Shirley Lojeski called her Pennsylvania farm between Philadelphia and Allentown “a small operation,” which makes sense in October. When she’s in the midst of foaling season, helping 25 or so mares deliver, the place feels anything but small.
“Foaling season is a long time and, no, it doesn’t feel small then,” she said. “I’m the night watchman and the day watchman too.”
The work pays off sometimes, especially with a horse like Forest Fire. Foaled at Lojeski Farms in Emmaus, the 4-year-old son of Friesan Fire won a race-long battle with Prendimi to take the $150,000 Maryland Million Classic at Laurel Park Oct. 19. The feature race on the 34th edition of Jim McKay Maryland Million Day, the Classic attracted a big field of 11 but was a two-horse race late.
New Jersey-bred Prendimi set the pace, and was matched by Forest Fire who set up just off the leader through early fractions of :24.49 and :49.25. Trained by John Servis, the winner advanced from a half-length down to tackle Prendimi in earnest after 6 furlongs in 1:13.40, and they battled through the stretch. The 3-1 second choice, Forest Fire put his head in front in mid-stretch, and held on to score by a half-length in 1:50.42 for 11⁄8 miles with 12-1 Prendimi second and 6-1 Tappin Cat third. Favorite Clubman settled for seventh while 2018 race winner Saratoga Bob finished 10th.
Paco Lopez rode the winner, and was impressed.
“John told me, ‘Paco, put the horse right there. You have a very good post so if somebody wants to go crazy, let them go and you can sit second or third.’ I just wanted to see how the race played out,” Lopez said. “I had great position and the pace was good, and turning for home he was just going easy and was able to hold off that horse.”
Forest Fire won for the third consecutive time, adding his first stakes to back-to-back allowance scores at Parx Racing over the summer. The dark bay gelding won four times in 2018, and continues to improve while pushing his career earnings to $269,490.
“He’s very good right now,” said Servis. “He’s always been a nice kind of horse, but had a couple issues we had to stop on him for. I’ve had him since the beginning and always liked him. I love the way he does things.”
Servis trained Forest Fire’s dam Majestic Forestry, whose racing career included just four starts (and four losses) in 2010. As a broodmare with Lojeski, the daughter of Forestry and the Deputy Minister mare Fumble has produced minor winners Shimerville and Hailey’s Way in addition to Forest Fire. The produce record could be better, but is improving, and Lojeski isn’t about to give up.
Majestic Forestry (carrying an Irish War Cry foal for 2020) is a good mother though, and raises strong – and strong-minded – foals.“She’s my Zenyatta,” Lojeski said with a laugh. “She just didn’t want to run, so I ended up with her as a broodmare. If she’s not in the mood, she’s not in the mood so she’s been empty a few years.”
“They’re all kind of like Mom, they don’t want to be caught when they’re young,” Lojeski said. “That part’s not easy. You had to bring everybody in the field in to catch [Forest Fire]. They all take after her in that respect. Most of the time, she just wants to be out with the girls.”
After sending her mare to Eurosilver, Petionville, El Padrino and Jump Start, Lojeski chose Country Life Farm’s Friesan Fire for the 2014 mating. The nicking worked, she said, and the stallion looked the part too. At Country Life, Majestic Forestry made an immediate impression too.
“She was one of the most gorgeous mares we’ve ever had on the farm,” said Country Life’s Christy Holden. “Just a big, beautiful mare with a lot of presence to her. I hadn’t seen Forest Fire until the Maryland Million, but he struck me as just like her. He’s a beautiful, gorgeous horse.”
For Servis, the stakes win was special because of a long partnership with Lojeski.
“She hired me in 1985 I think,” said the trainer. “She just asked me to take a horse for her. I had a small stable and was just getting started. We became great friends and I’ve trained horses for her forever. She can call me if she needs anything, anything. She’ll ask me about stallions, that’s her thing, the breeding and the pedigree stuff.”
At the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale in early October, trainer Brittany Russell had to convince the spotters she was actually bidding – and not just burping the baby. Russell patted her daughter Edy’s back with one hand, and bid with the other, to land a Mosler colt for $10,000.
Edy, then just 5 weeks old, never moved.
“She doesn’t care, she likes the noise,” Russell said then. “I think I’m indecisive on a daily basis so it had nothing to do with her, but I hesitated a little and they were like ‘Are you sure?’ ”
Russell was sure. The purchase, in partnership with Jody Quinn of Dark Horse Racing, continued a strategy of buying relatively inexpensive Maryland-breds with potential and paid off when another cheap purchase won the $100,000 Maryland Million Lassie for 2-year-old fillies. Russell and Dark Horse spent just $6,500 on Hello Beautiful at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December mixed sale.
“The point was to just find a Maryland-bred we liked and when you spend $6,500 on a horse they don’t have to be a superstar for you to be successful,” said Russell, the former Brittany Trimble who is now married to jockey Sheldon Russell. “You can be aggressive if you need to. We got lucky with her. She turned out to be much better than she had to be.”
Hello Beautiful finished third in her first start at Pimlico in May, and graduated the maiden ranks two starts later at Laurel. After that 51⁄2-length romp, she caught the attention of bigger racing players and is now owned by Madaket Stables, Mark Frasetto, Mark Parkinson, K-mac Stables and Magic City Stables. The daughter of Golden Lad lived up to the high-end connections in the Lassie, and 9-5 favoritism, fighting for the early lead through fractions of :22.24 and :45.64, then pulling away in the stretch for Sheldon Russell. She won by 33⁄4 lengths in 1:10.33 for 6 furlongs. Second choice Stickingtogether finished second with Worstbestideaever third.
The win was Brittany Russell’s first in a stakes, and continued the quick rise of a training career which began in February 2018. Clients such as the group involved with Hello Beautiful help the cause.
“When she broke her maiden, we had some interest,” she said of potential buyers. “Jody and I discussed a number. She had already made us money and we said, ‘At end of day, let’s make sure it’s worth it.’ The early interest from people wasn’t the right situation. Face it, they’re all for sale – for the right price. But I said, ‘What about leaving her with me through Maryland Million?’ and a lot of them weren’t interested in it. These guys were and it worked out perfect.”
Like she does with most things, Hello Beautiful is handling the success with aplomb. Bred by Hillwood Stables out of the Tiznow mare Hello Now, she’s in the first stall of her trainer’s Laurel Park 15-stall shedrow where the most important part of her day involves angling for peppermints and awaiting the next assignment.
“She’s super spoiled but in the right way,” said Brittany Russell. “She’s lovely, a real big personality.”
She’s also may soon have some company. That Mosler colt purchased in October is her half-brother.
Mr. d'Angelo's Arrival
Visit trainer Tim Woolley’s barn at Fair Hill Training Center to see Mr. d’Angelo and be prepared to get nudged, nuzzled, nipped and otherwise paid attention to. The gray 3-year-old wants to know what you’re all about and will work to find out, no matter how you feel.
Just don’t offer to lead him to the track.
“As mellow as he is in the stall, he’s kind of difficult on the track,” said Woolley. “He has to go up there and back with the pony, he kind of has to train off the pony and all that. He’s been quite the challenge all year.”
Woolley, who rides many of his horses in the morning, has passed that joy to exercise rider Fernando Molina with Mr. d’Angelo. Woolley rides the lead pony, which brings its own challenges. The extra efforts paid off in a strong 2019. Mr. d’Angelo won his career debut at 27-1 in April, placed in a claimer and two allowances, and then prevailed in a crowded Maryland Million Turf to end his season.
As it frequently does, the $125,000 Turf lured a big field of 14. The stakes-placed Taxable Goods and three-time winner Street Copper took most of the public’s attention, but five horses started at shorter than 10-1. Mr. d’Angelo and Jevian Toledo broke near the back and was soon more than 13 lengths off the early pace of Nicki de Nephew. Still 12th after 6 furlongs in 1:12.52, Mr. d’Angelo got closer on the final turn and swung seven wide to collar 32-1 runner-up Somekindofmagician in the stretch and win by 13⁄4 lengths at 17-1. Pretty Good Year, 21-1, finished third as Street Copper wound up fifth and Taxable Goods checked in ninth. The $1 exacta paid $573.40.
Woolley loved the way the son of Seville (Ger) kept trying late.
“He comes from off the pace so he’s always going to face a lot of traffic,” said the trainer of his first Maryland Million winner. “He got the perfect trip, the perfect pace scenario and it came together. He’s gradually been improving all year, but to jump up like that against those horses was a huge step for him. He’s always shown flashes of ability, but he’s never put it together like that.”
Bred in Maryland by owner Kevin Morgan, who owns part of the former Wood-stock Farm of Allaire duPont in Chesapeake City, Md., Mr. d’Angelo collected $68,750 to more than double his career earnings. The gray gelding is a Marylander, going way back. His third dam, the Kentucky-bred Soap, raced for R.F. Procopio and trainer King T. Leatherbury in 1979 and 1980 and produced 18-time Maryland-bred winner Endless Surprise. Another Maryland-bred foal, Bubbleover, won seven races in the 1990s for co-breeders Joseph Carter and Donelson Christmas Jr. and Ernest Green. Her Maryland-bred daughter Suds (by Housebuster) won once for Carter and Patrick McGill and is the dam of Mr. d’Angelo.
Morgan had his first runners in 2017 and has been active as a breeder and owner at the track and in the sales ring.
As for Mr. d’Angelo, he’ll get the rest of the year off to hopefully fill into his smallish frame and come back for more in 2020. Woolley, and the lead pony, will be ready.
“He’s just got a lot of exuberance and doesn’t know how to contain it,” said the trainer of the morning adventures. “He’s never going to be very tall, but stocky-wise he’ll fill out a bit. He’s got an amazing turn of foot and he’s that kind of horse who can completely switch off until he gets his cue to pick up the pace and go. He’s fun to watch when it all goes right.”
Taco Supream Spices Up Sprint
When you share a barn with Maryland-bred sprint dynamo Laki, whose career earnings of $468,632 dwarf yours, it might be difficult to get some attention.
But Taco Supream sure is giving it a go. The chestnut 4-year-old gelding ran down heavy favorite Call Paul in the stretch of the 6-furlong Sprint – prevailing by three-quarters of a length in 1:08.80 for Big Bertha Stable and trainer Damon Dilodovico. Last year’s Sprint winner Lewisfield finished third with the Dilodovico-trained Laki settling for fifth.
Bred by Ann Jackson, the winner was not necessarily destined to be a sprinter as his dam Barouchka (by Not For Love) is a half-sister to Maryland Hunt Cup winner Raven’s Choice, but Taco Supream has thrived at shorter distances in 2019. The Maryland Million win gave the son of El Padrino seven consecutive finishes of second or better – all this year, all at 7 furlongs or less.
Taco Supream sold for $1,600 as a Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling in 2016 and made his first five starts for C and B Stable and trainer Charles Frock. Dilodovico claimed the Maryland-bred for $25,000 out of a win in January 2018. He lost his first five for the new connections, but has won five times since.
For more, see the Maryland Horse section.
Ournationonparade wins Nursery
John “Jay” Williamson III realized a dream in the Nursery – even if was a touch bittersweet.
Ournationonparade, the fourth foal out of a mare Williamson purchased, sold and bought back for breeding purposes, couldn’t have won the 6-furlong Nursery more impressively. Trained by Bernie Houghton and ridden by Inoel Beato, the gelding won by almost 4 lengths in a sharp 1:09.73 as the even-money favorite.
It was hardly unexpected. In his first start Sept. 8 at Laurel, he was caught near the finish by Double Crown, another first-time starter. They were two Maryland-breds in an open maiden special weight that looked like something special. And the Maryland Million was a little more than a month away.
Telephones, including Williamson’s began ringing. Williamson had never experienced it before and was beside himself given his attachment to the mare, Parade of Colors, and her progeny. It wasn’t an easy decision, but one of the offers was too difficult to turn down. So Our-nationonparade won the Nursery for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, which also purchased Double Crown from Debbie Rhodes.
“That should have been me out there [in the winner’s circle],” Williamson said, shaking his head after the Nursery. “That should have been me.”
The story of Williamson and Parade of Colors goes back to the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale in 2009. The filly brought a bid of $2,200, failed to sell, and breeder Roy Lerman opted not to transport her back to Florida, Williamson said. So he and Marshall Silverman, who consigned the filly, purchased her privately.
Parade of Colors reappeared in the auction ring at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale as part of the Silverman consignment and sold for $15,000. She broke her maiden in her second start in 2010 at Laurel for Clover Hill Racing and trainer Tim Keefe and the following year won an allowance race at Laurel.
“She was eventually claimed by Jamie Ness for Midwest Thoroughbreds,” William-son said. “Watching her grow up meant a lot to me. She had a few problems, and one day I saw Jamie and said, ‘If you ever get tired of her I’d like to have her.’ He said, ‘Pick her up when you’re ready.’ I just really liked her.”
Williamson, a former trainer and an avid racing memorabilia collector who lives in Reisterstown, Md., and works on race days for the Maryland Racing Commission, sent Parade of Colors to Sherry Rudolph in Sparks to get her ready for a breeding career. She was bred to Cal Nation.
Her first foal, named Parade of Nations by Williamson, is still in training and has earned almost $270,000 with 11 wins in 34 starts. The full-brother to Ournationonparade won his career debut at Pimlico Race Course at 2 and was claimed from Williamson for $25,000 in his sixth start.
The mare also produced Parade of Freedom, by Freedom Child; and Tri Try Colors, by Tritap. Her fifth foal, by Mosler, is her first filly. She is a yearling and will be trained by Houghton, who conditioned all of her foals for Williamson.
“They’ve all been raised at Sherry’s farm, and then they’ve all gone to Sylmar Farm in Pennsylvania,” said Williamson, who makes regular trips to the Houghton family’s farm to check on his horses. “All of them were foaled at Country Life except for Parade of Freedom, who was foaled at Dr. [Michael] Harrison’s farm.”
She missed a year, but “She’s back in foal to Mosler. I just got attached to her because we got her from Roy.”
Though he no longer owns Ournation-onparade, Williamson is eligible for the 30-percent Maryland-bred bonuses when the gelding races in his home state. Dean Reeves, on hand to see his new purchase win the Nursery, indicated that could be the case.
“He did what you like to see a good horse do – he broke well and the jockey did a great job letting him settle,” said Reeves, who has campaigned the likes of Grade 1 winner Mucho Macho Man among others. “I have an affinity for buying second-place horses in their first race. He looked like a nice horse to take a chance on. We bought three Maryland-breds and we intend to race them here.”
Houghton, who trains at Penn National Race Course but is no stranger to Maryland tracks, was high on Ournationonparade before his first start.
“Mr. Reeves was smart enough to see him galloping out that day and he knew he was something special,” the trainer said. “I told him he just needed that race under his belt and he was going to be a lot better (in the Nursery). He proved it. This horse really can run.”
– Tom LaMarra
Maryland Million Notes
- Matt Schera’s Maryland-bred Zonda, who nearly went over the inside rail in the Bald Eagle Derby at Laurel Sept. 21, drew into the $125,000 Maryland Million Ladies after a scratch and prevailed – winning by 11⁄2 lengths for trainer Chuck Lawrence and jockey Victor Carrasco.
Bred by Caroline Stautberg’s Willow Oaks Stable, the daughter of Scat Daddy won for the third time in eight starts (all this year) and boosted her value for the auction ring in Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s November Sale where she brought $500,000 on a bid by Live Oak Stud. Schera paid $155,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga yearling sale in 2017.
For more, see the Maryland Horse section.
- Better known as the owner of $1.3 million earner Heros Reward and 2006 Maryland Million Classic winner Due, Bob Haynes became a trainer this summer and was immediately rewarded with a winner as Port Louis pulled a massive upset in the 7-furlong Maryland Million Starter Handicap. Claimed by Haynes in July, the 4-year-old paid $137 to win.
Haynes worked as a jockey’s agent for years and enjoyed plenty of thrills as an owner, but the training interest was always there. After open heart surgery in February, he vowed to make it a reality. He passed the test, got stalls at Laurel Park and – inspired by the birth of his first grandson Roy that day – claimed Port Louis for $5,000 July 28. Bred by Anchor and Hope Farm, the son of Despite the Odds finished second in Haynes’ training debut Sept. 6 and then pulled the big upset.
Haynes watched the race with his fiancée/exercise rider/groom Vicki Irons, who gallops horses for trainer Dale Capuano, and was overjoyed watching it all unfold.
“When we were in deep stretch and it appeared like we had a shot to get there, Vicki started crying, and as I walked through the crowd I started to get tears in my eyes too,” said Haynes, 65. “It was like bumper cars getting to the winner’s circle. I know probably half the people there and I got, ‘Congratulations Bob’ from all of them and I kept saying, ‘Come on in.’ There were probably 50 people in the winner’s circle.
“It was the experience of a lifetime and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, for a guy that was real sick in 2017 and ’18 and even this year, for me to pass my trainer’s test, get my license, get stalls and have an opportunity to be around these magnificent animals . . . if I never, ever saddle another horse in my life I’m good.”
- Former steeplechase jockey Carl Rafter won the opener, the $60,000 Turf Distaff Starter Handicap, as the trainer of Smokin Caraquena.
The 4-year-old daughter of Hunters Bay prevailed by a nose for her third win of 2019. She won a $10,000 maiden claimer (at 48-1) at Colonial Downs in August and added a $16,000 conditioned claimer at Laurel in September for the Virginia-based Rafter and owner Jennifer Taylor.
The winner, sold for $2,300 as a short yearling at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s January mixed sale in 2016, was bred in Maryland by Mr. and Mrs. John Price.
- Trainer Milan Milosevic won the $60,000 Turf Starter Handicap with 5-year-old Mast Track gelding Bowsprit, who won by a neck for owner Silhouette LLC. Bred by Ted Mudge IV, the Maryland-bred collected his fourth lifetime win and first of 2019.
For more, see the Maryland Horse section.
- Owner Smart Angle won the $60,000 Distaff Starter Handicap with 3-year-old filly Yesterdaysplan, who scored by a head for trainer Mark Reid. The Maryland-bred daughter of Plan and the Pioneering mare Yesterdaystouch came from well back in a field of nine to edge favorite Esterina late. The winner was bred by Kevin Morgan, and purchased for $1,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale by Cesar Nambo in 2017. Nambo lost her via a $25,000 claim in November 2018 and she was claimed for $5,000 by her current connections in July. The four-time winner pushed her career earnings to $104,968.
- Total wagering handle reached $6,531,109, a slight increase over 2018 and the highest since a record $7.8 million in 2007. Though down about 2,000 from 2018, attendance of 20,111 topped 20,000 for the fourth consecutive year.