Larry Karr and Phil Collura know the thrill of winning a big race.
Sweet Lou winning his Pace elim. (Lisa Photo)
Now the New Jersey residents are looking for a thrill with an added dimension.
They want to win a big race at their home track of the Meadowlands.
Karr, a Randolph resident, and Collura, from Carteret, are part of the group that owns Sweet Lou, one of the top contenders to win Saturday’s $600,000 Meadowlands Pace.
Trainer Ron Burke, Mark Weaver and Mike Bruscemi – all from western Pennsylvania – also have a piece of the pacer.
But for the two Jersey boys, this weekend could be even more special than when Sweet Lou won the Breeders Crown last year in Canada.
There is, as they say, no place like home.
“I’ve never had a horse in the Meadowlands Pace, so I’m very excited about it,” said Karr, a corporate lawyer for a food ingredient company. “I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m going to have a lot of my friends and family there rooting us on.
“I’m trying to go into this with a very good attitude and not be too anxious about it. We’re in the best barn in North America, we’ve got the winningest driver in the history of North America and we’ve got, I think, still the best horse. That’s a good combination. That’s usually a recipe for good things to happen.”
Sweet Lou, driven by Dave Palone, who last week surpassed Herve Filion for the most victories in North American harness racing history, won his Meadowlands Pace elimination race last Saturday by beating A Rocknroll Dance by a neck in 1:49.1.
“This is always the hardest one,” Collura said of the final. “This means everything to me because the Meadowlands is my home track. To have a horse this good that can compete, let alone win it, is special. It would really mean a lot to win that race.”
Sweet Lou has won four of five races this year, and finished fourth in the $1.5 million Pepsi North America Cup in his start prior to the Pace eliminations.
In 2011, a world-record 1:49 victory in the Breeders Crown was the highlight of a season in which Sweet Lou won 10 of 12 races and finished second twice en route to being named the Dan Patch Award winner as two-year-old colt pacer of the year.
After some stomach churning prior to last year’s Breeders Crown at Woodbine Racetrack, Karr has learned how to take things in stride.
“I’m a little calmer this year, just because I realized I have zero impact on the outcome of any race,” he said. “Whatever is going to happen will happen whether I’m nervous or not.
“I’m sure I’ll be nervous right before the race, but this week should be relatively anxiety free for me. I still get butterflies for every race. It’s the kind of feeling you have before your son plays in any kind of sporting event. It’s a similar sensation.”
When Karr was young, his father owned horses that raced at Monticello and the Meadowlands. He would attend races at East Rutherford as a teenager and, once he started making some extra money, got into ownership 15 years ago. He’s had horses with the Burke Stable for 10 years.
Collura, who is retired after 32 years with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, always had a love of horse racing and has spent years as a handicapper.
“Anybody who enjoys the sport wants to own a horse eventually,” said Collura, who has won handicapping contests at the Meadowlands. “It’s a dream that you have. I never thought it would get to this point.”
Karr hooked up with the Burke Stable when he returned to the U.S. after spending time living and working in the Netherlands. He was introduced to the Burkes by owner Tom Cherichello, who later brought Collura into the mix, and was a partner on several New Jersey Sire Stakes winners.
“It kind of picked up from there,” said Karr, who was among the owners of 2007 Jugette winner Western Graduate. “I’m kind of riding the Burkes’ coattails. As their success has grown, so has my horse owning success. It’s been a thrill. We’ve had a lot of good horses.”
Karr and Collura met six years ago. They have been looking at horses together ever since and are partners on many that they own.
When it came to Sweet Lou, they were looking for a yearling by Yankee Cruiser, who was in his first year in Pennsylvania after standing as a stallion in Ohio. The group liked Yankee Cruiser as a sire and settled on a colt out of the mare Sweet Future.
“We looked at all the babies in Harrisburg and Lou was the best looking Yankee Cruiser that we saw; that was Ronnie’s comment,” Collura said. “We pick out the horses and put them on a list and then we all look at them together and Ronnie has the final call.
“We said we’d go up to $40,000 to get him and we ended up getting him for $38,000. Thankfully we were able to get him under our number.”
Sweet Lou, who is a half-brother to multiple-stakes-winner Bettor Sweet, and Palone went to the lead after the opening quarter-mile of their Meadowlands Pace elimination and held off A Rocknroll Dance in the stretch.
“A lot of people have been kind of down on him, but I thought the track was very much favouring closers, so he kind of beat the bias,” Karr said. “He wasn’t quite as strong as I think we all expect him to be, but I thought it was a very credible race. I’m actually okay with it.”
“He was good, but I didn’t think it was his best performance,” Collura added. “I’ve seen Lou look a lot better than that winning. I think he can do better in the final. I think he would improve off of that race.
“He missed three weeks so he definitely needed that start. It’s a tough group. I think whoever gets the trip is probably going to win. I don’t think anyone lies over the field. It’s going to be exciting no matter what. It’s going to be fun.”
Hometown fun at that.