ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois -- Creative Art, an 8-year-old gelding, and Shawn Davis, a 77-year-old human, make a good team. In the twilight of their careers – Creative Art as a racehorse, Davis as a trainer of racehorses – both are scaling surprising heights.
Davis, with half a year still to go, has stable earnings of a little more than $300,000, only $11,000 or so shy of a career-best total. He trains a horse named Chief Cicatriz who just won the Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs in a time so fast his Beyer Speed Figure, the summary measure of speed used by Daily Racing Form, was 110, among the highest numbers by any horse in North America this year.
Creative Art has followed similar trajectory to his trainer’s. The Illinois-bred made the 70th start of a long, winding career last weekend at Canterbury Park and won the $50,000 Dark Star Cup. He got a 90 Beyer, the highest of his career.
Creative Art was bred in Illinois by John Haran, who also owned and trained him at one point in time. A son of Haran’s stallion Shore Breeze, Creative Art was produced by the mare Creative Miss, by Creative. His career began mildly in 2013 with races in $15,000 maiden-claimers at Hawthorne, and Creative Art raced for a claiming price as low as $5,000 in October that year. His form improved considerably over the next several months, but the real halcyon days began when owner Bill Stiritz and trainer Scott Becker claimed him for $25,000 in September 2014: The next spring, Creative Art won the Robert Molaro Handicap, an Illinois-bred sprint stakes.
And that looked like the top of the mountain for Creative Art – until the last couple months.
Davis, a Montana native who still has a ranch there in Whitehall, has been training since 1991, mainly at western venues in Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona. Last summer he was at Prairie Meadows in Iowa, and Creative Art was, too. Davis claimed him for $7,500, ran him three times, and lost him for $10,000 at Turf Paradise last October to the huge, sprawling operation of trainer Robertino Diodoro. Diodoro ran him twice for a $16,000 tag at Turf Paradise and the second time Davis and co-owner Frank Bemis jumped in again.
It was $16,000 well spent. Creative Art already was in good form when he got to Canterbury late this spring but now he is on a three-race winning streak capped by the Dark Star, a race in which the Illinois-bred standout Devileye finished third.
“He’s changed a lot in the time we’ve had him. He’s kind of all business but he’s just a fun horse to be around,” Davis said. “He’s more personable now. He was kind of standoffish before, didn’t want your hands on him. When you went to the stall he’d go stand in the corner; he didn’t even want you picking up his feet. Now he likes the attention. I always watch him in the paddock and post parade, and his last few races he come with an attitude.”
Creative Art is eligible for $7,500 starter-allowance races through the end of 2018. At this rate his trainer might retire before he does.
Banks Bouncing Around
Chris Banks did not find himself with a whole lot of down time Thursday.
And by the end of the day he found himself as one of the only people to train a Thoroughbred and a Standardbred winner on the same day.
In the morning Banks drove to Arlington. There, he saddled the one Thoroughbred he trains, Sperling, to race in the Thursday opener. Sperling won, the first winner of Banks’s Thoroughbred training career.
The celebration was relatively brief. Then came another drive, 65 miles south to the Odds On Acres training center in Crete, and from there it was on to Hawthorne for Thursday night racing.
Vegas Bomb, one of three Standardbreds under his care, started in the sixth race at Hawthorne. She had trouble on the first turn, but there was no stopping the Banks train Thursday. Vegas Bomb won, too.
Banks’ father, Larry Banks, was a harness trainer and driver on the Chicago circuit, and Banks, 35, grew up in harness racing. He was 17 when he started training on his own, and like many Illinois harness horsemen, things have not been easy the last several years. Instead of leaving the playing field entirely, Banks decided to try a slightly different sport. He took out his Thoroughbred trainer’s license last fall and claimed Sperling for $5,000 in October at Hathorne.
“I knew she was a Polytrack horse, but I figured I could race here on turf, but the races kept coming off the turf,” Banks said. “I was committed to keeping her over the winter because she’s so good at Arlington. But she didn’t like the dirt at all. It’s not like harness racing. I found out the hard way.”
Sperling made her first start of 2018 on June 1, finishing second over her preferred Arlington synthetic surface. Thursday, she broke through with a half-length win.
Banks wants more. He said he plans to try to switch entirely from Standardbreds to Thoroughbreds over the next couple months. At the very last, that would mean less driving through Chicago summer traffic.
Last of the local Deville babies back Sunday
Speed Devil makes her 3-year-old debut in Sunday’s fifth race, a first-level female-restricted allowance also open to $75,000 claimers and carded for a mile on turf.
If the filly starts feeling anxious about returning to the races there is family right down the Arlington shed row of trainer Michele Boyce to sooth her. Speed Devil is by Brilliant Speed and out of the mare Deville. Deville’s 6-year-old offspring is the Boyce-trained mare Puntsville, her 4-yearr-old offspring the Boyce-trained Devileye.
Speed Devil showed plenty of promise in a three-start 2-year-old campaign and was especially impressive in her only turf start, winning a one-mile Hawthorne maiden race by five lengths.
Puntsville and Devileye left town last weekend to race in dirt-sprint stakes at Canterbury Park, and things went better for Puntsville than Devileye. Puntsville made the lead and won the Hoist Her Flag Stakes for the second year in a row, but Devileye had a difficult trip and was second in the Dark Star Cup. Another Boyce-trained Illinois-bred, Lovely Loyree, had a luckless journey in the $100,000 Lady Canterbury Stakes and finished fourth.
***There’s no stakes racing this weekend at Arlington but plenty next weekend: Million Preview Day is July 7.