ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois – No one was keeping up with the Davis’s during the middle of the Arlington racing program on Saturday, June 16.
Herschell Davis, a 28-year veteran of the starting-gate crew, as usual helped load the horses into their starting stalls and send them on their racing way. His wife, the trainer Liane Davis, saddled Lemon Drop Twist to win in the fifth race. Lemon Drop Twist barely had gotten back at the barn when Hot Dad, trained by Chris Davis – son of Liane and Herschell – won the sixth race.
“It’s fun to high-five each other in the tunnel,” Liane Davis said.
Chris Davis, who grew up around the racetrack, has been out on his own as a head trainer for less than two years, and he has his full string stabled at Arlington for the first time this summer. Things have gone well with four wins (two by Hot Dad) from his first 14 starters this Arlington season.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Chris,” Liane Davis said, but the son also should be proud of the mother. Liane Davis is running just a five-horse stable at Arlington but already that quintet has yielded five wins from 10 starts. Davis went 6-45 during the 2017 Arlington meet and 7-34 in 2015, and she obviously is on track to surpass those win totals despite fewer opportunities. The stable would fit neatly into contemporary corporate America - doing less with more.
“For whatever reason the horses have bene lucky enough to get in the right spots,” said Davis. “They’ve just been training so good. I think Florida had a lot to do with it.”
Davis said she wintered her stock at the Nelson Jones training center near Ocala, Florida for the first time this year. Her horses were in barn 4; stabled in barn 24 was trainer Jim Gulick, whose Arlington starters this meet have gone 12-5-1-2. Must be something in the water at the Jones training center.
“It really gives the horses a chance to recharge. It’s so quiet down there. You can kick them outside in the afternoon,” Davis said.
Davis was born and raised in Park Forest, Illinois. No one in her immediate family had a thing to do with horseracing, but she got into riding as a kid, and while singing for a band in her youth found work galloping at the track to supplement her income. Then, racing itself became her income. Davis saddled her first starters in 1991, caught on, and developed a solid client base into the late 1990s, a period of relative health in Illinois racing. She delved into racing-related television in the mid-aughts and during 2006 and 2007 worked as Arlington’s paddock host and analyst while continuing to train. Davis said she might have moved full-time into television work had the chance been presented her, but it wasn’t, and she didn’t.
Now, despite having parted ways with her principal owner, Steve Lewis, Davis has a good chance to win more races this year than during any season since 1998. She even has a stable star, Western Elegance, an energetic 8-year-old who won a turf allowance race June 2 (earning a career-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure) after starting his campaign with a very respectable third-place finish in the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup. Western Elegance is just the second graded-stakes starter of Davis’ long career, and he probably is headed back to another such race, the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap on July 7.
“The question will be the distance, and it will be interesting to see if he can get a mile and three-sixteenths,” said Davis.
It will also be interesting to see how long Davis’s small stable can ride this hot streak.
Strollin the Bayou, Chief Oakie Dokie Win Illinois Stakes
Strollin the Bayou and Chief Oakie Dokie came out of the Arlington barn of trainer Chris Block to win Illinois-bred stakes races Saturday. Chief Oakie Dokie overcame a difficult trip to win the Springfield Stakes; Strollin the Bayou flew home in the Purple Violet to cut down the previously unbeaten Jean Elizabeth.
Block only officially trains Strollin the Bayou, but he oversees the day to day care of Chief Oakie Dokie for Arthur Coontz. Coontz, 32, is tied up much of the week managing his family’s farm on the outskirts of Springfield, Illinois. Four days a week he also delivers solid oak furniture for a local company.
“I do a lot of time up and down I-55,” Coontz said.
Coontz is the co-breeder, co-owner, and official trainer of Chief Oakie Dokie, and Chief Oakie Dokie is the first winner he’s trained.
“We’re just thrilled to death. It’s a dream come true to breed, own and train an Illinois-bred stakes winner,” Coontz said.
Coontz got interested in breeding and showing cattle before catching the racing bug as a 16-year-old. He got his first racetrack experience at Fairmount Park, then went to work for Block in 2005 after earning an associates degree. Coontz started as a hot-walker and groom before becoming an assistant trainer, and one of the Block horses under his watch was Giant Oak, the Illinois-bred Grade 1 winner who sired Chief Oakie Dokie before he prematurely died at a Kentucky farm.
Several years ago, Coontz decided he would try his hand at breeding: He acquired two mares, one of whom was named Lookn Even Finer. She’d been claimed for $5,000 before Coontz purchased her privately to retire and breed, and her second foal is Chief Oakie Dokie.
Coontz bred and owns the gelding with his father, David Coontz, and Danny Coker. The partners have yet to map out summer plans for Chief Oakie Dokie, but they’ve already gotten one thrill.
Meanwhile, the other Saturday stakes-winner out of the Block barn, Strollin the Bayou, ran a Polytrack mile nearly a second faster than did Chief Oakie Dokie. Block raced her in blinkers for the first time on Saturday and had been working with the filly – through jockey Carlos Marquez – to get her to relax off the pace. Mission accomplished. Strollin the Bayou rated far behind pace-setting Jean Elizabeth in the Purple Violet before mowing her down with an impressive stretch run.
“To me, the real big factor was that’s the first time I’ve seen her finish on her correct lead,” said Block, who tied Harry Trotsek as the all-time-leading Arlington stakes-winning trainer with 44.
Block said there are no concrete plans for Strollin the Bayou, who is campaigned by the Moabo Stable LLC. The filly is by Stroll and out of Bayou Boots, by Storm Boot, and was bred in Illinois by Barney and Anne Gallagher. She ran the best race of her career on Saturday.
Three Siblings, Two in One Race, All Start Over the Weekend
It was a busy racing week at Arlington for horses who were foaled by a mare named Rooney Doodle.
On Friday, in an Illinois-bred allowance race, Unscathed, produced by Rooney Doodle in 2013, led from start to finish., while rallying from last in the same race was What’s Up Dude, Rooney Doodle’s foal of 2014. A day later, Rooney Doodle’s 2015 model, Jean Elizabeth, set the pace and finished second in the Purple Violet Stakes.
Rooney Doodle, by Lit de Justice, was unplaced during a one-start racing career but has been an excellent broodmare. Her other two foals to race are three-time winner Hollarforadollar and 11-time winner Nevrmesswithrichie. Larry Rivelli – co-breeder of all these horses with Richard Ravin -- trains Jean Elizabeth and Unscathed and trained What’s Up Dude before he was claimed by trainer Mark Criste. Unscathed, by Unusual Heat, already has three wins at this Arlington meet.