Racing’s good to old-timers

| September 29, 2011

Racing has long been fertile ground for those hunting for stories of rags-to-riches success.

The 50-1 romp by the diminutive New Mexico-based Mine That Bird is a recent example. Venezuelan-based Canonero II, a $1,200 yearling purchase who became known as the “Caracas Cannonball,” was another after he returned to take the 1971 Derby. The mutuel field existed then and he was a member of it on Derby Day. Under today’s rules in which every Derby entrant is an individual betting interest, it’s easy to imagine a horse like Canonero being 100-1 or more, but he won the Derby and returned to win the Preakness in track-record time.

John Henry, Da Hoss, Seabiscuit and countless others have overcome lack of respect because of inauspicious early results, uninspiring pedigree or little-known connections to achieve wonderful things.

Another of those stories played out last Saturday on the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions at Turfway Park. Future Prospect, the longest shot in the field at 18-1 in the $200,000 race for older horses over the synthetic Polytrack course, scored an upset victory. He defeated General Quarters, who has Grade I victories in the Toyota Blue Grass on Polytrack at Keeneland and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Churchill Downs grass.

It was the fourth straight victory for Future Prospect and was a milestone for trainer Dodson Skaggs. The win in the Grade II race and prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic was the first graded stakes victory for Skaggs, a 76-year-old veteran Campbellsburg native.

Skaggs could also take pride in his work in bringing Future Prospect back to the races after he suffered a suspensory ligament injury in late 2009. Skaggs patiently waited for the injury to come around, and Future Prospect finally returned to racing in March of this year with a victory in an optional claiming allowance race at Turfway Park. Future Prospect is now 5-for-8 since he returned.

“This old horse has been really good to me,” Skaggs told reporters after the win. “It’s a pretty great feeling.”

Not feeling too badly was the 78-year-old owner-trainer who finished behind Skaggs and Future Prospect. General Quarters, you might recall, has been a pretty good “Cinderella story” himself as the lone horse in the stable of Tom McCarthy, who claimed the now 5-year-old in the autumn of his 2-year-old season.

General Quarters came into the Kentucky Cup race off a pair of poor efforts, but put the sparkle back in McCarthy’s eye.

Had it been another sixteenth of a mile, we would have won it,” McCarthy said. “That was a very good race. It showed me he wants to go on. I think he beat a lot of nice horses today.”

Whether Future Prospect or General Quarters find their way into one of the races of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4-5 remains to be seen, but Saturday’s Kentucky Cup Classic result at Turfway Park is a story that would be heartwarming for any fan or dreamer who has a soft spot in their heart for the little guy. Here were two longtime veterans of Kentucky racing – men who have toiled mostly in obscurity in lower level events – who beamed after their horses turned in big performances in an important race.

The participants in what the Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee dubbed the “septuagenarian exacta” were both looking for good things down the road.

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,” Winston Churchill, an admirer of equine talent, once said.

Skaggs and McCarthy, with a little luck and 154 years of life between them, might only be getting started.

Classic preps

A busy schedule of important Breeders’ Cup prep races is on tap for the weekend, headed in the U.S. by the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park and the Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita – both preps for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Rising 3-year-old star Stay Thirsty is set to meet Churchill Downs-based Flat Out in the Gold Cup, while Bob Baffert could have the top two betting choices in the Goodwood with Game On Dude and the 3-year-old Coil.

Superstar fillies Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, both contenders for “Horse of the Year” honors will also be in action. Blind Luck, winner of the 2010 Kentucky Oaks, runs in the Lady’s Secret at Santa Anita, while Havre De Grace, who whipped males in the Woodward Stakes, runs in Belmont Park’s Beldame.

Watch Goldikova

It will be a huge weekend of Cup preps in Europe with the running of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe headed by Australian import So You Think and defending champion Workfore. On the undercard is the Qatar Prix de la Foret headed by Goldikova, who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs and makes her final prep for a return to Louisville for an unprecedented fourth consecutive win in that race.

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