Trenton, NJ — Rich Borowsky isn’t exactly the second coming of Roy Hobbs, but the two do have something in common — a love affair that was interrupted, but never completely extinguished.
Hobbs, of course, was Robert Redford’s character in “The Natural.” A young baseball phenom whose career got sidetracked when he was shot by a deranged woman; only to return 17 years later to become a star for a year.
Borowsky, thank goodness, didn’t get shot. But his career in the sulky was interrupted, ironically, because he took a job carrying a gun. The Freehold, N.J. native began driving in 1983, but was forced to give it up in 1997, one year after becoming a police officer at nearby Marlboro Township.
“I was trying to do both in the beginning but it just didn’t work out so I left the horses totally,” Borowsky said.
In 2017, knowing retirement was just one year away, the desire that never completely stopped flowing through his blood resurfaced again and Borowsky began driving qualifiers at Freehold Raceway. Once he retired, there was no question where Rich was headed.
“I just wanted to get back in it,” he said. “I just loved being on the track.”
Thus, after a 20-year hiatus, Borowsky returned. And if people think it’s a big deal that Tom Brady won Super Bowls 17 years apart, they should really be impressed with Borowsky. He notched a win in December 2018 at Freehold, making it 21 years between driving victories.
“That was really nice,” said Borowsky. “I got another one in January. It’s just great to be back. I never thought I’d get back into it.”
Old habits die hard, however.
Growing up in the shadows of Freehold Raceway, Rich trained and jogged horses that his dad owned. He got his qualifying license at 16 and regular license at 17, and started driving at the now defunct Brandywine and Liberty Bell tracks. He soon moved to Freehold when he became of age.
“I didn’t drive a lot,” he said. “Most of the horses I drove, I trained. I didn’t catch drive. I worked for a few people off and on and 1997 was the last time I drove at Freehold. I just always loved it; I always wanted to drive horses. I wanted to be a driver but it was just tough for me. I didn’t have the money behind me to get horses and it’s hard to get a shot.”
Thus, when law enforcement beckoned, he took the security of a steady job.
“I guess it was a career thing; just to make a living,” Borowsky said. “I had a chance to become a police officer. I did it for 22 years, it was a great thing. When I knew I was going to be retiring I just said ‘I want to drive again’ and I just went back to the track.”
In fact, he returned to his roots.
“I just started going to the qualifying races at Freehold; it so happened they were short of drivers,” Borowsky said. “I would just ask people to drive. I wanted to get back on the track. I went every week and I was qualifying a lot of horses. The tough thing was they want the leading drivers. So I would qualify but most of the time didn’t get the drives.
“This one horse I was driving was doing OK and from qualifiers they just kept me on. Doing qualifiers opened things up a little bit.”
He finally began getting some drives and it felt like he had never been away.
“Just like riding a bike,” he quipped. “It felt natural.”
His first win in the 21st century came in December with Wicked Business, who is owned by Maggie and Tony Romano with Tony also the trainer.
“For the first year back I didn’t have any wins,” Borowsky said. “So it felt really good to get that one.”
Borowsky realizes that at age 53, owners and trainers won’t be flocking to him for drives. Thus, he is taking matters into his own hands. He and wife Jill purchased a farm in Bridgeville, Del., complete with a jog track. He plans on purchasing a few horses to train, and is looking to drive at nearby Harrington.
“I might still go up to Freehold on weekends, so that’s the plan for now,” Borowsky said. “We’re just getting a couple horses; I think that will be enough for me. But you never know what can happen.”
Nope, you never do. Borowsky and Roy Hobbs are proof of that.