George Foreman moves into harness racing

Updated: March 21, 2006, 12:57 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

Some 30 years ago, George Foreman got his introduction to harness racing. He needed a place to jog to prepare for his 1976 fight with Joe Frazier at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island and chose nearby Roosevelt Raceway. He didn't spend that much time there, but it was enough for him to fall in love with the sights, sounds and excitement of a sport that was, back then, quite popular in the New York area.

George Foreman
Foreman, seen here in 2001, first got the horse-racing bug while training for a fight in 1976.

"They allowed me to run the track for my road work," Foreman explained. "I used the track and at the same time the horses were working out. Occasionally, I'd be invited to stand in the winner's circle and take pictures with the winners. I thought, some day, I'm going to be more than some celebrity standing in for a picture. I wanted to be the winner myself. I always wanted to do that. After my boxing career was over, I knew I could recreate that feel."

Foreman kept fighting through 1997 and is still busy selling his Lean Mean Grilling Machine and pitching other products such as Meineke mufflers, but he never forgot his vow that he would some day stand in the winner's circle at a harness track as an owner.

Actually, Foreman has been around standardbreds for the last several years. He has a bunch of horses, standardbreds and other breeds, on his ranch in Marshall, Texas and built a track, about five-eighths of a mile around, there. Just for fun, he often holds races on the ranch, with friends, family and acquaintances taking part. Some of the horses pull sulkies. Others are ridden.

"Some of the guys who come out here are pretty serious about it," the 57-year-old Foreman said. "But we just race for bragging rights."

Though unofficial races with no purses involved, the showdowns on the ranch kept him close to the animals he loves.

"I don't think anyone could really enjoy getting into horse racing unless they truly love the animal," Foreman said. "Crossing the winning line, like in any other sport, isn't going to happen to you all the time. The thing that will keep you in it is loving it. I love the smell of the barns. I love the posture of the drivers. I love the look of the horses when they're in good shape and their veins are popping out. Without that, I wouldn't be in it. If I were just looking for an outlet I'd try golf."

Foreman didn't get involved in an official capacity until last fall when buying five horses at a sale in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for a total of $102,000. He has since turned the now 2-year-olds over to trainer George Teague Jr., who is based at Harrington Raceway in Delaware and trained 2004 Horse of the Year Rainbow Blue.

"He's going to be a good owner," Teague said. "He seems like he's very enthusiastic. He understands the gambles of what he's getting into."

About a month ago, Foreman also purchased a part interest in a 3-year-old named Future Destiny, who is undefeated in two career starts

"With just a bunch of 2-year-olds, I can't wait that long to get to the winner's circle," he said, explaining why he bought into Future Destiny.

Though he's no longer boxing, Foreman still leads a full and busy life. He said he does not have the time to devote his full energies to harness racing, but promises that he's in the game for the long haul and will do what it takes to develop a top-class horse.

"I've got so many things that I've got to do right now, but I've never done anything in a small way in my entire life," he said. "If I'm going to do this I'm going to give it all my best. If you see me appear in the winner's circle a few times, I'll get to waving to my wife at home. She's been teasing me, saying I'm going to give up on this. I'd like a strong horse and I'd like to have a horse who is a contender for the Triple Crown races. I know that doesn't happen overnight and that I'll have to devote myself to that."

"I think is the kind of thing where he is feeling his way in," Teague said. "I hope that he's in it for the long haul. That's the only real way you can experience the good side of this business. It would be nice if you could do something for one or two years and, boom, it happens to you. Most of us wait a lifetime and it doesn't happen."

With a modest-sized stable and no horses in his barn that cost six figures, Foreman will have to be very lucky to come up with a horse capable of winning a race like the Hambletonian. Still, the former heavyweight champion of the world dreams of owning the heavyweight champion of harness racing. What would he do if he won the Little Brown Jug or Hambletonian?

"I'd do a world tour boasting about it," he said. "That's how big it would be to me. I wouldn't answer any questions anymore about boxing, just horses. I'd put ads in USA Today, the New York Times, all the horse magazines. That would be a prize championship to me."

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com