Swingforthefences returns to winner’s circle after struggles with lameness

by James Platz

A familiar name in Indiana harness racing has resurfaced this year at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. After an extended time away, former Indiana Trotter of the Year Swingforthefences is back in action and back in the winner’s circle. The 6-year-old son of Swan For All—Sunday Yankee finished on the board in each of his first three starts for co-owners Jeff Cullipher and Tom Pollack.

“I’m very happy, and he seems happy,” said Cullipher, who trains the gelding. “Things are going great right now. A horse like that, you don’t make any big plans. You just go week to week if you will, and hope for the best.”

The partners purchased Swingforthefences in late 2021 at public auction. That season the trotter missed the board only once in 20 outings for trainer Melanie Wrenn, collecting 12 wins and just over $550,000. Some of his biggest scores came in the Indiana Sires Stakes Super Final, Carl Erskine Memorial and Matron Stakes. He was recognized as divisional champion in the Hoosier State and the top trotter. Cullipher and Pollack hoped that he would transition into the open ranks and contend, but the gelding has battled lameness issues over the last two seasons.

The 4-year-old campaign started well enough. After finishing first and second in consecutive weeks at Hoosier Park, Cullipher shipped him east to compete at The Meadowlands, Yonkers and Harrah’s Philadelphia. He consistently earned checks, raking in $50,000 over 14 starts, but his season was over before August.

Swingforthefences wouldn’t turn up in entries until a qualifying attempt in April 2023 at Hoosier Park, where he led in gate-to-wire fashion, winning in 1:55.3 for driver Tyler Smith. A week later he made his 5-year-old debut in the open class. He would finish sixth in a field of eight, clocking a 1:53.1 mile. It would turn out to be his first and only start of the year. He was shelved a second time, plagued by the same lameness that cost him half of the previous year.

“That’s part of the game,” said Cullipher. “We love the horse. He’s a great horse to be around. I rehabbed him right here at my farm. My 9-year-old daughter can walk him back and forth through the fields. He’s been a fun horse to have; real enjoyable.”

The conditioner brings a realistic approach to campaigning Swingforthefences. With two extended layoffs, the gelding could suffer the same fate again this season. The goal is to manage him in such a way that he can stay sound and healthy all year. Through the first month of the Hoosier meet, Swingforthefences is holding his own.

“Obviously, he had the time off for lameness issues, and hopefully with giving him the extended time this go around, we can keep him going for a while longer,” said Cullipher. “Will he ever be the horse that he was? Probably not. But he’s got a lot of class to him. If I can keep him going, he still has the ability to earn. I would love to be able to race him through the Hoosier meet.”

Pollack and Cullipher did not stake Swingforthefences. He will not ship this season, remaining at Hoosier Park to compete in the top trotting classes. After two qualifying efforts, both runner-up finishes, the gelding raced second in his seasonal debut, trotting home in :26.4 in a 1:55.1 effort. The following week (April 6) he held off the late charge of Land Of Freedom to win by a neck, clocked in 1:54.4 as the favorite. It was the first victory for Swingforthefences in just over two years. The winning time fell more than two full second off his sophomore mark of 1:52.1. He bounced back to trot third in his next start.

“First and foremost, we want to do right by the horse,” said Cullipher. “We’ll see how he goes. If he shows any signs, we’ll back off. He’s just a professional through and through. He’s going to go out there and try his best. He’s not one that you feel like he’s not giving 100 per cent.”

With $12,670 earned in 2024, the Concord Stud Farm-bred trotter is closing in on three-quarters of a million on his card, with $745,214 to date. Cullipher is pleased with what he is seeing from Swingforthefences in the early going.

“He’s trotting the whole mile and he’s finishing the mile,” he said. “Two or three more starts and you can really see where he’s going to be.”

Some owners might be tempted to cut their losses after the struggles of the last two years. A majority of the trotter’s past success came at Hoosier Park, and Cullipher had a front row seat. Although Swingforthefences has battled lameness, his presence in the stable is a highlight.

“He’s great to be around,” Cullipher said. “Great to train, great to be on the track with. In the barn he’s great. Other than his lameness issues, there’s not a fault to him.”