Light Foyle, a 14-year-old gelding, is looking retirement right in the eye, but he isn't ready to quit yet. In fact, he won his second race of the Los Alamitos harness meeting last Thursday night.
Because of his age, this will be Light Foyle's last year of racing in California. A rule here prohibits horses 15 and older from racing. But the gelding apparently has decided to go out in style.
Trained by Mark Anderson, Light Foyle won his first start at Los Alamitos this meeting, a $2,500 claiming race on Dec. 30, by three-quarters of a length. A week later, also in a $2,500 claiming race, he won again, this time by a nose.
"He's a real kind horse," said Light Foyle's driver, James (Chip) Lackey. "He's won a lot of close decisions. When he gets down to the wire, he seems to find just enough to get there. He always tries."
So does Lackey, 42, who has made a living in harness racing for 20 years but he has been in it nearly all his life.
"My dad trained for about 20 years," Lackey said. "He started in California. I remember one summer, we left Bay Meadows and went all the way to Montreal to race. I was just 9."
After high school, Lackey went to UC Davis, earning a degree in animal science.
"I had hopes of being a veterinarian," Lackey said. "(But) I was just too shy."
So the soft-spoken horsemen did what came naturally to him.
"I started grooming horses for Richard McGonagle, a friend of my dad's," Lackey recalled. "Then, I got a real good break around 1975, when Russell Valleskey gave me a chance to train his horses.
"I owe a lot of the success I have in racing to him. It's his colors I drive in. When he passed away, his wife transferred his colors to me."
One of his earliest horses, Loyal Lad, also helped Lackey up the ladder.
"I bought (Loyal Lad) for just $4,000 in 1979," Lackey said. He bought him with friend and business partner Ron Mansfield, who attended Davis with Lackey.
Loyal Lad won Lackey and Mansfield more than $50,000 over the 18 months.
"(Loyal Lad) was real crazy," Lackey said. "But actually, most of the money I made years ago was with crazy horses. For a person with little money, you could get those kind of horses, cast-offs. But if you can handle them, and don't get hurt, you can do OK."
Lackey took the money he made with Loyal Lad and invested, again with Mansfield, in 10 acres of land in Placerville. They planted grapes and eventually bought another 10 acres to grow Fuji apples, calling the orchard Gold Bud Farms. Lackey isn't actively involved in running the orchard but still is proud that those apples have been sent to such prestigious places as the White House.
Lackey is probably proudest, though, of his racing success, although he is unlikely to admit it. Lackey and Mansfield owned part of a horse called Avenger, who won a $50,000 race in Canada as a 3-year-old and had career earnings of about $100,000.
Said Lackey, simply: "That was a lot of fun."
But it's not always the horses that make the most money that steal the hearts of people who work with them.
"My favorite horse--she might not have been the fastest, but she's my favorite--is Yes My Lady," Lackey said. "I think because I've never seen a horse that tries so hard. She tries harder than any horse I've ever sat behind."
Lackey, who trained Yes My Lady in New Jersey but kept her in the stable of John Glen at Los Alamitos, lost the horse when she was claimed from owner Elliott Gorov for $10,000 on Dec. 30.
He has never trained a champion and isn't leading the national driver standings, but Lackey is second on the list of leading drivers at Los Alamitos, and that's fine with him.
"There are very few people that will ever be get rich racing harness horses." he said. "I could be a lot worse off, I guess. Everything depends on how you look at it. You can look in the newspaper every day and see people who are a lot worse off than you are."
Driver Stave Warrington, leading the early driver standings at Los Alamitos, won his third consecutive race and fourth of the night in last Saturday's featured event, a $10,000 pace for winners of more than $10,000. Warrington took the immediate lead with Best Effort, recording an extremely fast opening quarter of :26 3/5.
Best Effort led all the way, holding off the closing charge of El Camino Real to win the one-mile event in 1:57 4/5. El Camino Real finished second, followed by Positron in third.
Best Effort faced the same group of horses on opening weekend at Los Alamitos. The results were much the same, with Best Effort in front and El Camino Real taking the place position.