Down the road, he might turn his attention to the colts. And fillies, too, for that matter.
Wilfork, already a harness racing horse owner, is thinking about training horses when his career in the NFL comes to an end.
“Believe it or not, I’m starting to read about the structure of horses and how to train,” the 29-year-old Wilfork said Monday via e-mail. “In the offseason I plan to spend time learning the trade of training. Maybe in my post-football career I will become a trainer.”
|Vince Wilfork may train horses after his NFL career.|
Wilfork, a two-time Pro Bowl player for the Patriots, got into harness racing several years ago through friendships with Plainridge Racecourse President/CEO Gary Piontkowski and track General Manger Steve O’Toole. (The track is located less than 10 miles from Foxborough.) He became part owner of a horse bred by O’Toole named Midnight Lawyer. Piontkowski, O’Toole, Rick Berks, Peter Blood and Al Ross also shared ownership.
“I’ve become great friends with Gary and Steve and through the years they have opened my eyes to the sport,” Wilfork said. “Gary took time almost every day to teach me how to read programs and understand what all of that meant. When the opportunity came for me to own a percentage in a horse, I immediately took him up on the chance.”
Wilfork also is co-owner of the trotter Eel, who last month received an award from the New England Harness Horsemen’s Association for overcoming adversity. The 5-year-old gelding lost an eye because of an ulcer last summer, but returned to winning form upon his return to action. Wilfork owns the horse with Arianna Brown, the daughter of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
Eel, who has won four times and finished second on four occasions in 13 starts since returning from his injury, is scheduled to race Wednesday night at Pompano Park in Florida. He is coming off back-to-back victories at Pompano, the most recent in a career-best 1:57.2 on January 5. He has earned $16,570 during his last 13 races.
“We couldn’t save the eye, so we had it taken out,” trainer John Mattero said. “I couldn’t believe it didn’t change him at all. It doesn’t affect him except for little things, like in the stall you have to be a little careful and let him know you’re there because he can’t see on the one side. Besides that, he’s pretty much the same horse as before.”
Wilfork played scholastic football not far from Pompano Park, at Santaluces High in Lantana, before starring in college at Miami. He was drafted by the Patriots in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
He is active in the community as a mentor and in 2008 was honored by Children’s Hospital Boston with its Champion Award in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the hospital’s patients and their families. Wilfork and his wife, Bianca, also host an annual fundraiser to support the Diabetes Research Institute. The event has raised more than $150,000 to fight diabetes, which claimed the life of Wilfork’s father, David, while Wilfork was in college.
As for racing, Wilfork has yet to drive a harness horse, but is looking forward to doing so in the future.
“I would love to,” said Wilfork, who at Christmas got his first Thoroughbred, a gift from his wife. “The horses fascinate me. I find myself comparing them to other athletes, like myself.”
Training a horse could be a challenge the 6-foot-2, 325-pound Wilfork enjoys.
“I mentioned it to one of my buddies at the track in Plainridge and he laughed and said never,” Wilfork said. “Boy, I love proving people wrong.”