by Brett Sturman
It’s easy in harness racing to be nostalgic. A reflection of the changing times, a lot of conversation around the sport today consists of reminiscing of people and horses from ages ago. I don’t have the perspective to go back as far as some, but in the case of the passing of Boulder Creek (Pacific Rocket) announced this week, I couldn’t help but do some level of reflection.
Though no direct attachment to the horse — I can’t even recall a story that involved cashing a ticket on him either — what first struck me was a video of the 2007 Ben Franklin Pace posted on the Tetrick Racing Facebook page the other day, which included Tetrick’s commentary from that winning drive. Perhaps it was a throwback to the original Harrah’s Chester simulcast graphics, the call of the race itself by original track announcer James Witherite (one of his best calls, by the way) or just the quality of the horses in that race; it had all the looks and feels of a classic. Though now over 15 years removed from that race, it seems like it was just yesterday.
In that inaugural Ben Franklin, coming in the first full calendar year of racing at Chester, a 7-year-old Boulder Creek tracked cover every step of the best aged pacer during that time, Lis Mara, and was able to just outfight him in a stirring stretch drive that included future Hall of Fame drivers, Tetrick and Brian Sears. That race set a then-track record of 1:48.3, equaled a world record and when put together with all other accomplishments throughout his storied career, it must be considered as to where Boulder Creek rates as not only one of the best pacers during that time, but as an all-time great.
With career earnings of over $3.4 million, Boulder Creek retired in 2010 as the 10th richest pacer ever. The only other pacer to have earned over $3 million lifetime while having more career starts then Boulder Creek (173) is Foiled Again. It speaks to Boulder Creek’s ability of not just being great but being great for such a long period of time.
A modest yearling sold for just $35,000, from the beginning of his career as a 2-year-old in 2002, there was seldom a time over the next eight years in which he didn’t compete against the best the sport had to offer at those times. During a freshman campaign in Ontario that saw him winning over $300,000, he beat eventual 2-year-old O’Brien winner Sir Luck multiple times, including in the Champlain Stakes at Woodbine. As a 3-year-old, he made his first appearance stateside when he won his Berry’s Creek elimination at The Meadowlands before losing by a head in the Berry’s Creek final (Artesian). A Meadowlands Pace elimination winner shortly thereafter, it was obvious that Boulder Creek was here to stay as a top horse against anyone in North America. A talented sophomore, it wasn’t until his 4-year-old season where his legend started to grow.
As an older pacer over the next few years, he threw down in the sports free-for-all wars. He repeatedly battled with the likes of, in no particular order: Artistic Fella, Shark Gesture, Life Source, Ponder, Primetime Bobcat, Holborn Hanover and certainly not least, Lis Mara and Mister Big. In a way, Boulder Creek was almost a bridge competing against some of the best whose careers started prior to the turn of the century, to some of the more modern crops that were introduced towards the end of his career.Take Life Source as one of those examples. Regarded as one of the higher quality horses from the early-mid 2000’s, he began his career in 1999 as a 2-year-old. His career numbers as far as starts and wins are almost identical to Boulder Creek. Both have the same number of 173 career starts, with Boulder Creek having just two more wins (42 to 40). But for perspective, what Boulder Creek did by racing at the highest levels for as long as he did was nearly double the lifetime earnings of Life Source.Boulder Creek’s two highest earning years came in his 4- and 5-year-old seasons, but more important than those earnings were the quality of horses that he beat those years to do it. In winning both Open Breeders Crowns back-to-back as well as all other stakes won during that time, you could argue that the quality of that aged pacing group was as good as any other group from top to bottom in recent times. I’d put up Mr. Big and Lis Mara alone against any two older pacing horses from the same year and that’s the type of competition that Boulder Creek almost always fought against.
The richest race Boulder Creek won was the 2004 Breeders Crown at The Meadowlands. Upsetting in that race at odds of 20-1 with Ron Pierce aboard, an interesting footnote to that race was that while he paid $42 to win, Boulder Creek paid close to $150 to place, and would have paid even more if not for a dead heat for second. It was the result of 1-9 favorite Four Starzzz Shark coming up shockingly empty, ending his long winning streak coming into the Breeders Crown. The next year, however, saw order restored. And when Boulder Creek returned to the Breeders Crown, this time at Woodbine, he was the 4-5 odds-on favorite and delivered with the aid of a perfect second-over trip given by Brian Sears. He would win Dan Patch honors that year as well.
Whereas many of the sport’s best race primarily in the spring through fall, Boulder Creek had seasons where he raced entirely around the calendar. As a 4-year-old, Boulder Creek started his season in the Willowdale winter series at Woodbine on Jan. 3. From there, he continued winter series racing at The Meadowlands in the Aquarius and kept going all the way through that year into November. He was one of those rare horses that could race throughout the early season winters and still beat the best of them in the summer.
After winning the Ben Franklin later in his career, Boulder Creek still was right up there until the end. A year after the Franklin, he closed out his 8-year-old season at the very end of December with a win in the open at The Meadowlands over Winbak Speed; a horse that would go on to sweep the Presidential series as those two competed against each other a month later.All told, Boulder Creek should be remembered as one of the all-time best warhorses. Nostalgia aside, he has a record that speaks for itself.