Race For Winningest Horse Comes Down To Final Weekend Of '23

Fonner Park first turn | Fonner Park

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North America's winningest Thoroughbred in terms of victories this year will have 10 wins, but the final weekend of 2023 will determine if the Midwest-based gelding Fayette Warrior (Exchange Rate) ends up alone atop the leaderboard or if he has to share the honor with two nine-win rivals in the mid-Atlantic who could tie the mark either Dec. 30 or 31.

The 7-year-old Fayette Warrior, who sports a lifetime record of 19-11-7 from 71 starts with $241,772 in earnings, has topped the continent since his last victory at Columbus against starter-allowance company Oct. 21. He then finished second Oct. 29, also at the Nebraska track, before owner/trainer Troy Bethke gave him a break to prepare for a 2024 campaign.

With Troy's son, Scott Bethke, riding Fayette Warrior in all 18 starts this year, the pair also posed for winner's circle photos at Energy Downs (three times), plus Fonner Park, Sweetwater County Fair, and Wyoming Downs (twice each).

“He's a little bitty horse. He probably barely reaches 15 hands. Just a small-statured horse, but he's got a big heart, and he likes to run,” Troy Bethke told TDN. “Every time we lead him up there, he gives you 100%. He's a spunky, cocky little guy; a good-looking rascal. He likes to train, likes to race–just a good little horse.

“We only had a couple of races where he didn't run great this year, and both of them he got in trouble,” Bethke said, noting that Fayette Warrior only finished out of the money three times. “One was on the backside where he got pinched into the rail, and then another one it was really muddy and he just didn't seem to handle the track that day. Scott's kind of grown attached to him, and in that particular race I think he kind of took care of him a little bit.

A $90,000 KEEJAN purchase for Calumet Farm back in 2017, Fayette Warrior debuted for trainer Wesley Ward at Saratoga in 2018 (seventh at the MSW level). But he won his next start at Kentucky Downs by 4 1/4 lengths, and was then was fourth and third in listed stakes at Belmont Park and Laurel Park

After that, Fayette Warrior drifted downward in class to circuits in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota while switching stables 13 times before finally landing with Bethke.

“I claimed him two years ago. We ran him at Canterbury, then in Nebraska and Colorado,” Bethke said. “This last summer, we started in Nebraska, then a gal who was an assistant for me went out to Wyoming and ran that circuit out there. Then he came back to Nebraska.

“We were trying to put him in races where he would run well. We knew that he was doing well, up towards the top [of the North American leaderboard],” Bethke said.

No matter the level of racing, achieving 10 victories “is a lot of wins” for any horse, Bethke said.

“He'll be coming back next year,” Bethke said. “He had a pretty hard, long campaign, so we stopped on him. I've got a little place in Minnesota, so we've got him turned out at the house here right now.

Anthony Farrior | Jim McCue

Reached by phone Dec. 29, Bethke said he wasn't aware there were two other horses entered this weekend to potentially tie Fayette Warrior.

Both of those runners are trained by Anthony Farrior, who told TDN in a separate phone interview that it wasn't his intent to go after the winningest horse title.

“It's just how the races came up,” said Farrior, whose stable primarily competes in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Farrior will run the 4-year-old filly Divine Fashion (Divining Rod) in the third race Saturday at Mahoning Valley, where she's the 7-5 morning-line favorite for a $5,000 starter-allowance.

He's also got the 3-year-old gelding Uncaptured Storm (Uncaptured) on the also-eligible list in the first race at Laurel on Sunday as the 5-2 morning-line choice. That's a $25,000 claimer open to non-winners of three (any age) or straight 3-year-olds (regardless of the number of victories).

“Uncaptured Storm, me and [trainer Mario] Serey claimed him back and forth [twice each this year]. He just seemed to get better as a grew up as a 3-year-old,” Farrior said, adding that being able to take advantage of a condition that pits a nine-time winner against horses who haven't broken through the three-lifetime level is “a little advantage.”

Divine Fashion is going to have to prove she's able to win on the road. All nine of her wins this season have come at Charles Town. The two times she's shipped elsewhere in 2023 (both to Laurel), she's lost.

“She just loves Charles Town,” Farrior said. “She always shows up and runs her race. When you get a nice starter filly at Charles Town [the condition goes back to] two years from the date, so that helps out a lot. She'd probably have won more if my other filly wasn't beating her earlier in the year.”

Farrior was referring to Dulcimer Dame (Mineshaft) a 6-year-old who won seven straight before the month of March ended but has been 0-for-5 since. She'll aim for win No. 8 on Sunday at Laurel.

“They're just sound horses and you can keep them running. So it's worked out great,” Farrior said.

All three of those Farrior-trained winners are owned, either in whole or in partnership, by Richard Burnsworth, whose record as a solo owner in 2023 is an impressive 79-for-298 (26%).

Beverly Park | Coady Photography

“He likes to win. He doesn't mess with me, and he lets me put them in where they belong,” Farrior said of his client.

One other gelding with nine wins, the 6-year-old Never Compromise (Graydar), most recently ran third at Charles Town Dec. 16 and won't make a subsequent start before the year is out. He's owned by Robert Cole Jr. and trained by Stephen Murdock.

In 2022, the continent's winningest horse was Beverly Park (Munnings) with 14 victories. He came back to win four this year.

Between 2012 and 2021, the North American leaderboard was topped by horses who won between eight (in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign) and 12 times.

You have to go back to 2011 to find a truly freakish outlier, which was when the Cole-owned starter-allowance stalwart Rapid Redux ran the table with a 19-for-19 record for trainer David Wells.

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