03/30/2017 1:32PM

Harness: Freaky Feet Pete preparing for his return to the track

Email

As Hoosier Park commences what very well may be its most scintillating season on Saturday (April 1), there will be one individual, who was not only a stalwart presence at the facility but a cornerstone of the Indiana racing community, that will not be physically present to witness the track’s hosting of the Breeders Crown or the horse that meant more than any words can adequately portray compete in that event.

It is certain, however, that Larry Rheinheimer will be in attendance, not only for that contest, but for every other occasion Freaky Feet Pete places a hoof over any racing surface, for the bond that remains between the 5-year-old stallion and his late breeder/trainer is ethereal.

Therefore, it transcends circumstances such as mere mortality or the fact Freaky Feet Pete has his own challenge to overcome in a significant injury, which prematurely ended his 2016 campaign, shortly after Rheinheimer’s still surreal and sudden death on Sept. 24.

It appears as if the world champion is up to the task, as Freaky Feet Pete has goals Rheinheimer clearly established for him to fulfill and is currently working towards accomplishing exactly that.

“He broke a splint bone in his right front leg and pieces entered his suspensory,” said Rheinheimer’s son, Marty, who is now responsible for conditioning the Breeders Crown and Indiana champion he co-owns with his mother, Mary Jo. “He essentially finished his last race (the Dayton Pacing Derby on Sept. 30) and still was third behind those two horses (Wiggle It Jiggleit and Always B Miki). We think the injury actually began the night of the Dan Patch (Aug. 12) when he raced so poorly for him (finishing sixth).

“All the vets told us to not perform surgery and to allow the bone to heal, then the suspensory. We just ultra-sounded him last week and the bone has healed up great, the suspensory looks great as well. He’s been jogging every day and he is staked to everything. The plan is to qualify him at Hoosier in the coming weeks and if he’s ready, the Ben Franklin (eliminations June 24 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono).

“That is not necessarily the spot where he will go though. We are not rushing him, because there are some other races we are focusing on later in the year.”

The younger Rheinheimer is referring to the Dan Patch on Aug. 11, an appearance during the fall at the Red Mile and of course, an attempt for a second Breeders Crown title on Oct. 28.

“Obviously the Breeders Crown being here at Hoosier Park makes it mean even more to us,” Rheinheimer said. “But dad always wanted to win the Dan Patch and he really wanted Pete to race at Lexington, so those three races are what we are primarily pointing for.”

After the injury was diagnosed, the son of Rockin Image-Skyway Lori not only had to adjust to the absence of the person he spent nearly all his time with, but to an extended period of stall rest, which he did not appreciate.

“He did not like spending all that time in his stall one bit,” Rheinheimer said. “Pete really enjoys his work and likes to be out and active. It was tough on him having to stay still for so long and when it was time for him to start moving again, he was more than ready. He just is such an intelligent horse with good manners that he is never a problem. Not even when we have mares around him. He is professional and just wants to go out there to do his work.”

Before returning to the jog cart, Freaky Feet Pete, who has banked more than $1.5 million, compiled an outstanding resume of 42-30-5-2 and amassed a throng of devoted fans rivaling his colleague Wiggle It Jiggleit, was exercised on the underwater treadmill and is continuously scrutinized for even the tiniest sign of discomfort or swelling.

“With Pete it’s just so hard to tell when something is bothering him because he is such a relaxed horse,” Rheinheimer said. “He doesn’t let you know and with him being that way, it makes it more difficult to know when something is bothering him or when he is hurt.

“In his last race, he still paced like that with that kind of injury. He just has so much heart and will give it more than 100 percent in any situation.”

While Rheinheimer and his mother are eagerly anticipating Freaky Feet Pete’s upcoming year, he also acknowledges the emotional struggles he is enduring with the loss of his father, who left this earth just hours before the stallion finished second to Always B Miki in the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby.

“It was a night that I will never, ever forget and is burned into my memory,” he said. “But I know if he had to pick a way to go out, that would be what he would have wanted. Pete was his pride and joy, his horse of a lifetime and when he went, it was with Pete.

“He is the product of all those decades of dad’s hard work in the business and he never dreamed he would have a horse like this. Everyone would ask him about Pete wherever he went and he would just love talking about him. He did everything himself with the horse and for all we know, there were many hours we wouldn’t see him and he could have very well been sleeping in there with Pete. He was with him all the time.

“The plan was always for me to take over the stable from dad, but I never expected it to happen like this and then with Pete being hurt, it’s been a real big transition for me.

“Also, I have a lot of pressure on me because I do have a horse like Pete and I know exactly how dad felt about him. There are a lot of expectations when you have any horse like this; it’s a lot different than a stable of five or six racehorses. We know what dad wanted for him, like taking him to Lexington, for him to win the Dan Patch and to win the Breeders Crown again here at home. I have to live up to that and the simple fact that he’s not here, but we plan on carrying out all his wishes for this horse. It’s up to me now.”

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com