The last time Canadian-owned Fire On The Water headed to the U.S. for a harness racing Battle, it turned out pretty well. Then a 3-year-old, the pacer won his $100,000 division of the Battle of the Brandywine at Harrah's Chester.
On Saturday night (July 23), 5-year-old Fire On The Water is back in the States for another Battle, this time the $100,000 Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield Park. It will be the horse's first trip out of Ontario since going to Chester for a six-race stretch in 2009, a span of 62 starts.
"It gives me a chance to see a new place," owner Tony Nichols said with a laugh.
Fire On The Water has spent the majority of his career racing at Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks, near Toronto. This year, he has won four of 21 starts and earned $113,851. For his career, he has won 15 of 85 races and $304,998. His victory in the $100,000 Battle of the Brandywine division is his top win to date.
He enters the Battle of Lake Erie off a 1:49.3 triumph in the $36,400 Preferred at Mohawk on July 9. He also won the Preferred on June 18, in 1:49.2, and was second to Art Professor in 1:49.1 in the Open on June 25.
"He's a real nice horse," Nichols said. "You don't get these kinds of horses every day. As a 2-year-old, he just seemed a little awkward (racing only twice), but it seems like the older he gets, the better he gets. It just took a while for him to develop. Now he drives like a Cadillac. He's just super. He wants to do it."
Fire On The Water is a son ofout of the mare Aquatic Yankee, who was a multiple stakes-winner and finished second to Eternal Camnation in the 2001 Breeders Crown Mare Pace. Fire On The Water was purchased as a yearling for $65,000 at the Lexington Selected Sale and developed by Murray Brethour.
Nichols' son, Steve, took over the training of Fire On The Water last year. Steve Nichols trained a number of horses for his father before leaving the sport to run a computer business. After a six-year hiatus, he returned to training horses in 2009.
"Once you're in the horse game, you can't get out of it," Nichols said, chuckling. "(Steve) loves doing it and he's done real well."
Fire On The Water will face a small but tough field in Saturday's Battle of Lake Erie. The six-horse group includes last year's winnerand the 2009 champ Foiled Again.
Foiled Again, who was third in last year's race, drew post No. 1 for the third consecutive time in the Battle. Matt Kakaley, who drove Foiled Again to victory in 2009, is listed to drive the horse again this year. Foiled Again has won seven of 14 races and earned $494,000 in 2011. His wins include the Molson Pace and Graduate. He was fifth in the Bettor's Delight and sixth in the Ben Franklin Pace before finishing third in the Open at Harrah's Chester on July 10. He was beaten by a half-length by We Will See.
For his career, Foiled Again, a 7-year-old gelding, has won 51 times and banked $2.50 million.
"He's always been pretty good (at Northfield)," trainer Ron Burke said. "We're excited to go. His last start (in the Open) was a rebound start. It seems like last year he went through a little lull in the summer, too. Our goal is to get him good for a run at the end of the year."
, a 5-year-old, has won three of 15 races this year and earned $124,675. He is coming into the Battle off back-to-back victories in overnights at Chester. Last season, won eight of 27 starts and banked $788,809. For his career, he has 23 victories and $1.48 million in purses.
Fire On The Water will start on the outside, from post six, with driver Anthony MacDonald.
"Somebody has to get it," Nichols said about the starting spot. "He's raced against some good horses in Toronto and he's got some nice last quarters in him. He's never been around a half (-mile track), but he trained super on one. It seems like he keeps getting better."
Following is the Battle of Lake Erie field in post position order, with listed drivers and trainers:
1. Foiled Again, Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke;
2., Dave Palone, Kevin McDermott;
3. This Is Wyatt, Dan Noble, Boyd Hudson Jr.;
4. Trick Man, Ray Paver, Paver;
5. Giddy Up Lucky, Eric Goodell, Hudson;
6. Fire On The Water, Anthony MacDonald, Steve Nichols.
1:49.3 triumph for Fire On The Water in the $36,400 Preferred at Mohawk on July 9
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications