The 14-year-old gelding pacer, in his final season before retirement, is in the hunt to become North America’s leader in wins this year, as his 18 victories are tied for third, three behind first-place Tracys Song.
Anvil Raider N is calm, collected and lovable around the farm, and goes all out on the track. Sounds like the perfect horse right?
Um, think again.
“He’s got an attitude of his own, that’s why he doesn’t get claimed a lot,” said owner/trainer Will Johnson, who has been handling Anvil Raider N for five years. “He gets to kicking and stuff, especially after races and after warming up. But 90 percent of the time it’s after races. Those New Zealand horses are all kind of high strung and stuff, and he’s right in there with that.
|Anvil Raider N has won 18 times in 2013, which will be his final year of racing.|
“He doesn’t do that stuff at home or do it when you take him to the track. But as soon as you hook him up, he gets crazy. I mean crazy, too. You’ve never seen a horse like that. He kicks both hind legs right up in the air.”
A few drivers who haven’t heeded warnings have felt the wrath of those kicks, getting drilled after untying the tail. And the horse himself has been victimized by his rambunctiousness.
“He broke his leg about two years ago after the race,” said Johnson, who’s based in Monroe, Mich. “He was out for six or eight months.”
But. . .
“It didn’t teach him anything,” Johnson said. “He still does it.”
Thus, the question must be asked -- why hold onto a horse for this long and go through all that?
“I don’t know,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I don’t mind that they’re bad actors as long as they want to give 100 percent when they go out to race. That’s all I care about.
“I admire a horse that does that, because there’s a lot that don’t. They come back and they’re hardly breathing. They put out 75 percent. He would try. Even if he was over his head he would try and still get a check, where other horses just won’t put out the effort. I don’t mind the bad acting if they give the effort.”
An example of that came last year, when Johnson raced Anvil Raider N and a few other horses over their heads.
“I had two horses kind of the same type class and ended up having to race them over their heads to race on a weekly basis,” Johnson said. “He had 10 wins last year but probably could have had four more if he was not over his head. He has the type of ability to race over his head and still give 100 percent, where other ones, when they were racing up, they weren’t giving the effort.”
Johnson has kept Anvil Raider N at lower levels this year while racing him in Ohio and at Michigan’s Sports Creek Raceway, where he will be in action Saturday. Driven predominantly by Johnson’s friend, Ronnie Wrenn, Jr., the horse has won 18 of 31 starts and earned $27,348. Jason Merriman gets the driving assignment Saturday and will start from post eight as the 5-2 morning line favorite.
“He probably made more last year than he’ll end up making this year,” Johnson said. “His purses were higher last year. This year he’s racing in $3,000 claimers, $4,000 claimers, $2,000 claimers.”
Anvil Raider N has earned $333,758 in his career, including $268,869 since coming over from New Zealand at age 7.
Rob Harmon and Chuck Campbell bought a package of three horses from New Zealand and Australia in 2006, and Anvil Raider N was one of them.
“I know Rob pretty good, and he thought he was a bad actor,” Johnson said. “He got loose on some of those guys after a race a couple times. He’s always been that way, from day one. So they didn’t like the horse.
“I knew he was like that, but I just thought I would try because he’s a nice little racehorse. He’s a pretty consistent racehorse, he gives 100 percent almost every time on the track and he’s a pretty sound horse for being 14. He can race pretty much any time during the week. He’s a handy little horse.
“But there’s a lot of guys that won’t drive him. I don’t blame them. Why get kicked over by a three or four claimer? And when he kicks both hind legs, he fires hard. He looks like one of those horses in a rodeo. You can’t believe it.”
Johnson had a horse 10 years ago named Sharp Response, who was even more dangerous. He would bite people and intentionally try to hurt them, one time grabbing a guy’s arm and dragging him down the track.
“I couldn’t get rid of him,” Will said with a laugh. “Nobody wanted him.”
The difference between Sharp Response, who also raced to the age of 14, and Anvil Raider N is that Anvil Raider N is basically a good soul.
“He’s kind of like a pet when he’s on the farm,” Johnson said. “He’s been here a long time and he’s really good acting at home. He doesn’t do anything wrong.
“I don’t think he’s trying to hurt anybody on the track, he just gets himself so geared up. It can be quite a show. One time in Toledo he kicked about 40 times. Everybody just watches, they hear about it and they want to see it for themselves, they’re just amazed to see a horse like that.”
With Anvil Raider N facing mandatory retirement at the end of the year, Johnson said he will just turn him out next year and keep him on his own since he’s gelded.
As for his horse having a chance to lead North America in wins his final year, the owner is not dwelling on it.
“I don’t really pay attention to it to be honest with you,” he said. “I didn’t even know he was third until (USTrotting.com) told me. I don’t pay attention to that. I just want him to be able to have a shot at winning every week.”
He certainly wins enough to make those post-race tantrums all worth it.