Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fio Rito- "The Pride of Lake Country"

Part of the fun of being involved in horse racing was racing at Ft. Erie racetrack for the summer meet. Which use to take place beginning in early July an ending on Labor Day. The meet use to coincide with Saratoga in New York state. While the elite of horse racing would be enjoying themselves at the "SPA". Toronto horseman and horse racing fans would be enjoying our lives in Ft. Erie. Located in the Niagara area and only 14 miles from famed Niagara Falls. We also were located around the same distance to the historic amusement park located in Crystal Beach. Also my brother John and I. Along with some other trackies would make a yearly trip to enjoy a day of racing at Finger Lakes racetrack located near Rochester New York.

Finger Lakes Racetrack's location is almost perfect. Located very close to the shores of Lake Canandaigua. Right in the heart of Finger Lakes Country. This simple and pure horse racing facility has hosted Thoroughbred horse racing since 1962. The track is know for being a "B" racetrack. Home to cheap claiming horses. Or to second class New York Breds. That can't cut it racing in the tough New York City Circuit.

That all changed when another "Big Grey" would arrive racing at Finger Lakes in 1977. Fio Rito would forever put Finger Lakes Racetrack on the map in horse racing history and would forever become the "Pride of Lake Country". Fio Rito like most very talented Thoroughbreds was a combination of speed and stamina. Fio Rito use to like to dazzle his opponents with his pure speed. Then dare his opponents to try and to beat him.

This worked 28 times in his 50 race career. Fio Rito became the star of Finger Lakes. The highlight of his brilliant racing career came when owner Ray Lecesse and trainer Micahel S. Ferraro shipped the "Pride of Lake Country" to Saratoga to compete in the 1981 Whitney Handicap. The New York City horsemen, horse racing fans, and racing experts. Gave Fio Rito and his regular jockey Leslie Hulet very little chance of winning or doing well racing at Saratoga. The popular opinion was that Fio Rito and Leslie Hulet were stars at Finger Lakes. But did not belong racing in the big time.

I was certainly a fan of Fio Rito going into the 1981 Whitney. I always enjoyed cheering for the underdog. As a die hard horse racing fan, I was delighted with the results. I remember watching this race on close circuit T.V. in the betting room. Located in the barn area of Ft. Erie Racetrack. There was concern prior to the start of the Whitney. When an anxious Fio Rito broke through the gate, prior to the start. Only the excellent work of the assistant starter. Who loaded Fio Rito into the starting gate. Also the great work of jockey Les Hulet. Prevented a negative outcome for "The Pride of Lake Country". The Big Grey was reloaded into the starting gate. The race began. With speed and confidence. Fio Rito and Les Hulet took command of the race from the outset. Dominated the pace in the run down the backstretch. Then held off some determined challenges in the run to the finish line to win the the Whitney by 1/2 length. Giving Lake Country a huge victory! Proving that Fio Rito and Leslie Hulet did belong competing the major leagues!

1975 Gr. C. by Dreaming Native - Seagret
28 Wins in 50 Starts, from ages 2 to 6
Career Earnings: $584,142

1981 - New Track Record at Finger Lakes - 6f in 1:09 4/5
1981- New Track Record at Finger Lakes - 1 mile, 70 yards in 1:40 1/5

Finger Lakes Horse of the Year
1979, 1980, 1981

New York State Horse of the Year
1980, 1981

The top photo is from a souvenir photo I obtained from visiting Finger Lakes Racetrack. The bottom picture was take by Al Stiff of me. Visiting Fito Rito grave. Located in the infield of Finger Lakes during a visit during May 2008.
1981 Whitney Stakes-

Spectacular Bid- "The Big Gray"

The year 1979 would also add another fantastic horse in Thoroughbred Racing history. As "The Big Gray" Spectacular Bid would come from Maryland. To leave an everlasting memory in the hearts of racing fans. Strong courageous and with electrifying moves to win races with ease. His name Spectacular Bid would be so appropriate for him!

Speculator Bid would also give young jockey Ronnie Franklin. The greatest races of his career. In The Big Grey's two campaign in 1978. The pair would combine for 7 wins from 9 races. They would win the; The Champagne, The Young America, and The Laurel Futurity. In winning the Laurel Futurity. The Bid and Ronnie Franklin would set a new track record covering the 1 1/16 distance in a speedy 1:41 3/5 seconds. A very rare achievement for a two year old to accomplish.

In Spectacular Bid's 3 year old racing campaign (1979). The big grey would prepare beautifully for the triple crown winning the Hutchinson Stakes and the Florida Derby. Then Spectacular under the riding of Ronnie Franklin would romp to victory in The Kentucky Derby and come back to win the Preakness in his home state of Maryland. Only to finish a disappointing 3rd in the Belmont. Ending his hope of winning the triple crown.

However Spectator Bid would come back as a 4 year old. The Bid would dominate his competition as an older horse. Winning the; Strub Series, San Fernando Stakes, Santa Anita Handicap, Mervyn Leroy Handicap, California Stakes, Washington Park Handicap, Amony L. Haskell Handicap, and the Woodward. Spectacular Bid would end his career with 26 wins from a 30 race career. Delighting horse racing fans that had the fun of watching him run and win races.

Spectacular Bid-

Sire Bold Bidder
Grandsire Bold Ruler
Dam Spectacular
Damsire Promised Land
Sex Stallion
Foaled 1976
Country United States
Color Gray
Breeder Madelyn Jason
Mrs. William Gilmore
Owner Hawksworth Farm
Racing colors: Blue, black cross sashes, blue bars on black sleeves, black cap.
Trainer Bud Delp
Record 30: 26-2-1
Earnings $2,781,608

The Kentucky Derby 1979-
The Preakness 1979-
The 1980 Strub Stakes 1980.
The 1980 Woodward (walk over)