Jay Williamson remembered Parade of Colors, and liked her. The reason doesn’t matter much now, but he stopped her trainer Jamie Ness along the outside rail at Laurel Park one day in the fall of 2012.
“When you’re done with her, I’d like to have her,” Williamson said of the $5,000 claimer on an eight-race losing streak. “If you don’t have any place for her, I’ll take her.”
Ness was pretty blunt.
“What do you want that mare for?”
“I just like her,” Williamson replied.
“Jay, you sure?”
“Yes I am.”
Ness called Midwest Thoroughbreds, told the story, got the go ahead to give her away and found Williamson.
“Go to Bowie and get her, she’s yours.”
Ten years later, Parade of Colors’ son Ournationonparade won the Maryland Million Classic for Ness, owner Happy Got Lucky Stable and an overwhelmed breeder Williamson.
“It’s great,” Williamson squeaked out on the way to the Laurel Park winner’s circle. “Yup.”
The moment, highlight of the 37th annual Jim McKay Maryland Million Day Oct. 22, was lost on no one. Williamson, a longtime Maryland Racing Commission employee in the test barn or some other important location, got a hug from Country Life Farm’s Christy Holden, slaps on the back from a sea of well-wishers, shouts of congratulations from plenty of others. Even Ness, winner of 3,787 races as a trainer, felt the impact.
“He was pretty choked up and it kind of made me a little choked up,” the trainer said. “She’s produced winner after winner for him, which shocks me because she wasn’t very fast. She had no pedigree, was running at the bottom for us. She never was a lot of horse.”
She was to Williamson. He and Marshall Silverman bought her from breeder/owner/trainer Roy Lerman as a yearling, then sold her – “Marshall wanted to sell” was how Williamson put it – for $15,000 as a 2-year-old in 2010. For Clover Hill Racing and Tim Keefe, Parade of Colors won twice and finished 10th in the 2011 Hilltop Stakes before finding the claiming ranks in 2012. Ness dropped a $5,000 slip in January, won a race at that level in March and that was about it.
Re-enter Williamson, who bred the chestnut to Country Life’s Cal Nation, then Freedom Child, Tritap, Cal Nation again and Mosler twice. Her six foals to race, all Maryland-bred and Maryland-sired, include five winners. Ournationonparade started out with Williamson and trainer Bernie Houghton, finishing second in his debut at Laurel in 2019. Reeves Thoroughbred Racing called with an offer Williamson couldn’t turn down, though he tried.
“I’m pretty small time,” Williamson said. “They’re my kids and I didn’t want to sell. Bernie said, ‘When somebody offers you that kind of money you’ve got to sell.’ He ran once for me and finished second and then the phone rang.”
For Reeves, Ournationonparade won the 2019 Maryland Million Nursery before being sent to trainer Kathy Ritvo and a look at major 3-year-old races in 2020. He finished third in the Hutcheson Stakes in February, but didn’t progress. He won an allowance in December, another the following March, moved to trainer Tom Amoss and got claimed for $40,000 at Churchill Downs in November 2021. Claimed for $32,000 out of a win at Churchill this June, Ournationonparade won for $40,000 at Horseshoe Indianapolis in August and for $50,000 at Churchill in September. Ness’ owner Sean Mitchell of Happy Got Lucky Stable claimed the 5-year-old out of that race, and aimed for Maryland. It wasn’t exactly an original idea – he won a five-way shake – but Ournationonparade returned to the state of his birth for the first time in three years.
“This race was on the radar before we got the horse,” said Ness. “This is what we were claiming him for. I just think it was karma. I gave Jay the mare, and good things happen. They come around. Jay did the right things with her, sold the horse when he got a nice offer and here we are.”
The $150,000 Classic drew a deep field of 11. Last year’s winner Prendimi showed up, along with 2020 winner Monday Morning Qb, plus stakes winner Double Crown (who beat Ournationonparade in their debut in 2019) and last year’s runner-up Tappin Cat. Eight of the 11 carried career earnings of more than $250,000.
Sent off as the 2-1 favorite, Ournationonparade broke from post nine in a bit of a tangle but soon found a spot in the first flight – three wide on the first turn but comfortable for Jaime Rodriguez. Monday Morning Qb set the early pace, followed by Prendimi and Vance Scholars. Still outside, Ournationonparade advanced to third on the turn, dispatched Prendimi, collared Monday Morning Qb at the quarter pole and set sail. The chestnut gelding won by 5 3⁄4 lengths as Vance Scholars edged The Poser for second after 1 1⁄8 miles in 1:51.78.
Ournationonparade won for the eighth time in 25 starts and earned $82,500 to reach $374,021 for his career.
Despite all his Maryland roots, it was just his third start in the state – though that will probably change.
“He looks like a horse that could probably compete with open company around here,” said Ness. “He’s a Maryland-bred, we’ll keep him in Maryland. He’s home.”
Ness also won the $100,000 Lassie on the card, with homebred Chickieness. The 2-year-old daughter of Blofeld came in with a win and three seconds in four starts at Delaware Park and lived up to her 4-5 odds to swarm past Bosserati and Skylar’s Sister in deep stretch and win by 11⁄2 lengths for Rodriguez and co-owner Morris Kernan Jr.
Ness trained the winner’s dam Chickaletta, and added her to a now 16-deep broodmare band on the farm in Chesapeake City, Md., Ness owns with his wife Mandy.
“She wasn’t a superstar, but she had a lot of heart,” Ness said of Chickaletta. “She had terrible knees and just kept running, and she put that attitude into her baby. That’s the kind you want to breed. This is her first foal so. . . it’s easy, right? When you get up at 2 o’clock in the morning and you’ve got to go down and check the mares, this is what it’s for.”
A trainer since 1999, Ness is new to the breeding side of the business and knows it’s not easy. The farm gives him options with mares whose racing careers come to an end and opens another connection to racing.
“It’s all new to me. We’re getting pretty good at it now. We do the foaling, everything ourselves,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, very different than just training them. It’s a way for me to recycle my mares that are done running. Now I have a place for them, especially if it’s one I think is OK for whatever reason.”
Blofeld also sired the winner of the Nursery, Johnyz From Albany, giving the Murmur Farm stallion his first two stakes winners and a sweep of the juvenile races on the card. Sent off at 4-1 in a field of 11, Johnyz From Albany broke running and stayed in front – winning by 5 lengths after 6 furlongs in 1:11.35 for owner/breeder Chip Reed and trainer Dale Capuano. The gray gelding is also a second-generation Maryland Million winner as his dam Monster Sleeping won the Ladies in 2013 and 2015 for Reed and Capuano.
Johnyz From Albany won his debut at Laurel in August, then placed in two allowance races before heading to the Nursery.
“We knew when he was yearling he was going to be something special,” said Reed. “He always looked the part. He was a little rambunctious, but he calmed down and he loves to run. He’s very competitive. We were shocked we got the lead that easy because there was a lot of speed in the race. We thought we’d be laying third or fourth. We told the jockey if he breaks good, go on with him. He broke like a bullet. We were very lucky and we’re happy.”
And a little sad. The Nursery winner is named for John Zanella, an Albany, N.Y., native who died in 2020. Brother of Reed’s friend and frequent racing partner Mike, John made the All Albany football team in high school, attended Albany Business College and worked in the printing industry including a long career with the Albany Times-Union newspaper.
Perhaps more importantly, he was the official host and airport pick-up driver when Reed and Mike Zanella made their annual trips to see racing at Saratoga Race Course.
“Every year he would pick us up at the airport,” said Reed. “He had New York subs for us and beer and stayed with us the whole time. He died two years ago and we named this one after him.”
Second in the 2021 Turf Sprint, Sky’s Not Falling came back from a winter break and was prepping for a spring turf start when trainer Mike Trombetta had to hit pause.
“He was in here in February and out of nowhere he just popped this really nasty shin splint that just needed time,” Trombetta said of owner/breeder Larry Johnson’s 4-year-old son of Seville (Ger). Stakes placed on dirt, turf and synthetic, Sky’s Not Falling came back to Trombetta’s barn over the summer and aimed for a return trip to the Maryland Million. The first breeze came in mid-August, and was followed by five more through mid-September, then a prep in the Laurel Dash at Pimlico Sept. 24.
“I figured it was going to be tough,” Trombetta said of the timing. “We got him going in enough time to get the one race. I would have loved to have had two but there just wasn’t enough time.”
Seventh at Pimlico, his first start in 10 months, Sky’s Not Falling entered the gate for the Turf Sprint as the second choice behind 2021 winner Grateful Bred. Winless in six starts (four seconds, all stakes) this year, the favorite lost all chance when crunched and shuffled back at the start as Sky’s Not Falling broke sharply from post two, eased outside leader Boss Man J J on the turn and motored away to win by a half-length over Rock the Boat in 1:02.75 for 5 1⁄2 furlongs as Paco Lopez looked for competition late.
Grateful Bred raced wide and flattened out to finish fifth.
Co-owned by Johnson and R. D. M. Stable, Sky’s Not Falling became a stakes winner while capturing his fourth career win. Trombetta was quick to give credit to jockey Victor Carrasco, aboard for the winner’s previous four races but injured in a fall the day before.
“He put the work in,” said the trainer. “Hopefully I’ll be able to make it up to him down the road. It’s just bad timing and circumstances. Victor is a class act. He’s a good guy. I feel for him. He’s been there before, and hopefully he’ll be back in a few weeks.”
If 14 consecutive losses dating to New Year’s Eve 2020 bothered Coconut Cake, she didn’t show it. The losses including five stakes placings, six fourths and plenty of good signs for trainer Tim Keefe, who sent the 5-year-old Bandbox mare into the Ladies off a three-month freshening.
She faced nine others in the 1 1⁄8-mile turf test, but drew plenty of attention from bettors as the 6-5 favorite. Coconut Cake didn’t disappoint, rallying in the final stages to get past Double Fireball and win by a head. Sheldon Russell rode the winner, while subbing for Kevin Gomez (injured in the same spill as Carrasco).
Keefe paid $30,000 for the winner, bred by Charlie and Cynthia McGinnes, as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic in 2018 and has been rewarded. Owned by her trainer, N R S Stable and James Chambers, Coconut Cake won her second start sprinting on the turf, and added three more on the dirt to cap her 2020 season. She lost seven times, all dirt, in 2021 but placed in the Geisha and Weather Vane stakes. Her 2022 started with more of the same, a third in the Geisha in January, a fourth in the Conniver in March and then a switch to the turf. Third in the Dahlia at a mile in April and the All Brandy going 1 1⁄16 miles in June, she stretched to 11⁄8 miles in the Big Dreyfus and finished fourth. Back at the same distance in the Ladies, she thrived – getting up in the last, gutsy steps.
“Come on girl, get up there,” Keefe replied when asked what he was thinking as the finish line loomed. “She lays it out there every time she runs. She’s a hard trier. I was glad to get there with her today. Giving her that time in between, my biggest angst was . . . she hadn’t run since mid-July . . . ‘Have I done enough with her? I think I have.’ But you never know. She’s all racehorse and she’ll go out there and try. Let the chips fall where they may. Obviously, she was fit enough and ready to do it.”
When Wicked Prankster prevailed in the $125,000 Turf, owner/trainer Sam Davis and a few dozen friends and family overwhelmed the winner’s circle to force the official photo to the middle of the dirt track. It was a party two years in the making.
Davis claimed the son of Mosler from Ness for $25,000 as a 2-year-old in September 2020, won a race late that year and abandoned the goal of the 2021 Turf as part of a winless 11-start campaign. This year, everything was different. Wicked Prankster won a starter race at Laurel in April, finished third in two summer starts and – after a short break – took aim at the 1 1⁄8-mile Turf.
Wicked Prankster needed a prep, however, and Davis scrapped the idea of a sharp workout for a 1-mile turf allowance in the condition book Oct. 16. Six days before the Maryland Million, the race was a gamble but it worked as Wicked Prankster led every step and won by a neck. Six days later, he basically did the same thing for jockey Richard Monterrey going a furlong farther, outlasting Street Copper by three-quarters of a length with Crabs N Beer a neck back in third.
“We figured if we were going to prep him for the Maryland Million then we’ve got to breeze him like last Saturday or Sunday,” Davis said of his training schedule. “I saw the mile race, allowance going a mile, I was like, ‘That’s perfect. We can just breeze him in the race.’ ”
Pace is key for Wicked Prankster, who won for the fourth time in 24 lifetime starts (and third time in 2022).
“If you leave him alone and he gets the :48 in [for a half-mile], he will go because in the morning when he trains he just never wants to stop,” said Davis. “Plus if you look at his pedigree he’s got a Broken Vow mare and she’s out of a Broad Brush mare. Mosler is by War Front. Mosler went sprinting and then he’s got the distance on the back end. It’s not a problem if he goes early because he’s still got the stamina in the bloodlines to finish up. This is how he wants to run, just leave him alone.”
Davis, who trains six horses at Laurel, credited the experience he gained working for trainer Gary Capuano in the 1990s and galloping for other trainers in Maryland for years. Learning was, and still is, part of the job.
“You learn what to do and what not to do,” Davis said. “Everybody you learn from, whether they’re good trainers or bad trainers, as long as you’re keeping it in your head. You have to be like a database in your head so when you get on your own . . . I still gallop my own horses. It’s well-rounded.”
Davis called training hard work, but said horses such as Wicked Prankster provide plenty of rewards.
“It doesn’t feel like work because you’re always thinking about the next thing to do because you never get tired,” he said. “Training horses is a lifestyle. Some people think it’s a job, but it’s a lifestyle. You have to go to bed early, you get up early, and then you have to come back in the evening and feed and all of that. It’s more than a job. You have to love it and once you come through the gate you’re going to love it.”
Dazzling in the Distaff
Three-time stakes winner and graded-stakes placed Fille d’Esprit stood out in the $100,000 Distaff – starting as the 9-5 favorite in a field of nine – but had to work out a trip from the inside post. She scrambled a little leaving the gate, had to sit inside through the first half-mile and was fourth late on the turn while getting encouragement from Xavier Perez.
“She had me worried a little bit,” said Jerry Robb, who trains the 6-year-old mare for CJI Phoenix Group and No Guts No Glory Farm.
Then she didn’t. Fille d’Esprit came out from behind leader Malibu Beauty entering the stretch, switched leads and pulled clear to win by 1 1⁄4 lengths – her 11th win in 22 lifetime starts. The $55,000 payday gave her $553,381 for her career, which began with breeder Sweet Spirits Stable and trainer Christy Claggett as a 4-year-old in 2020. The bay daughter of Great Notion finished fifth in her debut for a $10,000 claiming tag, won the next time for the same price and added a second win (also for $10,000). Robb claimed her there, based mainly on a pedigree that mimics that of stable star Anna’s Bandit. Both are by Great Notion and out of No Armistice mares.
For Robb, Fille d’Esprit has won nine times – everything from another $10,000 claimer to stakes at Laurel, Penn National and Colonial Downs. Perez called her all heart and wasn’t worried at all on the turn.
“I was just waiting to make a run,” he said. “She is like that. She doesn’t care. If you ask her to run, she is going to go. I tipped out and it was game over. That’s the definition of a perfect horse.”
The only jockey to win on her, Perez feels connected to Fille d’Esprit – whose success comes with plenty of morning antics and pre-race activity.
“It doesn’t matter if she’s a little naughty in the morning, she misbehaves sometimes but I understand,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with her for two years so we get to bond. She’s got talent, she’s a little goofy but she tries. She’s all heart, she’s just really high-strung. I get her, I understand her.”
NOTES: Odds-on favorite Fortheluvofbourbon made quick work of the $100,000 Sprint, taking over from Karan’s Notion in the stretch and winning by 1 1⁄2 lengths for Smart Angle, and trainer Michael Pino. The win was the 5-year-old Bourbon Courage gelding’s 12th in 23 starts and seventh from nine tries in 2022. . . Two starter handicaps began the day. Owner/trainer Greg Wilson won the first (on the turf) with Beltway Bob, an 8-year-old son of Baltimore Bob making his 52nd start. Bred in Maryland by Robert Gerczak, the winner found a seam late and prevailed by a head in a four-way photo. Also a Million starter handicap winner in 2020, the veteran halted an 11-race losing streak. . . Owner/trainer Joanne Shankle won the second (a 7-furlong dirt race) with The Wolfman, a 4-year-old Bandbox gelding bred by Charlie and Cynthia McGinnes. The win ran the Maryland-bred’s winning streak to three. . . Mavilus, a Maryland-bred daughter of Orientate, won a 7-furlong distaff starter for owner Michael Scheffres and trainer Carlos Mancilla. Kevin Morgan bred the winner, ninth in the race in 2021. . . After two wins by sire Blofeld, Murmur Farm’s Audrey Murray capped the day with a win as an owner when Pounding Music won a distaff turf starter for trainer Linda Albert. The 5-year-old daughter of Hangover Kid hung on late to deny favorite Downtown Katie by a head while winning for the second time in 2022.