Where do you want to start with Street Lute? Winning seven of her first eight starts? Her eye injury? Her owner, a guy who probably doesn’t quite understand how lucky he is? Her unraced dam’s path from the auction ring to riding horse to a date with a champion?
No path would be wrong, but consider her debut at Delaware Park last September a logical starting point.
Trainer Jerry Robb had her ready to run months earlier, but lost time to two surgeries on the filly’s right eye, weeks of stall rest, treatment and worry and just had to get going if he was going to salvage any kind of juvenile campaign with the Maryland-bred. Robb figured the race would be a workout and a dose of experience.
“We were planning to work her Saturday and Jerry called me and told me not to come because he found a race for her on Monday,” said owner Joey Lloyd, who bought his first racehorses in 2017. “He said she wasn’t really ready, that it was going to be a workout.”
Street Lute won the 5-furlong maiden race by a length, paid $21.20. Jockey Brian Pedroza came back and told the connections, “You’ve got a good one.” She won the Small Wonder Stakes 19 days later, finished second in the Maryland Million Lassie, and closed 2020 with three more stakes wins – Laurel Park’s Smart Halo, Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship and Gin Talking. Voted champion Maryland-bred 2-year-old filly, the daughter of Street Magician and the Midnight Lute mare Alottalute opened her sophomore campaign with more of the same – winning the 6-furlong Xtra Heat Jan. 16 and the 7-furlong Wide Country Feb. 20 to push her bankroll to $410,220 with seven wins in eight starts.
A neck separated her from perfection through eight starts.
“I sure didn’t expect her to turn out what she turned out to be, but that’s what this game’s about,” said Robb, who plucked Street Lute out of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s yearling sale for $10,500 in 2019. The trainer called the Wide Country his favorite win in the filly’s short career, so far, and for good reason. Street Lute and jockey Xavier Perez rated just off fractions set by Little Huntress and Whiskey and Rye, advanced with a four-wide bid after a half-mile in :44.91, built a 2-length lead in mid-stretch and saw out a 1-length win over Fraudulent Charge with Salt Plage third. The winner covered 7 furlongs in 1:23.59. Longer races beckon, at some point.
“I guess I’m going to have to try stretching her out,” Robb said. “Someone kept saying last week, ‘Why don’t you run her long?’ Well, until I run out of spots where I’m even money [going short], when I run out of those kinds of spots, then I’ll think about it. She rates kind, but I don’t see where she’s not going to be on the front end going longer. She does better running at horses so I would rather there be some speed in there and she gets that sprinting. The mile races at Laurel are out of the same chute she’s been winning from, so that’s probably next. You can’t be anything but happy with her so far.”
Three weeks after the Wide Country, Street Lute gave the mile a go in Laurel’s Beyond The Wire, and finished third.
As straightforward as Street Lute’s racing career has been, it wasn’t always this way. Her Kentucky-bred dam, Alottalute, never raced and sold four times at auction – twice as a yearling, once as a 2-year-old and finally as a 3-year-old broodmare prospect at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic in December 2014. Tate Shaw signed the ticket for $8,000, hoping to salvage something.
“She was a beautiful filly, and she had enough pedigree to think she might be something,” Shaw said. “Before I got her they’d had trouble with her tendons filling up when they’d work her, and I started legging her up a little bit at the farm and the same thing happened.”
Alottalute went for hacks, learned to jump and earned her keep for the Maryland-based Shaw, who rode a handful of steeplechase races and now runs an eventing/show facility in Aiken, S.C. Shaw eventually sold Alottalute to Heritage Stallions and she was bred to Bourbon Courage in 2016. When Heritage ceased operations in 2017, partners Dr. Tom Bowman, Dr. Brooke Bowman and Louis Merryman divided up a few farm-owned mares and Alottalute went to Brooke Bowman.
“Louis picked one, my dad picked one and I picked one,” said Brooke of an inexact process. “I picked her.”
The Bourbon Courage filly of 2017 has yet to race, same with a 2019 colt by Editorial. In between came Street Lute – co-bred by Brooke and his parents Tom and Chris and sold at auction by consignor Becky (Bowman) Davis. The yearling price was encouraging, the rest is hard to believe.
“After they have a good foal, people always say they liked the mare all along,” said Brooke. “She is gorgeous, she has a nice family, she’s by Midnight Lute, but before Street Lute you wouldn’t have said we thought she was worth a lot of money.”
The Bowmans sold a now yearling full-sister to Street Lute (before she ran) to Robb’s wife Gina out of the field last year, and Alottalute was not bred in 2020. Blame the pandemic, timing, luck, whatever.
“Street Lute hadn’t happened yet and with Covid, we were picking and choosing which ones not to breed,” said Brooke. “She was one to skip.”
Post-Street Lute, everything is different. The Bowmans have earned thousands in Maryland-bred and Delaware-certified awards, and their accidental star broodmare headed to Kentucky to visit 2018 2-year-old champion Game Winner at Lane’s End Farm. Anonymous no more, Alottalute could have a big future thanks to Street Lute.
“It’s been really fun to watch,” said Brooke, who went right for the laugh in his next assessment. “As someone who has nothing to do with Street Lute anymore, I’m looking forward to her going undefeated for another couple of years. We’re her biggest fans over here. Gina keeps texting us, and pretty much now it’s one word, ‘Wow.’ ”
Shaw receives similar texts, and also doesn’t dwell on what might have been. “I wish I’d have kept her,” he said of Alottalute, “but how would you know she was going to do that? It’s fun to have played a small part in it.”
Street Lute’s owner Lloyd plays a bigger part, but it involved plenty of chance too. The Baltimore resident grew up going to Pimlico with his grandfather and father and, when not playing baseball (at a Florida prep school, a junior college in Iowa and the Alaska Summer League before injuring his shoulder) followed racing. Now the owner of Elite Parking Services in Baltimore, Lloyd bought three horses with Robb, after getting introduced by former jockey Eric Camacho, at Timonium in 2017. They all ran in Lloyd’s Lucky 7 Stables silks the next year. Joey Gotcha got claimed for $10,000 in his fifth start. G’s Warrior cost $1,000, won her second start and got claimed for $16,000. Knock Out Kid (another $1,000 recruit) won her debut at Pimlico, added two more victories and got claimed for $32,000. Lucky 7 won three races in 2018 and four in 2019, topping $100,000 in both years. Lloyd reinvested in 2019, picking out Street Lute after Robb made the winning bid at the sale.
“He picked seven or eight horses at the sale, and asked me which one I liked,” Lloyd said. “One was already taken, then I looked at them. I had good luck with fillies before, so I went back and saw her and a few others. I saw her and said, ‘That’s the one I want.’ She looked big, strong. I had no clue it was going to be like this.”
Lloyd and his filly weathered the eye surgery, the treatments, the waiting. Thus far Lloyd has resisted attempts to buy his filly while comparing Street Lute to a human athlete.
“Some of the offers are tempting, but I just don’t think it’s the right time or it doesn’t feel right for me,” Lloyd said. “She’s always been an underdog. Her bloodline isn’t the best. She hurt her eye. It doesn’t matter, it matters how their heart is and how they want to run. She wants to run. She’s all about business.”
Hey, Jerry Robb, is Street Lute anything like star stablemate Anna’s Bandit? “Not at all. Anna is 100-percent professional in every way. She’s like a cow in the barn, walks to the track like a cow, stands at the gap for 20 minutes and then puts everything into training. When this filly walks around the barn, she kicks at anything that moves. When you walk her, you better be paying attention.”
Surgery helps Street Lute find success
Bluish-black, soft, bracketed by wispy eyelashes above and long, spider-leg-like hairs below, Street Lute’s right eye looks like any other horse’s eye – except for that one corner. The gray spot resembles a tiny jellyfish, a science-experiment blob, something photographed by the Mars rover.
In reality, it’s what remains after an injury and microscopic surgery performed by Dr. Catherine Nunnery of Equine Veterinary Vision less than a year ago and a badge of honor for the budding star. The champion Maryland-bred 2-year-old filly of 2020, Street Lute and her eye opened 2021 with back-to-back stakes wins to improve to 7-for-8 (with a second) and push her earnings to $410,220 for Lucky 7 Stables and trainer Jerry Robb.
“It’s a nice success story,” said Nunnery, based in The Plains, Va., and one of a handful of equine ophthalmologists in the United States. “We probably do 15 to 20 of these surgeries a year. Not all go on to race or have the highlights of their career going forward, so it’s nice to see her go on and do some good things.”
Nunnery labeled the injury a stromal abscess, a term which combines stroma (connective tissue, in this case of the cornea) and abscess (any encapsulated infection), and pinned the cause on a tiny puncture of Street Lute’s eye most likely from a piece of hay or straw. Otherwise harmless, fungus from the hay or straw created the infection. Street Lute may have had some blurry vision, probably squinted a little and her eye might have produced more tears than normal. She also probably recovered quickly from any outward signs of an injury. All the while, the infection grew and eventually presented itself as something more serious than the typical eye injury.
Robb’s wife Gina called Nunnery.
“It was not a typical corneal abrasion or ulceration,” said the veterinarian, who first saw the filly in July. “Most have a scratch of their cornea. She had an infection within the layers of the cornea, deeper than the surface. We tried treating her medically. We placed a tubing system under her eyelid so they could inject medication, like a catheter system. A week or two, she was more comfortable but it was not improving the infection.”
Nunnery compared a horse’s eye to the windshield of a car. A scratch or chip could be on the surface or much deeper. In this case, the injury was deep and called for surgery with an operating microscope (similar to what’s used in human cataract or Lasik surgery) and with the horse under general anesthesia. “It’s delicate. Imagine splitting the thickness of the windshield, like fileting a fish, the infection was deep but the surface was healthy so we can’t damage the surface while we’re doing this,” said Nunnery, whose description also involved the creation of a “trap door” in Street Lute’s eye to get to the infected area in the far right (left if you’re looking at it) corner of her eye.
Using that trap door, Nunnery removed the infected layers of cornea, transplanted healthy cornea from another section of the filly’s eye, sutured it in place, closed the trap door and sutured it closed. The surgery lasted about two hours.
“There are a lot of steps to it,” Nunnery said. “The fileting, harvesting the new piece, opening up of the eye, closing it all up afterward. There are a lot of logistics and we don’t do eight of these a day. It’s a one-a-day kind of thing.”
An abscess under 10 millimeters comes with optimism for a full recovery. Anything bigger brings a question mark. Street Lute’s injury was about 12 millimeters, but she responded.
“She did great, recovered in four weeks, was holding it wide open, she was very comfortable,” said Nunnery. “Week five she was done with any medications and heading back into training.”
The rest is, well, really good. Street Lute won her debut at Delaware Park on Labor Day, became a stakes winner 19 days later, was beaten by a neck (when passed on her right in the final yards) in the Maryland Million Lassie and closed 2020 with three more stakes wins. She added the Xtra Heat and Wide Country to begin 2021, and eyed even more prestigious starts this spring. If the eye bothers her, Street Lute doesn’t show it.
“I wish I could put horse goggles on and know exactly what they see,” said Nunnery. “She probably sees a little fuzzy in the hazy spots. Back toward her tail on the right side might be a little fuzzier. It doesn’t seem to affect her in the forward view which is so much more important for her to perform. It takes about a year to heal the spot 100 percent with the scar tissue so she’ll continue to improve.”
Detection and Prevention
Nunnery called a horse’s eye a “Petri dish” for infection, while also admitting that finding an eye infection can be difficult. Horses can show no effects until an infection takes hold. Initial injuries can happen out of sight – in a stall, outside in a paddock, from a hay net – and are easy to miss. Horses who live outside can injure their eyes on a stray fence wire or thorn, though about half the patients Nunnery sees are injured while eating from a round bale of hay in a field. She’s a big believer in fly masks for outside horses, even in the winter.
“They go for the hay at the bottom and get a piece of hay jabbed into their eye,” she said. “It’s a simple scratch, but it can turn into something bigger. There’s not much you can do prevention-wise, just be really observant. If you see a spot, let your veterinarian know.”
And maybe mention Street Lute.