“When you jog him, all he does is fool around on the racetrack,” Sorella noted affectionately. “He’s playful out there. But when you put his hobbles on, put his equipment on, he’s like a different horse… He’ll keep going. There’s been a lot of unfortunate situations where he had to keep going.”

It’s a storybook saga that keeps unfolding.

“I’m confident in him as a racehorse and I‘m confident in him as a breeding [stallion],” Sorella said.

Racing and breeding concurrently are not a problem, in Sorella’s estimation.

“The only reason why you wouldn’t do it is because it’s more convenient for a stud farm to just have them all sitting there… But why do we always continue to do things the way it was yesterday? We complain about how we need to be more advanced and more into the future, but instead, we still do things the old way, because that’s the way we’ve done it before. But why? Why can’t you keep these all-stars on the racetrack and race them and still breed them? Is it a money thing, because you’re worried that they’re going to lose and devalue themselves as a stallion? I don’t think that’s the case.”

Putting Jimmy Freight’s career, so far, into perspective, Sorella drew a comparison: “[Consider] the fact that he was off 27 months – no vet work, no training, no jogging, no nothing. Imagine an Olympic 100 meter sprinter like Usain Bolt being off for over two years, coming back, and in four months, to be dominant again… He was meant to be racing in Iowa for 900 bucks. His breeders have never sold a horse, but they’ve bred to Ontario’s Sportswriter many times and never sold to anybody in Ontario. They’ve always kept them and raced locally for fun.”

With the Breeders Crown as a longer range goal this season, Sorella is happy it’s at his, and Jimmy’s, home track, Woodbine Mohawk Park. (Eliminations are on Sorella’s birthday, Oct. 22.)

“I know there’s a lot of talk about Bulldog Hanover, and rightly so. He’s been unbeatable this year. But in Canada, it’s been all Jimmy.”