Arlington International Notes (9/26/14)
Contact: Michael Adolphson
In today's notes:
MILLION CHAMP HARDEST CORE RESTED AND READY FOR BREEDERS' CUP TURF
No moment was more memorable at the 2014 Arlington International Racecourse meet than watching the feel-good story of the year of Andrew Bentley’s against-all-odds gelding Hardest Core cross the wire first in the Grade I Arlington Million over Irish import and Breeders’ Cup champion Magician. It was a score for the little guy: the small stable from the remote Pennsylvania town with an owner whose story was as heartwarming as that of the death-defying equine athlete, himself.
The rest of the story begins on no other stage than the grandest of all in American championship racing – the 2014 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park in Los Angeles, California. Hardest Core will train up to the race off his driving victory at Arlington on Aug. 16 and enter 11 weeks fresh for trainer Eddie Graham. The Million victory garnered him a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualification into the Grade I $3,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Turf, guaranteeing the son of Hard Spun not only a spot in the starting gate, but also a healthy stipend in order to get him there.
Such luxuries might seem inconsequential to the larger, multi-million dollar Thoroughbred conglomerates who had planned on making the trip regardless – like the powerhouse Coolmore partners who own Magician – but such a break is a huge deal for a meager team hoping to display the massive talent of their prized pupil on the world stage.
The significant break following his explosive Chicagoland conquest was by design for the 4-year-old gelding. “After his race, I just let him relax and played with him to keep him happy and make sure he bounced out of the race well,” Graham reported. “He got a month off and just got back to work last Monday with a work on the hill, going seven furlongs, twice. It’s a rolling uphill gallop with a turn on it and he does it two times. He’s doing fantastic – knock on wood – and is in full swing right now working toward the Breeders’ Cup.
“My gut feeling – and after talking to the owners – was that it would be good for him to come in (to Santa Anita) fresh,” Graham continued. “A lot of those horses who ran last year at Belmont (in the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic – the logical option for him as a prep this year) before going to the Breeders’ Cup didn’t bounce back that great. He ran back-to-back this summer pretty quickly between Philly Park and Delaware and then ran back at Arlington quickly after that. We like to keep our horses fresh and I’m glad we do because he’s doing really well.”
The unique training style has worked to perfection for the son of the zippy Danzig stallion Hard Spun out of a half-sister to sprinter/miler and champion juvenile Gilded Time, who is also a grandson of champion sprinter Housebuster. Bred to run no farther than a mile on the dirt, he has bucked many a bloodstock agents’ logic and excelled long on the grass, including a stakes victory in the Cape Henlopen at Delaware Park at the Breeders’ Cup Turf’s 1 1/2-miles distance and the 1 1/4 miles of the Million – all while looking like he could run even farther at the conclusion of each contest.
“I pretty much train him like a steeplechase horse,” Graham explained. “He never goes too fast in his works and just focuses more on endurance. I really don’t put speed in my horses. I let them do things in hand and I don’t like bullet works. He’ll stay steady for the five weeks leading up to the (Breeders’ Cup) – working on the Sundays or Mondays – including this week and he’ll work the Sunday or Monday before the race and fly out probably on Tuesday that week.”
Speed is not in question for the rangy bay, as he successfully closed his final quarter in the Million in approximately :23.19. Neither – for that matter – is shipping. “He handled shipping 13 hours to Chicago really well and flying across the country shouldn’t be a problem,” said Graham. “The day we arrived at Arlington I put tack on him and he seemed well and good. He’s pretty classy like that. I think we’ll be fine. I ship a lot to the gallops with my horses and he is on the trailer many days a week. My horses are used to shipping.”
After shipping half-way across the country and beating some of the best in the world – including Group I winners from five different countries – Hardest Core will put his name to the test against new challenges like Santa Anita’s notoriously firm turf course and a plethora of new challenges from both American coasts and Europe – but he will not be without the entirety of the Arlington International Racecourse team – as well as many fans across the country – behind him.
“I’m not sure how he’ll handle the turf until he runs on it, but he definitely likes the grass firm and it was pretty hard when he ran on it at Delaware and Arlington,” Graham explained. “I am not worried too much about the competition – just trying to get my horse there – but if I had to say there is one horse to worry about, it’s Graham Motion’s Main Sequence. I’m hoping he gets a tough race at Belmont – he’s very talented.
“Still, I’m just concerned about my horse. I’m a little more nervous because it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. He’s my one big horse and you just try to do everything right leading up to the race,” Graham concluded with palpable sincerity. “Right now we’re just trying to get the job done. He’s a special horse.”
MASON AND HOMEISTER ARLINGTON’S DYNAMIC DIVA DUO OF 2014
The 2014 Arlington International Racecourse season has seen some breakout performances. From Florent Geroux’s nearly $600,000 in stakes earnings alone to Larry Rivelli mimicking many of his charges by coming out of the gate fast and never relinquishing his advantage in the trainers’ race – Arlington horsemen and athletes have been impressing us on the top end all season.
One of the most intriguing performances has been that of the dynamic duo of trainer Ingrid Mason and jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr. Since the commencement of the season, the female phalanx has gone to battle with aplomb, scoring with virtually every type of horse at nearly everly level, including with Mason’s prized pupil – sprinting filly and Grade III Chicago Handicap runner-up Flower Spell.
“Rosie’s great. Everything I tell her to do she tries to do. We think a lot alike as far as what we think is best for the horses,” explained Mason. “She can get a horse’s head and get it to relax and take the pressure off it naturally with great hands. I can’t really explain her talents because they come from within. Every jockey has a talent to get something out of a horse and she’s just really good knowing where to place them and works with them individually.”
Since the beginning of the 2014 meet, the Mason-Homeister mayhem machine has scored at a 33 percent strike rate for 22 victories in 67 races – good for second (by only one victory) to the duo of Rivelli and journeyman E. T. Baird – and hit the board an excellent 67 percent of the time. Before the end of the meet, the two could easily take the lead for ‘top team’ with multiple collaborations throughout the final three cards.
“There’s a certain advantage that a woman sometimes has on a horse,” Mason continued. “Rosie has very intuitive talents and her sensitivity is heightened in a way that allows her to get to know the horses. Male jockeys also have other advantages that some women don’t, of course. It’s not how hard you ride a horse to get them to run fast. She knows the individual horses and figures out how to get the most run out of them.”
Mason is excited to move forward with Homeister, Jr. in the future, especially at Arlington meets in the future. “We make a great team, Rosie and I. She’s very good at communicating with horses and people – and I think that’s the key. I love working with her.”
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