I guess it’s the improbability of it all. Or something like that anyway. People ask me, and I’m sure you too, all the time: “Why horse racing?” Sometimes I struggle for an answer. Other times, I come up with things like Belmont Stakes Weekend turned in by Mid-Atlantic-bred horses.
The region was represented with a Grade 1 win by Pennsylvania-bred cover boy Spring Quality, a Grade 2 win by Maryland-bred Still Having Fun, a 2-year-old stakes win by Maryland-bred Our Braintrust and a classy 3-year-old stakes win by Pennsylvania-bred Prince Lucky. The quartet upset bigger names, made people check their programs and otherwise turned at least some logic on its head for two of the biggest days in racing.
And that’s why horse racing.
The wins prove that you can do all the research, spend all the money and make all the plans you want, but – when it really matters – the animals make the decisions.
Spring Quality won his debut as a 2-year-old in 2014, and didn’t race again for more than 16 months. He won that 4-year-old comeback, and left for another 11 months. Away from the track, he spent the winter turned out with equine senior citizens Rochester (a foal of 1996), With Anticipation (1995) and Lord Zada (1993) among others on owner/breeder George Strawbridge’s Chester County farm. The pasture used to raise King Ranch’s Santa Gertrudis cattle. Now it develops beefy Thoroughbreds. Spring Quality obviously thrived out there in the weather. He hails from Strawbridge’s rich breeding program, but he overcame plenty. He raced just once in 2014 and 2016, didn’t start at all in 2015 and is one of the country’s top turf horses after winning the Manhattan (over the Virginia-raised Sadler’s Joy) one race before the Belmont Stakes. Since returning to the races at Laurel Park in February 2017, he has won four of nine (with three seconds) while pushing his career bankroll to $860,797.
Still Having Fun cost $12,000 as a yearling. Trainer Tim Keefe, the horse’s co-breeder with Charlie and Cynthia McGinnes, made the final bid on behalf of client Terp Racing. The son of Old Fashioned and an unraced Dehere mare won his debut, lit up the speed-figure sheets and wound up being purchased by the powerful duo of Wachtel Stable and Gary Barber. Terp stayed in for a piece, and the horse stayed with Keefe at Laurel despite Wachtel and Barber employing some of the biggest names in the game. In the Woody Stephens-G2 at Belmont, Still Having Fun mowed down horses trained by Chad Brown, Dale Romans, Jason Servis, Steve Asmusssen and so on to win going away. Next up could be Saratoga’s Allen Jerkens-G1 in late August.
A homebred for Dan McConnell, Prince Lucky is a son of Corinthian (who stood at Pin Oak Lane Farm in Pennsylvania before being sent to Turkey) and the Great Notion mare Lucky Notion – meaning the Easy Goer Stakes winner is as Mid-Atlantic as saltwater taffy, humidity and beltway traffic. The bay colt won three of four starts as a 2-year-old with trainer Larry Jones last year, but proved quirky enough that his jockeys were instructed not to carry a whip. Seventh in his 3-year-old debut for Jones in January, Prince Lucky moved over to Todd Pletcher and promptly finished ninth after acting up in the gate in the Sunland Derby-G3 in March. Gelded after that race, Prince Lucky finished third at Pimlico, then won a stretch slugfest with Rugbyman and Dark Vader in Belmont’s Easy Goer. Next stop Saratoga.
And then there’s Our Braintrust, who started the regional quadruple with a win in Belmont’s Tremont Stakes Friday. The Maryland-bred by a New York sire (Freud) twice failed to meet his reserve as a yearling and joined the barn of owner Bo Smith and trainer Cal Lynch at least somewhat by accident. Smith got stuck in traffic en route to Timonium’s yearling sale, bumped into Lynch by the back ring and made a shrewd buy on the advice of an old-school horseman. Our Braintrust won his debut at Laurel in May, then added the Tremont at nearly 11-1.
You can read about all of them deeper in the magazine, but the point to take is that good horses can come from this region – anywhere really – and can make an impact on the biggest races in the country.
That’s why horse racing.