When Born Of Fire seeks his third straight win in Saturday's $20,000 Preferred Handicap Pace at The Meadows, it isn't clear how he'll handle the elite company he'll be facing for the first time. One thing is certain: he'll retreat from the gate and do his racing from behind. The confirmed closer goes from the rail in Race 8 with Brian Zendt driving.
Fox Racing privately acquired Born Of Fire earlier this season for trainer Jack Smith. The 5-year-old Dragon Again-Born Storyteller gelding hasn't enjoyed any stake income or glamor, banking $103,245 the hard way. On Saturday, he'll be racing for the biggest purse of his career.
There's no question about his closing ability. In a June 2 conditioned event, he made up 10 lengths over the back half and scored in a career-fastest 1:51.3. Stepped up in class last week, he was just as spectacular, erasing a nine-length deficit and matching his life mark. But try as he might, Smith hasn't been able to get him to leave alertly.
"If you put him on the gate in front of the grandstand, he feels like he could bust out of there," Smith says. "Then, as soon as they hit the start, he takes two steps backwards. It's unbelievable. I've tried different drivers, but no one can make him go. But he sure can kick it in.
"He's a gentle giant, almost 16 1/2 hands. But he swishes his tail and doesn't want to train."
Although Smith has been away from Preferred events at The Meadows for a little while, he's no stranger to fast-class horses. He's one of a handful of active horsemen who were at The Meadows when the track opened on June 28, 1963. Smith wasn't old enough to work on the backside legally, but he fudged his age and got away with it. Nearly 55 years later, he says competing in the Preferred remains a thrill for him.
"Oh yeah, definitely, but I'm not sure this is the horse. He won't be close early, but he'll be chasing them down late."
Saturday's card also features a compelling variety of "big-score" opportunities for players: a $12,500 total-pool Pick 4 guarantee (races 4-7); a $5,000 total-pool Pick 5 guarantee (races 9-13); a $2,404.55 carryover in the day's first Superfecta (currently race 2), and a $2,517.70 jackpot in the final-race Super High 5. First post is 1:05 p.m. (The Meadows)