by Gary McMillen
For jockeys and their mounts, Heitai’s tail was a familiar sight at race tracks in Louisiana for the past five years. The fans loved to see him run and they didn’t need binoculars to locate the speedy gelding. As soon as the gates popped open, Heitai’s position was to be in front. Heitai was so fast in the early stages of a race it was if he broke the spirit of the competition. For the sake of fantasy, we can imagine Heitai announcing a short challenge as the field approached the starting gate: “I own the lead. Now try and catch me.”
Owner and breeder Frank Rowell recalled the volume of advice he received to alter Heitai’s front running style. “Throughout his career people kept advising me to rate him,” Rowell said. “Take him back off those fast fractions was their suggestion. But Heitai had one way of running. If you tried to slow him down it took him off his game.
A son of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, Heitai was hard to catch at the sprint distances. His career record is evidence. His 16 wins, 10 seconds and 4 third place finishes came from 36 starts. The mere numbers are more outstanding than meets the eye since most of those races were stakes events. His dominance in Louisiana-bred sprint events was on display early when he won an allowance race at Delta Downs by 19 lengths. In the end it all added up to career earnings of $1,074,893. “We had a whole lot of fun with this horse,” Rowell said. “What else can you ask out of a horse? He has more than paid his way.”
On big stakes days across the state, Rowell’s home-bred was a familiar name amongst a sensational cadre of Louisiana-breds that included Vicar’s In Trouble, Star Guitar, String King and Sunbean.
Foaled on March 16, 2010, Heitai was raised and took his racing vacation breaks at Brenda Landry’s farm in Arnoudville, Louisiana. As a runner he was ordinary in his first few outings but not for long. Once allowed free rein Heitai took his speed game to a new level.
The trophy case in Rowell’s home in Conroe, Texas is well stocked. Along with winning seven hundred grand stakes, Heitai won the $300,000 Evangeline Downs Turf Sprint. Rowell was asked which of those races stood out a special moment. “I can’t play football. I can’t play basketball. I can’t run the 100 yard dash,” the 82-year-old said with a laugh, “but I can walk Heitai into the winner’s circle and that is something that most people will never experience. To have an animal that we bred and raised and see him do so much in our Louisiana setting—that total experience has meant so much to us.”
Not to be outdone by his famous sire (Fusaichi Pegasus), Heitai’s mother notched a place in racing history. It was Sparkles of Luck that ended the phenomenal win streak of Hallowed Dreams in the 2000 Millenium Stakes at Evangeline Downs. The Louisiana-bred Hallowed Dreams had captured national media attention by winning 16 races in a row and was on even terms with the great Cigar for the most consecutive wins. In a stunner on a hot August night, Sparkles of Luck won off by two lengths.
Rowell named Heitai from a word in the Japanese language that means “soldier.” The name came from Rowell’s early life experience when he served in the Korean War as a member of the United States Army.
The soldier has been retired. Heitai is currently back home at Brenda Landry’s farm but soon to be shipped to North Texas where he will be trained as a barrel racer. “He’s going to be around other horses and have his own 4 acre paddock,” Rowell explained of Heitai’s retirement plans. “He will be treated well, not confined to a stall and saddled up to play. We want him to be a happy horse.”