Though she loved growing up around the racetrack with her father and her three younger siblings, Vickie Foley wasn't ready to commit to the lifestyle full-time after high school. She and her siblings had hot-walked and groomed in Michigan and Ohio during the summers, helping their father earn multiple leading trainer titles at River Downs and DRC, but Foley felt like she needed a backup plan.
After all, her father had started his Thoroughbred career as a jockey. A serious accident before the births of his children left the Foley patriarch in critical condition, suffering internal bleeding and necessitating the removal of part of a lung.
“If they hadn't caught the internal bleeding, I might not even be here,” Vickie Foley said. “I just wanted to make sure I had a plan.”
She opted to secure a business degree and communications minor from Western Kentucky University, and only then was she ready to launch her career as a trainer. Foley saddled her first starter in 1981, and her younger brother Greg Foley also followed in their father's footsteps as a trainer. Both are based at Churchill Downs, and their younger siblings also still live in Louisville.
Last Saturday, Vickie Foley celebrated her first Grade 1 winner with Hog Creek Hustle in the Woody Stephens, lighting up the tote board at 19-1 in the colt's signature come-from-behind style. The 3-year-old son of Overanalyze had to survive a stewards' inquiry, but that tension was short-lived as the race was quickly declared official.
“What a thrill,” Foley said. “He was tough in the paddock, which he always is, and then with the inquiry, it was stressful. But I knew there would be blistering speed in this race, and I knew that's what we needed. We were going for and hoping for the speed coming back to us. That's why we thought we'd be perfect in this race and why we came. Corey (Lanerie) gave him a good ride, too.”
Foley's is a small, tight-knit operation with 12 horses in training. She and her brother operate separate stables, but are still close and willing to jump in to help one another at any time.
That relationship has been particularly important with a difficult horse like Hog Creek Hustle. The colt has a well-earned reputation as being tough to saddle in the paddock, and Greg Foley regularly steps in to help his older sister on that front.
“We've schooled him and schooled him and schooled him,” said Vickie Foley. “It doesn't seem to matter, that's just the way he is. Luckily, once Corey gets on his back he's all business.”
In New York, Greg Foley wasn't able to attend the big race, so another trainer stepped in to help. The Belmont paddock allows patrons to get a close-up view of the horses, which Hog Creek Hustle didn't particularly appreciate, so it took a couple tries. Once saddled, however, the colt settled in like a professional.
Vickie Foley knows her horse well, of course, and opted not to send him to the starting gate with a lead pony. “Hoggy” is particularly sensitive about his mouth, and in his previous starts the colt has always been ponied by veteran Mike Crowder.
“If you don't know him, he can be difficult,” Foley explained. “I decided it was better to just go without. Corey let him stand out on the track after warming up and he was like a statue, and just totally relaxed, so I think it was the right decision.”
Hog Creek Hustle came flying down the stretch to score by a neck in the Woody Stephens, fulfilling the promise Foley first saw in him at the Keeneland September sale and later in his first career start at Ellis Park.
Long-time friend Patty Tipton picked the colt out of the sale catalog, and Greg Foley was the first one to lay eyes on him.
“Greg is a really good horseman, and we all respect his opinion,” Vickie Foley said. “When he told us we needed to go look at the horse, we knew it was a good sign… We thought we'd get him for eighty or ninety, but he ended up going for $150,000. They really stepped up to the plate to buy him.”
Briefly on the Derby trail, Hog Creek Hustle has found his niche as a come-from-behind sprinter. He ran second in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard, and the Woody Stephens was his big breakthrough. Next, Foley is aiming to run the colt in the G1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial on Aug. 24 at Saratoga.
“If it wasn't for some bad luck at the Fair Grounds, we'd have been in the Kentucky Derby,” Foley concluded. “But things turn out sometimes for the best. We made the choice to run in the Pat Day Mile, even if he'd gotten the points to get in the Derby, because that was the best thing to do for the horse. I believe a one-turn mile is his best race, and he's proven that.”
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