ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois -- It seemed like a curiosity for a couple years.
It was 2017, really, that all these sons and daughters by a stallion no one had heard of, Forest Attack, started showing up at Arlington. The horses, inevitably, were bred by Donald McCrosky, owned by Lois McCrosky, and trained by James Childers.
This summer, it became more than a curiosity. When Omar Attack won the first race Sept. 12 at Arlington, it was the ninth win of the Arlington meeting for Childers and eighth for Lois McCrosky, who is tied for sixth in the owner standings this meet. Childers had a career mark of 5-57 at Arlington before winning nine races this season alone.
“This is definitely the best year we’ve had,” said Donald McCrosky.
That’s Donald McCrosky the breeder – and the engine of this operation. Dr. Donald McCrosky is more appropriate. McCrosky, 75, is an equine vet who has been practicing on the Fairmount Park backstretch for the better part of 30 years. He’s dabbled for a long time in horse ownership but has never operated on volume like this, and certainly not with a bunch of homebreds.
Forest Attack, the stallion who has sired all the McCrosky runners, stands at the McCrosky property in Waterloo, Illinois, though he does not stand stud in the traditional sense. Forest Attack, with only a couple exceptions, has bred only mares owned by McCrosky, and McCrosky acquired the stallion in somewhat unusual fashion: Basically, he was given the horse.
“It’s kind of a long story,” McCrosky said.
Forest Attack, by Forestry out of a mare named Joy Valley, had plenty of pedigree and sold for $550,000 as a yearling. He didn’t pan out on the racetrack for his original owners but wound up a minor stakes-winner for the Scarlet Stable. After the horse was retired following a 2010 campaign, Chris Barney, one of Scarlet Stable’s two principals, asked McCrosky to stand the horse at stud. Forest Attack bred three or four horses, all owned by Barney or McCrosky, his first couple years, after which Barney, McCrosky said, offered half-ownership of Forest Attack to McCrosky in exchange for a reduction in fees. The following year, McCrosky said, Barney decided to get out and gifted Forest Attack to McCrosky.
“So, I ended up with the horse. Now, things were so bad in Illinois – and are still bad – and everyone wanted to get rid of their mares. I started taking some of them on. Reproduction, that’s my veterinary specialty, so I started breeding and came up with a bunch of babies,” McCrosky said.
McCrosky now has a broodmare band numbering 20, all of whom, he said, were given to him. A free stud, free mares, and out of the blue, a blossoming racing operation. In addition to the eight winners at Arlington, a fairly shocking number given the absence of success this stable found in recent years, the stable has four wins at Fairmount.
“I don’t know,” Childers, the trainer, bluntly replied when asked how things had picked up so quickly this summer.
“These Forest Attacks, they like the Polytrack, they like the grass. We’ve got a real good team, too – five people up there at Arlington with 26 head of horses, and 20 more down at Fairmount,” said Childers.
That’s a stable of considerable size for Childers, who said there is a large crop of yearlings awaiting training next year, too. Childers, 68, has been training horses for … for a long time. “Early 70s, Waterford Park,” he said of his start in the game. At Waterford, now called Mountaineer Park, Childers worked the gate before taking out his training license. Childers was born in Corinth, Mississippi – “A hole in the wall in a mud strip,” he said – but grew up mainly in the Southwest.
“I didn’t come from a money family or anything like that, but somebody told me I couldn’t train horses, so I decided to do it,” he said.
There have been stops at the old Beulah Park, Canterbury Park, defunct Great Lakes Downs, Penn National, Prairie Meadows. Childers career peaked in 1998 and 1999 when he won, respectively, 14 and 17 races per year. He won 12 in 2011, then went 20-342 between 2012 and 2016 before catching on with McCrosky.
“Horse racing has been a lot of fun,” he said. “Really, the only reason I took this job is somebody told me that [Forest Attack] would never throw a baby that could run.”
It’s a little hard to believe, but yes – they’re running.
Lipstick to Keeneland
Mom’s Red Lipstick, the 2-year-old filly who ran her record to two wins from two starts with a victory Sept. 7 in the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes, will drop into allowance competition for her next start, trainer Chris Block said.
The target race is a non-winners-of-three dirt-sprint allowance race during mid-October at Keeneland. Mom’s Red Lipstick, a Bob Lothenbach homebred by the young stallion Race Day, won her career debut over five furlongs on Polytrack by five lengths before taking the Lassie by three quarters of a length.
“I wouldn’t want to stretch her out at two turns on dirt right now,” Block said. “Maybe at some point I’ll give it a shot.”
Block suggested Mom’s Red Lipstick has succeeded despite being a relatively immature filly. “She makes the job pretty easy, but at some point, I’d like to give her some time to grow into herself.”
Block said he’ll have eight stalls at the Keeneland meet and could ship horses back and forth from his Hawthorne base as needed. He said he hopes to run the veteran Illinois-bred Cammack, who ran poorly last weekend at Kentucky Downs, in an Arlington turf race on the closing day card. Plans are uncertain for Joyful Night, the Illinois-bred 3-year-old filly who has won four races this Arlington meet. Block tried to get her in a recent Arlington allowance race that failed to attract sufficient entries to make it onto a race card.
Jockey's Title Race
With two programs left in the 2019 meeting, Jose Valdivia Jr. maintained a tenuous lead in the jockey standings, 93 to 88, over Mitchell Murrill. Valdivia has been leading rider at Arlington since he came here from Florida in 2015 but Murrill has made inroads this season, helped in part by riding 64 more horses than Murrill through the Sept. 14 race card.