ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois -- By trainer Scott Becker’s well established baseline this has been a slow and somewhat disappointing summer at the races. But now it is a memorable one, too.
When D’Rapper, an old hand in the Becker barn, won Aug. 28 at Fairmount Park it marked the 1,000th time a Becker-trained horse had visited the winner’s circle.
A lot of trainers have won 1,000 races. The 50th-best training win total of all time is more than 2,500. But Becker got his thousand in short order. Midway through 2009 he took over as the de facto private trainer for the breeder and owner, William Stiritz. It’s one of the plum jobs in all of Illinois and Becker ran with it. “We’ve been winning 100-and-some a year for a while now,” he said.
Yep. Becker and Stiritz, who has owned Fairmount Park, his home track, since 2000, hit 100 wins for the first time in 2012, when Becker notched 115 winners. That number rose to 118, then 120, and a whopping 158 in 2015, the peak year for the operation. Becker won 120 just last year, but in this, his milestone season, the barn seems unlikely to make even the 100-win mark.
Through racing on Thursday, Becker had 52 winners on the year, and his Arlington win total, the 2018 meet in deep stretch, stood at just 10, less than half his standard total. Becker said Stiritz has roughly the same number of horses this year, but that many of those horses aren’t getting a chance to race.
“I can’t get the horses in,” said Becker, citing the proliferation of claiming races with multiple conditions that rule the current racing landscape. Becker said his many open claiming horses just can’t get into suitable spots this summer.
His string at Fairmount Park, which housed a large number of the stable’s 28 two-year-olds, also got hit with an untimely respiratory virus that set back his babies. “They got snotty and I just couldn’t do a lot with them,” Becker said.
But Becker said his stable appears to have gotten back on stride in recent weeks. He hopes to start as many 2-year-olds as he can at the Hawthorne meet, and plans are in the works to winter for the first time at Gulfstream Park.
And Becker already has a win since D’Rapper came home first – a start on his second thousand.
Desani’s Chance a most unusual maiden
Year-long layoffs for racehorses happen regularly. Two moderate set-backs in a row, a fracture that requires month of quiet time to heal – next thing you know, a year has gone by.
Occasionally, scanning past performances, you will find a horse returning from a break of more than two years. Gotta be a story there, you figure.
A three-year break? The local newspaper might be calling.
A horse named Desani’s Chance has blown the layoff model to bits.
When he raced July 20 at Arlington it marked Desani’s Chance’s first trip to the post since August 2011 – a layoff of just less than seven years. Desani’s Chance is a 10-year-old. Still a maiden, but two races into his crazy comeback far from hapless out on the track.
A competitive fourth in his first race back, Desani’s Chance finished second on August 9, and he will try to score a maiden win – a long, long time coming – in the seventh race Sunday at Arlington.
Patti Miller trains Desani’s Chance, an Illinois-bred son of Leroidesanimaux and Mary Linoa, for Nancy Susmarski. Miller was stabled in the same barn as Terry Stufflebean, Desani’s Chance’s original trainer, when the horse was at Arlington during the 2011 meeting.
“I got to know Nancy, the owner, and I knew the horse had some talent,” said Miller.
Desani’s Chance came close to winning a maiden race in 2011, running pretty fast in so doing, but strained a tendon, a compromising injury that requires a long recovery period. “They really took their time with him, brought him back -- and he strained the other tendon,” Miller said.
Undaunted – or, perhaps, daunted but dogged – Susmarski sent her horse to the Rood and Riddle clinic in Kentucky for stem cell therapy on the second injured tendon. This time, Desani’s Chance got even more time. In fact, when Susmarski showed up at Miller’s barn last July, telling her that Desani’s Chance might be on the way back to racing, Miller didn’t realize at first the horse already was a 9-year-old.
“I told Nancy that I didn’t want to take her money, that this horse wasn’t going to make it. I told her to take him to Monique Cameron and let him ride him around and see what happened,” said Miller.
Cameron, a former racetrack trainer, does layups and off-track training at a Chicago-area farm, and after working with Desani’s Chance for a few months, she called Miller with surprising news: The horse was thriving and ready to breeze.
It was November, no time to bring a 9-year-old Illinois maiden back to the racetrack, and Miller deferred things until the spring, but with Susmarski still set on a return to the races early this year, Desani’s Chance came into Miller’s barn at Hawthorne in March.
Of course, the first appearance of Desani’s Chance in the entries, in June this Arlington meet, did not escape notice. Groups and individuals contacted the track expressing their concern for the gelding’s welfare. Understandable from the outside looking in, yet unable to account for the fact Miller takes excellent care of her horses – pampers them, some might even say.
But Desani’s Chance did not get to make that first start back. The morning of his intended race his groom found traces of mucus in the horse’s water bucket. The mucus got worse, Desani’s Chance was found to have a fever, and he was diagnosed with a sinus infection.
That, in the grand scheme of the gelding’s career, scarcely rose to the level of speedbump. Two starts into the thing, Desani’s Chance’s old injuries aren’t troubling him. If that changes, his career will end again – for good.
“I told Nancy we’d take it day by day, and any sign of anything and he’s done,” said Miller, and so far, this ancient maiden is still going.
Good wins for Illinois-breds
Crafty’s Way did it again.
The mare who came into the 2018 Arlington meet a 22-race maiden has turned into a veritable win machine. On Aug. 26 the Illinois-bred won an open first-level allowance race, her third win from five starts during the Arlington season. Crafty’s Way is trained by Brian Williamson for her breeders, Virginia and Rudy Tarra. She’s a 5-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway and Crafty Oak, making her a fully sister to the late Grade 1-winning stallion, Giant Oak.
There were other good Illinois-bred winners during the Arlington racing week. On Aug. 24 the venerable Cammack scored a high-end turf allowance victory, the first win of his 8-year-old season, when he beat Kentucky shipper Zulu Alpha by a neck. It was the 12th career win for Cammack, trained by Chris Block for Team Block, the family partnership that bred Cammack. Cammack also is by Giant’s Causeway and is a son of Fort Pond, making him a brother to the graded-stakes-winning sire, Fort Prado.
On Aug. 25, Jean Elizabeth won her third race of the Arlington season when she trounced a field of Illinois-bred Polytrack sprinters. Larry Rivelli trains Jean Elizabeth, co-owns her, and was one of her breeders. Jean Elizabeth is a 3-year-old daughter of Adios Charlie and the Lit de Justice mare Rooney Doodle, and it was a good 24 hours for Rooney Doodle. The afternoon before, her New York-bred 2-year-old, the Rivelli-trained Dugout, won the $194,000 Funny Cide Stakes at Saratoga.
Prado’s Sweet Ride to Kentucky, will be scratched Sunday at Arlington
Prado’s Sweet Ride, in the deep twilight of a long racing career, was on her way to Kentucky Downs from Arlington on Friday, trainer Chris Block said, and will run Saturday in a rich stakes race over that European-style course. Prado’s Sweet Ride as entered in a Sunday allowance race at Arlington only as a fail-safe option but will be scratched from that race, according to her trainer.
The 6-year-old Illinois-bred mare, bred and owned by Darrell and Sadie Brommer, is scheduled to be retired to broodmare duty once her 2018 racing season is complete.