Hammonton, NJ --- It only took two tries for Bill Augustine to drive his way back to the winner’s circle after a 21-year drought. At Harrah’s Philadelphia on Wednesday (Sept. 11), in just his second start in the GSY Summer Pacing Series, the man they call ‘Wild Bill’ charged down the lane and caught the favorite at the wire to win by a short neck.
|Chris Tully photo|
|Bill Augustine urged Hickory Louie (#6) to victory at Harrah's Philadelphia.|
Steering a $5,000 claiming pacer named Hickory Louie, the blueberry farmer who had all but hung-up his helmet and colors some 20 years prior, was able to relive the fun and excitement of driving a Standardbred to victory in 1:55.3f.
Click here for the race replay.
Before immersing himself in the demanding process of commercial Blueberry agriculture, Bill Augustine trained and drove horses at Liberty Bell, Brandywine, Freehold and the Meadowlands. From 1979 through 1995 Augustine amassed 472 driving starts and earned nearly $200,000 in purses. With 39 pari-mutuel wins to his credit, his last trip to the winner’s circle was Aug. 23, 1992, with Wanna’s Fame at Yonkers Raceway.
Fast forward a few decades and Augustine jumped back into harness racing with both feet as a co-owner of 2012 Hambletonian winner and Dan Patch champion Market Share. But for the energetic Augustine, sitting in the clubhouse was just not enough.
“I have been eager to get back in the sulky, and the amateur series was the perfect opportunity,” noted Augustine. “I have been jogging and training some of my young stakes horses, but the real action is out on the track. I get to have some fun and promote the sport at the same time.”
Augustine first sat behind the 9-year-old altered son of Lislea at Pocono Downs on Sept. 3 in the sixth leg of the GSY amateur driving series. The horse’s gracious, yet game owner, Nancy Fugere, told her new driver, “this horse can really leave -- just go out there and feed him racetrack!”
Augustine politely conformed, but unfortunately got parked every step of the way and finished seventh. But that did not deter any of the connections of Hickory Louie.
The horse’s trainer, Bob Lounsbury, one of the top conditioners at Monticello, was guided by Fugere’s judgment. Not only is she the horse’s owner, but she is also the shipper, caretaker and the Lounsbury stable assistant trainer. She said, “Let’s try him again at Chester, he will be better.”
Fugere knows a little something about taking chances and winning horse races. She is the same gal who owns and rubs Tracy’s Song, the winningest horse in North America this year with 21 victories. A former transportation executive in NYC, Fugere (pronounced Foo-szair) owns seven horses in the Lounsbury stable, and added that “we have 14 in the barn and another six or seven at the farm.”
“We are always racing and training,” exclaimed the hardworking Fugere, whose Lounsbury stable is the leading UTR (.488, 300-499 starts) stable in North America with 124 wins.
“There is no secret to our barn’s success. Bob [Lounsbury] jogs these horses at a 2:30 clip, five miles every single day, in the heat, the rain, the ice, the snow, the sleet, the hail, the whatever. We get no days off!”
Just like the horses in the Lounsbury stable, Augustine and Fugere hit the ground running at the track formerly known as Chester. She checked the horse up and instructed Bill to, “leave with him, and don’t look back.”
Knowing the favorite (Monica Banca and Ruthless Ace) was outside of him with the assigned eight hole, Wild Bill opined that “if I can take a little of the sting out of (Banca) in the first turn, and then sit a two-hole trip, she will take me right to the wire.”
More often than not, drivers’ plans change just as the wings of the starting gate start to fold. This was not one of those times as Augustine’s scheme worked perfectly. Bill and Hickory Louie were able to sit in the garden spot and get up to win by a close neck at the finish wire.
Augustine needed a win in the last leg to earn a berth in the final, noted the GSY series organizer, Dave Yarock. Evidently Bill has secured his spot and is now tied for eighth in the GSY points standings. The final will be held on the popular Open Space Pace Day (Sept. 21) at Freehold Raceway for a purse of $7,500. Nancy Fugere plans on bringing Hickory Louie to the afternoon delight for the finale.
Augustine, of Winners Circle Blueberries fame, will be there, too -- with a shiny new helmet to go with his seasoned determination.