Day At The Track

A conversation with Larry Rheinheimer

06:22 AM 19 May 2016 NZST
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Larry Rheinheimer Freaky Feet Pete and Trace Tetrick
Larry Rheinheimer recently took time to talk with Ken Weingartner about the Battle of Lake Erie
Mark Hall Photo
Freaky Feet Pete and Trace Tetrick
Mark Hall Photo

Freaky Feet Pete won over Indiana --- and then much of North America --- with his winning ways over the past two years. Now the harness racing 4-year-old male pacer is getting ready for his first stakes race of 2016, facing seven foes in Saturday's $200,000 Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield Park.

The Battle of Lake Erie features not only Freaky Feet Pete, who won 15 of 17 races last year including the Breeders Crown for 3-year-old male pacers, but harness racing's all-time richest horse, 12-year-old Foiled Again, and the 2015 Horse of the Year, Wiggle It Jiggleit.

Freaky Feet Pete has won 27 of 30 career races and earned $1.14 million for owners Mary Jo Rheinheimer and Marty Rheinheimer. In addition to the Breeders Crown, Freaky Feet Pete won last year's American-National Stakes at Balmoral Park. Except for the Breeders Crown and American-National, the horse has raced exclusively at Hoosier Park, where he captured two Indiana Sire Stakes championships.

The stallion was bred by Mary Jo's husband Larry, who also trains Freaky Feet Pete. The Rheinheimers live near LaGrange, Ind., in the northeast corner of the Hoosier State.

Freaky Feet Pete and regular driver Trace Tetrick will start the Battle of Lake Erie from post five. Freaky Feet Pete, who is 3-for-3 this year with all his victories coming in invitational handicaps at Hoosier Park, is 2-1 on the morning line. He is the second choice behind even-money favorite Wiggle It Jiggleit, who drew post one. Freaky Feet Pete won two of three meetings with Wiggle It Jiggleit last season.

Larry Rheinheimer recently took time to talk with Ken Weingartner of the USTA's Harness Racing Communications division about the Battle of Lake Erie and the fun of living with Freaky Feet Pete.

KW: Let's start by going back to last year when you won the Breeders Crown. What was the reaction like back home?

LR: Crazy. I mean he's a hometown hero. If people could watch (the Breeders Crown) on television, they did. If they couldn't, they found it on the computer. Everyone was excited.

KW: Do people come up to you a lot to talk about him?

LR: Oh yeah. When I go to town or go somewhere, people are always asking when is Pete racing again, or how did Pete do last week. Most of them know how he's done, but they want to know when he's racing again.

KW: Are you the most famous duo up in that part of the state?

LR: I don't know if I am, but he is. (Laughs.) Everyone knows him.

KW: Do you feel any more comfortable now being the center of attention?

LR: Not really. (Laughs.) I like to sneak up on them.

KW: Well, I don't think that's going to happen anymore.

LR: No, we blew that. (Laughs.)

KW: But the way it's worked out has been pretty good.

LR: It has. It's been a great ride. My wife and I and the kids, we've enjoyed it. And I've got one sister that follows me everywhere we go.

KW: What's been the most enjoyable part of it all?

LR: Just the fanfare, I think. We've met a lot of very nice people. A super lot. I hear from all over that people watch when Pete races. Now I think the biggest pressure on me is hoping that nothing goes wrong. I've raced enough horses in my life to know they're all going to get beat. That's why we race them. But I'm hoping we go a good race and everything works good.

KW: Was it difficult waiting through the winter? Were you anxious to get going again?

LR: I was anxious to see how he would come back this year. That was the biggest thing. You go from year to year when you shut them down and you don't know how they're going to come back. You hope for the best, but sometimes it doesn't happen.

KW: How long was he off and when did you bring him back?

LR: He was off for about six weeks. We didn't let him completely down. One of the reasons we just started back jogging with him was he was so fired up in the paddock.

KW: When you started to bring him back did you sense right away that he was good?

LR: He did everything handily and never took a bad step or anything. He was feeling good all the time, so we felt pretty good about him coming back.

KW: Did you see him change much over the winter?

LR: I think he filled out a little more in his chest and a little more in the rump. I think he filled out more this year than he did last year. He feels good. He likes it here at home. He's throwing his head and playing and feeling good. He's enjoying himself and trains nicely. I feel real comfortable with him.

KW: What did you think about his performances in his first three races this year?

LR: I thought he was good in all three of them. In the last one, Trace came off a helmet with him, which I like, and he was good. To me, that was his best race so far. The qualifiers weren't anything, just qualifiers. The last one, when he raced him from off the pace, that made me feel better.

KW: When you saw the draw come out, aside from Wiggle It Jiggleit getting post one, you had to feel better that you didn't get the eight or the seven.

LR: (Laughs.) Yeah, I did. I'm not unhappy with the five. You're in the middle of the swing there. But I was happy I didn't have the eight. I was looking for the eight when Wiggle It Jiggleit was the one. (Laughs.)

KW: Are you looking forward to your first stakes races of the year?

LR: Yes, I am. He's doing good and everything is together and we're ready to go, I think.

KW: He trains on a half-mile track, so you're not too concerned about that?

LR: Not really. We train him on a half all the time and I think he can handle it. You never know for sure, but I think it will be OK. And with the five hole out there with the banked turn I feel a little more comfortable.

KW: What do you think about the race?

LR: I'm hoping there are some front-runners out there, but I don't know for sure. And that's Trace's decision. I know when the gate folds, that's when the decision will be made.

KW: What's Pete's schedule like this season?

LR: I think we're going to go to the Graduate Series at Mohawk next after this race. After that, there are a couple of races out East.

KW: It's going to be a fun year watching that (older pacer) division. And a lot of them are Indiana-bred.

LR: Indiana has come a long way. These Indiana horses can go anyplace and race. That's what I feel. All of these people brought their broodmares up and everything else and it's paying off for them.

Ken Weingartner

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