Longtime trainer Greg Foley is chasing a victory in the Run for the Roses with his two sons.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Longtime horse trainer Greg Foley is from Oldham County and spends a majority of his year at Churchill Downs. When the Kentucky Derby rolls along, he’s had the same stable for it since 1989: Barn 11.
“I’ve been back here a long time,” Foley said. “I’ve been on a race track my whole life, basically.”
But his earliest horse racing memories come from walking horses as a boy with a future trainer in his sister Vicki, whom he now shares a New Orleans barn with, and his father Dravo Foley. When they would race horses up near Cincinnati, the real prize came after the victory: a rollercoaster ride.
“He’d say, ‘If we win a race, we’ll go to Coney tonight,’ and we went to Coney Island a lot when we were kids,” Foley said with a laugh. “He won a lot of races.”
He won more than 1,100 races. And his son has now won more than 1,400 himself. Greg Foley ranks in the top 10 winningest trainers at his home track of Churchill Downs.
“As far as horsemanship goes, he’s as good as there is in the world,” one son in Travis Foley said.
“He’s the horse whisperer,” another son in Alex Foley said. “I’ve worked in a lot of barns. I’ve seen a lot of people. Nobody is better than him.”
The two sons have seen it firsthand for their whole lives. Alex remembers his dad not wanting to put him in daycare, opting to bring him to the barn instead.
“I’d pack my little backpack full of my little toys,” Alex Foley recalled. “He’d give me some donuts, an orange Sunkist and about five days a week, I’d be in the barn with him. I had my little clipboard, I’d be going through checking off who’s doing a good job. And of course, I had no idea what I was looking at.”
Eventually, Alex and his brother got the idea. They both work with their dad now, with Travis as his assistant trainer and Alex attending to horses, running social media and also working some with another trainer in Steve Asmussen. But even though the sport has always been a part of their lives, Greg Foley tried to steer his sons away from horse racing.
“He always jokes like, ‘I did everything to get you out of here,'” Alex Foley said with a laugh.
“They tried giving us options anyway,” Travis Foley said. “And my brother and I both ended up out here.”
“It’s an everyday job,” Greg Foley explained. “You’re up early in the morning seven days a week. It’s not for everybody.”
It’s just always been for the Foley family. Alex and Travis both tried different paths, playing sports while growing up and going to college to earn degrees. They eventually figured out they weren’t happy, turning their attention to helping their dad.
“If you want to come try out with me for a little while just until you kind of find something else that you might like, you’re welcome to do that,” Greg Foley told his sons.
It’s been 10 years for Travis and two for Alex, with both not looking to leave. Travis uses a business background to help create better client relationships and promote the stable. Alex films works for Asmussen before coming to work the Magnawave machine on horses for his dad, along with other tasks.
“Once you get involved, it kind of grabs a hold of you,” Travis Foley said. “The rush that comes from a race and just taking care of the animal that you’ve had from a year old to when they are, it’s just a way to get that competitive release.”
“I just like being with my dad,” Alex Foley said. “We’re a close family, but it’s just bringing us closer.”
They’re hoping it can get them even closer to a Derby win. Last year marked the first time Greg Foley had a horse in the race, as Major Fed finished 10th. This time around, he’s bringing O Besos with his boys right by his side.
“It just makes it that much more special,” Greg Foley said.
“Now, instead of people asking us if we’ve been in the Derby, they ask if we’ve won,” Alex Foley said.
If that answer becomes a yes?
“It would just be the most life-changing thing to ever happen to us,” Alex Foley said.
But even if it is again a no, life at Barn 11 will run like it always has.
“Everybody sees these last few weeks leading up to the Derby is as glamorous and everything like that,” Alex Foley said. “But the hard work that we put into it just makes it so much more special to us.”