Updated: March 4, 2009, 6:24 PM ET
By Kristian Dyer
Special to ESPN.com
Before George Teague, Jr. ever met George Foreman a few years ago, the boxing champ had already put Teague through a pretty good grilling (pun intended).
"Everyone I had spoken to knew about him and raved about his work ethic," Foreman said about Teague, one of harness racing's premier trainers. "From sunup to sundown, the man is out there working. He loves what he does and he is good at it."
Foreman and Teague, on the surface, make an intriguing couple. Both are fighters. Foreman, the man who won Olympic gold in 1968, then at age 45 became the oldest heavyweight champion in history, is relatively new to harness racing. Then there is Teague, whose track record of success with the trotters and the pacers over the past few years ranks him among the hottest trainers and owners in the sport today. Like Foreman, Teague doesn't pull his punches.
With his broad shoulders, Teague looks every bit the part of a boxer. His father, George Teague, Sr., had a training track in Delaware, where his family would all chip in to help with the business. Teague learned the ins and outs of the harness business, tasting some success and failure with his father. Many of the family's horses were claimers of the $1,000 dollar variety. A few would pan out. Many wouldn't ever earn a headline, but these lessons have followed him throughout his life.
He would work closely with Ty Case, a man whom Teague credits with teaching him "patience and how to take time getting the younger horses to the races." The stable was founded on a belief in waiting for a horse to learn to race, a patient upbringing that bucks today's trend of pushing a horse too fast onto the oval. It was working in that atmosphere that helped breed in Teague the ability and understanding to begin working with younger horses.
And he would grow his business slowly but surely. He would invest in colts and fillies, never high priced ones, and would always stake a 50% claim to one of his purchases. Patience in growing his business and patience in developing his horses has turned Teague into one of the premier trainers of his generation. It also means that he has grown to have quite a celebrity clientele, including the likes of Foreman and former NFL star Wayne Chrebet.
"George produces results," Foreman said. "I listen to what he says because he has a proven track record of success. When George Teague speaks, George Foreman listens."
Rainbow Blue would be the horse that would make the harness world begin to listen to Teague. Purchased for $10,500 in 2002, two years later, the horse would gross over $1 million in winnings. Winning over 20 races that year, her 2004 would go down as one of the most successful in racing history. It didn't always look that way, but it was Teague's patience that paid dividends with Rainbow Blue. The first two months that Teague had the pacer, she would hit about 2:20.00 in training. Not exactly the marks of a champion.
"In fact, while turned out one day, she jumped the fence and had a large gash injury in her knee which nearly ended her career before it started. Luckily, we had a good veterinarian work with her and through time healed the knee," Teague said. "So early on, Rainbow was behind on training because of the injury. It wasn't until she started training regularly that her 'greatness' became apparent."
And Teague still remembers the moment he knew Rainbow Blue would be really special.
"One day we were training with some of the better colts and she just slipped between them and sped right through," Teague recalls. "The rest was history."
All told, Rainbow Blue would win 30 of 32 starts for Teague. In 2004, the pacer would be named Horse of the Year. Teague remains the only African-American in the sport to have trained a horse that would garner that distinction in either harness or thoroughbred racing.
More wins and winners would come for Teague. He would go on to win the 2007 Norman Woolworth Owner of the Year Award as decided by the U.S. Harness Writers' Association. Not too bad for a man who, five years prior, was working his way up.
"I don't think people know or understand just how much work has gone into his career they often times talk about him like he was an overnight sensation, virtually forgetting how long it took him to get here," said legendary driver Brian Sears. "George has been in the business virtually his whole life and he has a work ethic that is second to none."
Beyond being termed a "winner," if there is one thing that people repeatedly note about Teague it is his notorious work ethic. The Teague team arrives at 5:00 a.m. to work on the stalls for about two hours until sunrise. Teague often will hit the office to clear out business paperwork, maintaining the "behind the scenes" business responsibilities before he heads out to the track.
Once day breaks, the training begins.
"When jogging and training sets in, I like to be a part of it because I can see things going on while sitting behind a horse. In doing so, that gives me a daily opportunity to get a feel any changes in the horse or if I need to make any changes," Teague said about his routine. "Being out there each day is what makes our stable stand out. I still try my best to be on the racetrack even though we've grown into this large stable."
This is what Teague terms as his "element." He spends much of his day being with the horses, monitoring their conditions and making sure they're sound and healthy. This tedious schedule continues until sunset. For nearly half the day, Teague and his team strive to pay attention to the littlest of details, all in an effort to make the "babies" more prepared to race. Foreman says Teague is "the hardest working man in the business." Others who have raced his horses agree with the champ's sentiments.
"His horses are among the best conditioned I have ever seen," Sears said. "His horses come prepared to race and that is part of the work and effort that he puts into these animals every day."
Not too bad for a man who graduated from the proverbial school of hard knocks.
"What I've learned in racing came from my parents and the many years of being a part of racing with my own stable. Truth be told, I actually quite school in the tenth grade to start working with horses full time," Teague said. "Ever since, I've used my knowledge of working with horses along with the work ethic of my parents to become the trainer I am today."
Foreman has put together quite a stable of his own, and one day hopes to race a horse in the Hambletonian, the most prestigious race for North American trotters. Foreman readily states that he defers to Teague's judgment when they attend sales together and that Teague always has his ear. An ordained minister who pastors a church in Houston, the born-again Foreman has never wagered on any horses but that doesn't deter his passion for the sport or for winning. Coupling with Teague, however, had nothing to do with the fact both are accomplished African-Americans in their field. It was and is Teague's "Midas Touch" that makes Foreman a fan.
"Black, white, red, yellow or purple — it don't matter," Foreman said about Teague's skin color. "What matters to me is green — that's the color George Teague understands and he's the man who is capable of producing a lot of it."