Horse PowerNovember 2010
By Jon Finkel
Careening 30 miles per hour on a dirt track behind a 1,500-pound horse while sitting on a frail metal cart may not be your ideal work environment, but for Steve Foceri, a third-generation harness racer, it’s a little slice of heaven.
“My grandfather got started in the business in the 60s,” Foceri says. “I’d been around it for most of my childhood, but I honestly just didn’t have the guts to start driving until I got into my twenties.”
Foceri speaks plainly as he watches a few morning qualifying races at the Isle Casino Racetrack at Pompano Park, in Pompano Beach, Florida. Pompano Beach, commonly referred to by those in the sport as the “Winter Capital of Harness Racing,” is home to some of the most competitive harness racing on the east coast.
Standing just off the track, Foceri takes each horse’s measure as it trots past, noting its strengths and weaknesses. Some have an off-beat gait, others fade quickly, and still others are just learning how to race. But Foceri isn’t merely studying the horses; rather, he’s watching the men behind them as well, trying to find strengths and weaknesses he could use during a race.
“When I realized I wanted to get into horse racing, everything became clear and I knew what I had to do. Fortunately, that coincided with the basic principles of getting back in shape.”
“So much of this sport is balance and reaction time,” he says. “When you’re whipping around the track, with mud getting kicked up into your face and horses vying for position, you need to keep your body centered and make quick decisions. If you’re at all out of shape, mentally or physically, you won’t do as well. The most successful drivers are two things: athletically built and talented.”
As far as talent, you’re either born with it or you work really hard to get it. The truly successful harness racers, as is the case in most sports, are both talented and put in the hard work to improve. Foceri admits that he’s at the beginning of tapping into his talent, but he’s committed to putting in the time to get better.
Getting on Track
After kicking around several jobs following high school, Foceri found himself overweight and without direction when the tug of racing took hold of him.
“I was up to 230 pounds and I was eating a lot of fast food,” he says. “It was just unhealthy. I didn’t have any focus, so I just drifted for a while. When I realized I wanted to get into horse racing, everything became clear and I knew what I had to do. Fortunately, that coincided with the basic principles of getting back in shape.”
Foceri says that when he decided to get in shape, he took two weeks and wrote down everything that he ate. The first thing he realized when he examined his diet was that he was eating too many big meals that were calorie dense and fat dense, so he went from eating two or three full meals a day to five or six smaller meals a day. He also cut fast food out of his diet and replaced nearly all of his high fat snacks with fruits and vegetables. After only a few weeks and some tweaking, Foceri found himself following a sound, calorie restricted diet.
“I was reading a lot of workout magazines and I came across Life Extension Magazine®,” he says. “The information in it really helped me prime my body for a long career.”
The weight quickly flew off and before Foceri knew it, he was down to an athletic 185 pounds. As is often the case, once he started looking better, he felt better, and his confidence soared. He began spending every day at the track, offering to do whatever job someone would give him in order to learn the business from the ground up. He was washing horses, cleaning stables, and exercising horses…and most important, he was happy. At this time, he decided to ‘get back on the horse,’ as they say, and start racing.
Staying on Track
“Now that I was in shape, I felt better in the harness,” he says. “One of the reasons you want to be strong and limber is for when you eventually get thrown from a horse. It’s going to happen, but if you’re able to avoid an accident because you’re strong enough to control the horse, or if you’re unfortunately in a crash, you have the ability to land on your feet and avoid serious injury.”
Foceri says that you can’t be successful if you’re constantly worrying about crashing. He says that during a race you have a million other things to focus on, like making sure your horse is responding to your movements and positioning yourself to capitalize on mistakes other drivers make.
“When you first start out, you don’t get the best horses to race,” Foceri says. “So you have to take mediocre horses and make them better than they are. In order to do this, you need to learn how to draft behind faster horses and use the turns to your advantage.”
But the only way you can do this is to have complete control over your horse. You need to have excellent vision and excellent strength.
“I’m basically taking long shot horses and trying to win with them,” Foceri says matter-of-factly. “That’s the only way you can gain respect.”
Owning the Track
Since Foceri doesn’t have too much control over picking which horses he gets to race, he focuses on making sure he’s in the best condition to race them. In order to keep his eyesight sharp, he takes Life Extension’s Super Zeaxanthin with Lutein and Meso-zeaxanthin.
“I need to be able to pick up subtleties in the track and to be able to see exactly where my horse is positioned at all times,” he says. “The eye supplements I take help protect my vision, especially on days when the weather doesn’t cooperate. The races aren’t very long, often lasting only two minutes, but your eyes are under a constant strain and taking something to support my vision was just something I thought was smart to do.”
In addition to protecting his eyes, Foceri has to make sure his joints are loose and limber. The beating his body takes on a daily basis by training and racing horses is unbelievable. Just one ride puts incredible pressure on his hands, elbows, hips, knees and lower back, which could one day lead to joint inflammation or other joint problems. To combat these future symptoms, Foceri takes glucosamine and chondroitin supplements.
Then there’s his workout:
Foceri does cardio two times a week and lifts weights three times a week. On his cardio days, he alternates between running, swimming, and the machines in his gym. When he lifts weights, he sticks to different muscle groups for different days.
“I’ll do chest, shoulders, and back on Monday, cardio on Tuesday, then biceps and triceps on Wednesday,” he says. “Then I’ll do cardio on Thursday and legs on Friday. I like to give my muscles a day off between lifting so they can recover.”
In addition to the days’ rest, Foceri helps his muscles recover by taking protein shakes and multivitamins.
“The protein powder is great because I can feed my muscles right after a workout without eating a meal,” he says. “And the multi makes sure my whole body is getting what I need. I’ll also supplement with extra vitamin C and E.”
With his body in order and his supplements in order, Foceri has built a strong foundation to control his horses… and control his life.
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