Vickie and Greg Foley - Continuing a family tradition from their Kentucky bases

Asked how long the inquiry deciding the fate of her winner of the $400,000 Gr1 Woody Stephens Stakes Hog Creek Hustle seemed, trainer Vickie Foley said, “Eternity.” Then she added, “Usually, the longer it goes, the worse it is.”  Her family shared her anxiety as Hog Creek Hustle’s number 8 blinked on and off on the toteboard at Belmont Park on the undercard of the Belmont Stakes June 7. Hog Creek Hustle had won by a neck under Corey Lanerie but had clearly bumped Mind Control, ridden by John Velazquez, around the top of the stretch. Mind Control wound up finishing eighth.  Vickie’s brother Greg was watching on TV at Churchill Downs, where he saddled a horse that afternoon and where he is eighth all-time in training victories. Her nephew Travis, Greg’s son and assistant trainer, and Travis’ girlfriend Patsy, were on vacation watching on television at the Golden Nugget casino in Biloxi, Miss.  Vickie has been training for 38 years. Greg, who has been married to Sheree for 38 years, has also been training for 38 years. Neither Vickie nor Greg had ever won a Gr1 stakes. Their late father, Dravo, trained horses for 48 years after a horse ended his jockey career by stepping on him, forcing doctors to remove a piece of his lung. He had never won a Gr1 stakes as a rider or as a trainer.  Vickie had watched the race by herself on a TV monitor at Belmont Park: “I just looked up and said, `God, please don’t take this horse down.”  Then in an instant, the inquiry was over. Using their discretion, the stewards ruled that the foul did not affect the outcome of the race because Mind Control had pretty much come up empty at that point. They left Hog Creek Hustle stand as the winner, but disciplined Lanerie with a five-day suspension for the incident.  The collective sigh of relief stretched from Mississippi to Kentucky to New York.  “I felt I had a ton of bricks lifted off my shoulders,” Vickie said, “It was the best feeling ever. I take my hat off to John Velazquez. He told the stewards that his horse was done. He wasn’t going anywhere. They did the right thing. It was the right call.”  Maybe it was karma. The stakes honors Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens, who grew up in Stanton, Ky. Thirteen miles from Hog Creek, this small town in a depressed area of eastern Kentucky that the horse was named for, signified that all of the horses’ connections had to hustle to make their way through life. Patty Tipton, who was raised in Hog Creek, and her Louisville neighbors—Mickey and Beth Martin, Stewart Smith, Melissa and Shawn Murphy, Rex McClanahan, Haley Lucas and Candy and Brian Minnichin—created a partnership. They named it Something Special Racing and purchased Hog Creek Hustle for $150,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Greg advised the partners to purchase the yearling.  Greg waited until Vickie got out of the winner’s circle to call. “He said, `Congratulations! You did a hell of a job. I give you all the credit. I am so proud of you, and I love you,’” Vickie said. She was touched. “He’s not the mushy type,” she said.  His appreciation was genuine. “That was the first Gr1 for our family,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time the hard way. We persevered and we’re still at it. It’s a tough sport, period, and that much tougher for a woman. I’m proud of her for that.”  They had started their journeys together so many years ago. And though they train separately—she with a dozen horses and he with 40—they share the same barn when they winter at The Fair Grounds. Vickie, 62, is the oldest of four children, followed by Greg, Sharon and Lisa. “He’s my best friend,” Vickie said. “He always has my back. And I have his. If I have a problem with a horse, I go to him. He would be a great veterinarian.”  They were blessed by a father and mother who not only showed them a way of life but also a way to live. “Racing automatically brings you together,” said Travis, who eschewed a corporate life with his MBA from the University of Kentucky to work for his father. “There’s a common ground. We’re all thinking about the same things—what’s going on with the stable. It’s a common ground most families don’t have. Family bonding definitely happens. Horse racing is seven days a week, getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning. You have to love it. Obviously, they do and they passed it on to me. That’s one of the reasons I stayed in it.”  Dravo and Jean Foley, whose real name was Shelby, were young when they married, 18 and 16 years old, respectively. “They basically grew up together,” Vickie said. “She was 18 when she had me. Most caring, giving person you would ever meet. Everybody loved her.”  Both Vickie and Greg characterize their father as “very strict.” Vickie said, “He never had to say a word. He put a little fear in you. He never laid a hand on us, but we thought he might. We didn’t want to test him. Nowadays, kids want to run the show. We did what our parents told us to do. We didn’t argue.”  And pretty much from the time they could walk, they helped take care of their father’s stable. “They taught us a great work ethic,” Vickie said. “It’s good for a kid to get responsibility. We were spoiled in a certain way, but in other ways we weren’t. We had jobs. Be on time. Don’t dilly dally. Move. Move. Move. We were expected to do things right and when we did, we were rewarded for it. I think it’s a tribute to our parents.”  Greg guesses he and Vickie were three or four years old when they began showing up in winner circle photos. “We grew up on the racetrack pretty much,” Greg said. “I started walking hots when I was six or seven. We liked doing it. He liked having us there, working of course.”  They remember good times at River Downs in Cincinnati, where their father was leading trainer several times and trips to Michigan to race at Detroit Race Course and Hazel Park, where Dravo also won training titles. He also was leading trainer once at Latonia (now Turfway Park).  Frequently, victories at River Downs were followed by good times at Coney Island Amusement Park in Cincinnati. Vickie said, “If we won a race, we’d go to Coney Island.”  That objective was right in front of them. “My father had a box seat on the finish line at River Downs,” Greg said. “You could see the Shooting Star, the roller coaster at Coney Island. It was an old-time amusement park. We’d go to the races every day, and it seemed like we’d go to Coney Island a lot.”  Vickie said, “They had a restaurant there called the Moonlight Garden. We’d play Skee-Ball there. We had a wonderful childhood.”  Some memories are better than others. At Detroit Race Course, 10-year-old Vickie was walking a horse in the barn when another horse got loose in the shed row. “That was the only time I was frightened by a horse,” Vickie said. “I ducked in a stall under the webbing.”  Another time, Vickie and Greg thought they were in a lot of trouble with their father when they returned to the barn after their father had left, re-saddled a couple saddle ponies and took off to ride with a couple friends on an old training track behind DRC. “We were coming back to the barn, and something spooked my horse, and he went over a culvert and got a cut—one that would need stitches,” Vickie said. “We thought our father was going to kill us. He didn’t say anything, other than, `I told you kids to leave the horses in the barn.’ No big deal. I guess he was glad we were all right.”  In Michigan, where they raced at DRC and Hazel Park, the family rented a house for the spring and summer, and Greg, still a fan of the Detroit Tigers, got the thrills of a lifetime. “My father was the leading trainer at DRC a couple times, and he knew the president of DRC,” Greg said. “They had a box right on the first base dugout at Tigers Stadium. We went to games the year they won the World Series. I was in heaven. I collect old baseball cards from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, and I have signed baseballs.”  Dravo taught horsemanship to Vickie and Greg every day they worked. “There was a groom we had, Jerry Joseph,” Greg said. “My father pushed me in a stall with him and said, `Do what he tells you to do.’ He taught me how to rub horses. That’s how I learned that.”  Quickly, they learned to appreciate their father’s acumen with horses. “He was a perfectionist,” Vickie said. “Everything had to be done a certain way. His barn was cleaner than most people’s houses.”  Greg said his father, was “a stickler for the little things. He took great care of his horses. As far as training, that was the big thing. Take care of them, feed them, run them where they belong, and they’ll take care of you.”  When it came time for Vickie and Greg to start taking care of themselves, both tried college. “I wanted to go to college,” Vickie said. “I wanted that accomplishment under my belt.”  She spent one year at the University of Louisville, then transferred to Western Kentucky where she graduated with a degree in business administration and a minor in communications. “There wasn’t anything specifically I wanted to do,” she said. Greg was down in Florida with father’s top horses. He was at Gulfstream. I went down there. I was 21. At Gulfstream, I thought I died and gone to heaven. We won a lot of races. I said, `This is what I want to do.’ It’s a roller-coaster ride, but there’s nothing like winning a race. When you do, it’s all worth it.”  Greg had lasted just one year at Western Kentucky. He said he went “because my mom told me to. I liked it all right, but I pretty much knew what I wanted to do.”  So Greg started training on his own with his father’s horses in 1981 and won 54 races that year from just 246 starts. Vickie took a different path, starting with five horses when she won just two races from 14 starts. She upped her win total to 19 the following year.  Vickie’s career got a boost in 1986 when she hooked up with Bill Malone, a CPA who had been doing her father’s accounting and tax returns for years. Malone is a founding partner of Deming, Malone, Livesay & Ostroff in Louisville. “Vickie came up to me and said she was going to be training horses at Turfway Park and needed horses, and I know so many people maybe I could help,” Malone said.  Malone got three friends to put up $2,000 each to match his $2,000, while Vickie put in the equivalent $2,000 of her training bills and they claimed a horse named Mr. Bobeva, a warrior who would make 118 career starts with 12 victories and $134,025. “We ran him on February 1, my birthday, and he won in a dead heat,” Malone said. “It’s true; I’ve got the picture. And I’ve been in it ever since.”  There would be plenty of pictures as Malone became known as the father of affordable syndicates. “It started slow with $15,000 to $20,000 claimers, then we started to go to two-year-old sales,” Malone said. “Vickie and I have been together for 33 years. We never put together a deal that Vickie and I haven’t joined ourselves. No mark-ups. No hidden agendas. We don’t do that.”  What they do is frequently find the winner’s circle. “I’ve been very lucky to have a business partner and a dear friend in Bill Malone,” Vickie said.  Vickie has kept going with a small stable, amassing 592 victories and earnings of more than $11.2 million. She won the 2002 Gr3 Derby Trial Stakes with Sky Terrace in 2002 and the 2005 then-Gr2 Alcibiades Stakes with She Says It Best, which is now a Gr1.  Her best year in earnings was in 2004 ($725,514), but thanks to Hog Creek Hustle, she’s already made $415,470 through mid-June with three victories and four seconds from 33 starts this year.  Asked what she learned from her father’s horsemanship, she said, “Every horse is different. When a horse has an issue, you have to give him time. You have to take time to take care of a problem. Don’t rush your horse. Know your horse. Know your horse’s habits. The key is getting them in the right spot where they’re the most effective. We’ve done well because we were taught right. We grew up in the business. We were hands on.”  And she still is. “There’s something to say about longevity,” Vickie said.  Malone said, “Certainly, I think she’s the best female Thoroughbred trainer in the state of Kentucky. She was walking horses for her father when she was eight years old. It’s a small stable. Sometimes, a woman can’t get horses. She said, `I don’t know if I’m ever going to get a really good horse, but I’ll know what to do with him.’”  Hog Creek Hustle is living proof.  Greg’s numbers have been splashier as he’s become one of the top trainers at Churchill Downs. He’s topped $1 million in earnings in nine years and has 1,356 career victories with earnings of more than $25.6 million. He won a career-high $2,017,295 from 66 winners in 2004, and topped that win total with 71 two years later. Greg, whose first victory came at The Fair Grounds on January 7, 1981, has been leading trainer at Churchill Downs twice and at Ellis Park five times.  He races at Churchill Downs, Indiana Downs and Ellis Park in the spring through fall and winter at The Fair Grounds.  And he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. “I do love horses, being around them, working with them, trying to figure each one out, taking care of them,” he said. “I think I take care of horses as good as anybody. My father drilled that into me from day one. I just try to do the right thing for each horse. Take care of them, put them in the right position. Just keep your horse happy and put him in the right spot. Travis is modernized. I’m old school.”  Travis is 36. His younger brother, 26-year-old Alex, just graduated from law school and is waiting to take the bar exam. Until that happens, Alex is helping his father at the barn. Travis is making a living doing that, and Greg couldn’t be happier about it. “He got our website up,” Greg said. “He has newer ideas. He’s been a big help. He’s really improved his horsemanship. He’s come a long way in a short period of time. I’m proud of what he’s picked up.”  Travis said, “I love the game of horseracing—being able to do what my grandfather did and what my father did. I grew up playing sports. I love the competitive challenge a horse provides.”  The biggest challenge comes in a Gr1 stakes. And now the Foley family has that first Gr1 victory. “It’s hard to believe,” Vickie said. “I had a hundred text messages after the race. I heard from people I hadn’t heard from in years. I pinched myself and said, `Vickie, this wasn’t another day. This was Belmont Stakes Day. In New York.’”  She’s pointing Hog Creek Hustle to another New York Gr1 stakes named for a Hall of Fame trainer, the $500,000 Allen Jerkens Memorial on August 24 at Saratoga. And if Hog Creek Hustle adds that laurel, maybe Vickie will stop pinching herself. She’s worked nearly four decades to reach that plateau and she just might stay there, her family rooting for her every step of the way.

By Bill Heller

Asked how long the inquiry deciding the fate of her winner of the $400,000 Gr1 Woody Stephens Stakes Hog Creek Hustle seemed, trainer Vickie Foley said, “Eternity.” Then she added, “Usually, the longer it goes, the worse it is.”

Her family shared her anxiety as Hog Creek Hustle’s number 8 blinked on and off on the toteboard at Belmont Park on the undercard of the Belmont Stakes June 7. Hog Creek Hustle had won by a neck under Corey Lanerie but had clearly bumped Mind Control, ridden by John Velazquez, around the top of the stretch. Mind Control wound up finishing eighth.

Vickie’s brother Greg was watching on TV at Churchill Downs, where he saddled a horse that afternoon and where he is eighth all-time in training victories. Her nephew Travis, Greg’s son and assistant trainer, and Travis’ girlfriend Patsy, were on vacation watching on television at the Golden Nugget casino in Biloxi, Miss.  

Vickie has been training for 38 years. Greg, who has been married to Sheree for 38 years, has also been training for 38 years. Neither Vickie nor Greg had ever won a Gr1 stakes. Their late father, Dravo, trained horses for 48 years after a horse ended his jockey career by stepping on him, forcing doctors to remove a piece of his lung. He had never won a Gr1 stakes as a rider or as a trainer.

Vickie had watched the race by herself on a TV monitor at Belmont Park: “I just looked up and said, `God, please don’t take this horse down.”

Then in an instant, the inquiry was over. Using their discretion, the stewards ruled that the foul did not affect the outcome of the race because Mind Control had pretty much come up empty at that point. They left Hog Creek Hustle stand as the winner, but disciplined Lanerie with a five-day suspension for the incident.

The collective sigh of relief stretched from Mississippi to Kentucky to New York.

“I felt I had a ton of bricks lifted off my shoulders,” Vickie said, “It was the best feeling ever. I take my hat off to John Velazquez. He told the stewards that his horse was done. He wasn’t going anywhere. They did the right thing. It was the right call.”

Maybe it was karma. The stakes honors Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens, who grew up in Stanton, Ky. Thirteen miles from Hog Creek, this small town in a depressed area of eastern Kentucky that the horse was named for, signified that all of the horses’ connections had to hustle to make their way through life. Patty Tipton, who was raised in Hog Creek, and her Louisville neighbors—Mickey and Beth Martin, Stewart Smith, Melissa and Shawn Murphy, Rex McClanahan, Haley Lucas and Candy and Brian Minnichin—created a partnership. They named it Something Special Racing and purchased Hog Creek Hustle for $150,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Greg advised the partners to purchase the yearling.

Greg waited until Vickie got out of the winner’s circle to call. “He said, `Congratulations! You did a hell of a job. I give you all the credit. I am so proud of you, and I love you,’” Vickie said. She was touched. “He’s not the mushy type,” she said.

His appreciation was genuine. “That was the first Gr1 for our family,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time the hard way. We persevered and we’re still at it. It’s a tough sport, period, and that much tougher for a woman. I’m proud of her for that.”

19_0624_Foley_ww-7.jpg

They had started their journeys together so many years ago. And though they train separately—she with a dozen horses and he with 40—they share the same barn when they winter at The Fair Grounds. Vickie, 62, is the oldest of four children, followed by Greg, Sharon and Lisa. “He’s my best friend,” Vickie said. “He always has my back. And I have his. If I have a problem with a horse, I go to him. He would be a great veterinarian.”

They were blessed by a father and mother who not only showed them a way of life but also a way to live. “Racing automatically brings you together,” said Travis, who eschewed a corporate life with his MBA from the University of Kentucky to work for his father. “There’s a common ground. We’re all thinking about the same things—what’s going on with the stable. It’s a common ground most families don’t have. Family bonding definitely happens. Horse racing is seven days a week, getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning. You have to love it. Obviously, they do and they passed it on to me. That’s one of the reasons I stayed in it.”…

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Is a foul a foul?

Australian EIPH report - new research on the impact of EIPH from an Australian perspective but with worldwide implications

Australian EIPH report - new research on the impact of EIPH from an Australian perspective but with worldwide implications

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