Winning a race is always special for an owner. But when Linda Schwaid and her husband Era “Ernie” Williams watched their homebred pacer Lets Get Real win his career debut this past Saturday at Freehold Raceway, it provided a rush that lasted for days.
That’s because Lets Get Real was no ordinary first-time starter. Lets Get Real is 10.
“Just to see him race was special,” Schwaid said. “To see him win? My heart was beating for days. I couldn’t believe it. It was total shock.
“We’ve had winning horses before, but not like this. Not after all the work we put in.”
Lets Get Real, a stallion by Real Desire out of Sea Squall, was born in April 2009. Schwaid and Williams liked the horse, but his development was delayed because of several physical issues at an early age. When Lets Get Real began to progress, Williams, who trained the horse, was slowed by medical issues with his heart and his spine.
“We’d train and then we’d have to stop,” Schwaid said. “It was on and off, on and off. Everything just went slowly. Our health was more important than getting to the races.
“We do go out every day, even through the health issues, and take care of him. He’s one of our babies.”
Last fall, Schwaid and Williams, who are stabled at Winner’s International in central New Jersey, turned the horse over to trainer Mario Letizia with the hopes of continuing his development. “Mario loved him the day he met him,” Schwaid said.
“She didn’t tell me how old he was,” Letizia said, laughing. “I remember I saw him like three years ago when Ernie was jogging him out there. I kind of thought he was a nice-looking horse the first time I saw him. When I started dealing with him, I thought he was a nice horse.
“He’s good to take care of, actually. He’s got some speed, he really does. He’s got a bit of ability. I took him to Freehold to school him before he qualified. He’s like a 2-year-old (learning everything). That’s why it was amazing the way he won. He was like a professional.”
Lets Get Real, who qualified once in 1:59.2 at Freehold prior to his debut, won his first race in 1:58.2 with Eric Abbatiello in the sulky. In doing so, Lets Get Real became only the second North American-bred harness horse in the past 30 years to make his first lifetime start at age 10 and win a race. The other was pacing mare Jodesaidno, who was a 10-year-old rookie when she won at the Stark County Fair in Ohio in 2009.
So rare is the occurrence that Freehold’s Director of Racing Karen Fagliarone called Letizia to make sure he had entered the correct horse.
“She said, he’s 10 and never raced? I said, yeah, that’s him,” Letizia said.
“He always seemed good,” Schwaid said. “He always seemed like he wanted to do it, so we just kept trying and trying. We knew he had speed, it was just a matter of being consistent with him and getting our issues straightened out. It was just getting everything in the right place at the right time.
“It was really great (to see him win). Especially when you breed them and you see your baby come all the way to that. It really feels good.”
Schwaid and Williams first became interested in harness racing while living on Long Island, not far from Roosevelt Raceway. Williams, who was working for Grumman at the time, got to know a trainer and eventually was asked if he wanted to jog horses.
“We fell in love with the horses,” said Schwaid, who was working as a laboratory supervisor at a hospital. “We did it part time in the afternoons while we were working and decided that when we retired we would do it full time.
“It keeps you going. It keeps you getting up every day and keeps you going. It’s rewarding to go out there and see them. It brings you out of a lot of misery.”
It has been especially helpful in providing a pleasant diversion for Williams, who is 76.
“It gives my husband hope,” Schwaid said. “It’s inspirational for him. He comes every afternoon and helps feed and he will walk him around.”
Schwaid and Williams have one other homebred racing at this time, a 6-year-old pacing mare named Arts And Flowers. Three days after Lets Get Real’s victory, she won at Harrington Raceway, giving her 19 wins in 64 career races.
Lets Get Real is not entered to race this week, but his connections are looking forward to his next start. And no matter what happens in the future, they will never forget his first.
“It just proves it’s never too late,” Schwaid said.
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