Freehold, NJ --- Fire And Smoke is the best horse Lindsey Blackler never bought.
The pacer was heading for life as a pleasure horse last year when Blackler’s friend called to ask if she wanted to look at him. Fire And Smoke was winless in seven career races, but Blackler liked the horse’s breeding and decided to take a shot with him.
Blackler was given the horse with the proviso that she had to find him a good home when his days on the racetrack were completed. That day might not come soon. The now 4-year-old gelding has won six of 15 races since joining Blackler’s stable last September and has finished worse than third only twice.
On Tuesday night, Fire And Smoke races in one of eight $12,500 divisions in the first round of the Sagamore Hill Series at Yonkers Raceway. Fire And Smoke will start from post three in the fifth division with regular driver Greg Merton and is 4-1 on the morning line.
The Sagamore Hill Series, which has three preliminary rounds prior to the $50,000 estimated final on April 1, is for male pacers ages 3 or 4 who were non-winners of four races and/or $40,000 through Dec. 1.
“It’s kind of like a Cinderella story,” said Blackler, who is the wife of trainer Scott Blackler and owns three horses herself. “We didn’t know what to expect. It was kind of like a trial for a couple months. It’s turned out really good. The horse has a heart of gold and he just gets better and better each week.”
Fire And Smoke is a son of Western Ideal out of the stakes-winning mare Art’s Temptress and was purchased as a yearling for $4,000 at the 2011 Lexington Selected Sale.
He is a three-quarter brother to stakes-winner Winds Of Change and his mother is a half-sister to Wake Up Peter. The family also includes two-time Dan Patch Award-winning female pacer Worldly Beauty and Worldly Treasure, who is the dam of two-time Pacer of the Year Captaintreacherous.
After acquiring Fire And Smoke, Blackler had her blacksmith work to improve issues with his feet and the horse returned from a six-week layoff with a 2:01 victory at Monticello Raceway in late September.
He spent the remainder of the season at Monticello and also began this year there before heading to Yonkers at the end of January. He lost his first start at Yonkers by a neck from post six and has won two subsequent starts at the Hilltop.
“One of my goals was to bring him to Yonkers and see how he did there,” said Blackler, who with her husband is a regular instructor at the annual U.S. Trotting Association Driving School in upstate New York. “He was so green with racing when he started out, but he’s so brave now. He wants to do it. He’s still learning, but he’s all game and heart.
“He takes very good care of himself,” the trainer added. “He’s a happy horse.”
Merton is the only driver to race Fire And Smoke and has played a vital role in the horse’s success.
“Greg has a lot of faith in him,” Blackler said. “He’s kind of funny gaited, but Greg knows him and just goes. I think that’s huge for his confidence.”
Blackler doesn’t know what to expect in the Sagamore Hill Series, but she hasn’t known what to expect from Fire And Smoke all along.
“He’s up against better horses, but I think he’ll be OK,” Blackler said. “I don’t know what I’ve got (in him). We’ll see how he performs and go from there.”
So far, it’s been a pleasure.
by Ken Weingartner for Harness Racing Communications