Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Fire’s Finale Is Kenwood’s ‘Icing On The Cake’

The goal in horse racing may be to hit the wire in front, but the real nature of the sport can’t be found in a single trip over the racetrack. Wins just wouldn’t matter as much if they didn’t require us to believe in taking chances, to maintain our hope through all the difficult times, and a little bit of luck.

Those are the reasons Robb Levinsky was unable to contain his joy when his Kenwood Racing homebred Fire’s Finale won the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes on Dec. 7 at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Penn. The 2-year-old Pennsylvania-bred is the last foal out of Levinsky’s favorite racemare, Exchanging Fire, and was ridden by Mychel Sanchez, whose agent, Joe Hampshire, was the mare’s regular rider.

“This race was like a gathering of old friends, and it’s one I’ll remember a long time,” Levinsky said, acknowledging that the win stands out as a rare high moment during the day-to-day struggles of the pandemic. “It’s not been an easy year for the world, so racing has been an escape from a tough year for all of us. It’s not perfect, it doesn’t make up for everything, but it has definitely helped.”

Several of the dozen syndicate owners were on hand to watch as Fire’s Finale made an impressive rally from behind the field to win by a length, earning his first stakes score in his seventh lifetime start. Levinsky’s emotions ran over as he entered the winner’s circle.

“We don’t breed a lot of horses, but (his dam Exchanging Fire) was just a member of the family,” he explained. “I’ve been in this business for 35 years, so I try not to get overly attached, but we really loved her.”

Levinsky claimed Exchanging Fire for $50,000 in 2007 at Gulfstream Park. The next year the daughter of Exchange Rate won three listed stakes races and finished fourth in a Grade 3 race at Monmouth Park that year, and ran out earnings of nearly $250,000 through her 27-race career.

The filly retired at the end of 2008, and Levinsky knew that the stock market crash meant she wouldn’t bring what she was worth at auction. He decided to keep the mare and breed her himself.

“We always knew she had talent,” Levinsky said. “I felt eventually she was going to reproduce herself, but it didn’t happen right away.”

Exchanging Fire’s first foal died at birth when he was strangled on his umbilical cord. After giving her a year off to recover, she was able to produce three more foals over the next several years, though none of those were particularly inspiring on the racetrack.

Her fourth foal, a bay colt by Jump Start born in 2018, seemed to have all the right things going for him. Unfortunately, Exchanging Fire colicked a month after the colt was born, and she died on the operating table at New Bolton when she was 14 years old.

“They couldn’t save her,” Levinsky said. “With Fire’s Finale, we got him onto a nurse mare and he survived, but he’d certainly had a rough start in life. It never seemed to bother him, but obviously it meant a lot to us for him being her last foal.”

The colt’s early training was so promising that Levinsky decided he’d offer a portion to new-to-the-game owner Ralph Pastori, a CPA from New York. This year was Pastori’s initial foray into the horse racing game, and he’d first approached Levinsky with the idea to buy shares of horses from the 2-year-old sales.

When the pandemic affected the schedule of those sales, Levinsky didn’t find as many horses in his target price range, and he started to consider whether it’d be a good idea to offer up 25 percent of Fire’s Finale.

“Everything was going well, and I told Pastori, ‘Look, I honestly really, really like the horse,’” Levinsky remembered. “I said, ‘You can definitely pass if you want, I just think he has a chance to be something special.’

“I took a chance with my reputation, which is very important to me, and I kind of had to go out on a limb a little. But he had trained so well up to that point, and fortunately that worked out!”

Trained by Kelly Breen, Fire’s Finale took a couple starts to figure out the racing game, but the colt never finished worse than fourth in his seven starts this season. Following the stakes score, his record stands at 2-2-1 with earnings of $108,315.

Fire’s Finale in the Parx Racing winner’s circle

“It was certainly emotional to keep him ourselves, rather than try to sell him at one of the sales or something, and to see him have this kind of success,” said Levinsky. “I think Fire’s Finale has a chance to be a really good horse for us next year as a 3-year-old.”

Breen wasn’t able to attend the race at Parx that Monday afternoon, so Levinsky’s long-time friend and former neighbor Ron Dandy was in the paddock before the Nursery Stakes to saddle Fire’s Finale. It was Dandy who told Levinsky about the jockey connection, just before the race started.

“I didn’t know the rider who was named on him at all, I just knew he was leading the standings at Parx,” Levinsky explained. “Ron said, ‘He’s a really nice young man, a good up-and-coming rider. You know who his agent is, don’t you? Joe Hampshire!’”

Hampshire rode Exchanging Fire at Parx when she was still running, and his wife met Levinsky in the paddock.

“She remembered Exchanging Fire, and I’m sure Joe has ridden a lot of horses,” Levinsky said. “It was really cool, kind of like a full circle thing.”

Despite struggles brought about by the pandemic altering racing schedules, Levinsky’s stable has won 19 of its 90 starts in 2020. The syndicate is three-for-three in December alone, with wins in the opening-day feature at Gulfstream and a filly breaking her maiden at Laurel.

“It’s been a very fulfilling year for us,” said Levinsky, adding, “This is not the norm, I’m not trying to say that it is; we recognize that it’s special. Fire’s Finale winning a stakes to end the year was really the icing on the cake.”

Levinsky knows how hard it is to earn those stakes wins, describing Kenwood Racing as a smaller operation with a matching budget. He earned TOBA’s Outstanding Thoroughbred Owner – Breeder award in 1989 and won the prestigious California Derby in the 1990s with a horse named Prime Meridean, but he said the day-to-day wins can often be the most emotionally significant ones.

“We’ve been tied in with this horse, especially, for so long, it’s just that much sweeter,” said Levinsky. “I think Fire’s Finale has a chance to be a really good horse for us, and next year I hope he gets to have a big 3-year-old season. First and foremost, though, and not to sound like Pollyanna, but I truly hope that the whole world will be better next year.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Fire’s Finale Is Kenwood’s ‘Icing On The Cake’ appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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