ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois – Don Bentler saddled his first starter as a trainer in 1976. He ran his first horse at Arlington in 2002 and his most recent on Thursday. Bentler was headed south back to his Fairmount Park base early Thursday evening and so was the horse he sent out in the third race, Can’t Stop the Cat. The 2-year-old first-time starter had done the 77-year-old many-time trainer proud.
Bentler is a longtime resident of Cahokia, Illinois, not far from Fairmount. Most of the population there in addition to a good portion of the Fairmount backstretch plus the folks over at Gallagher Farms in Walnut Hill, where Can’t Stop the Cat was raised, apparently cashed a bet Thursday. Can’t Stop the Cat paid $7.40 winning an Illinois-bred maiden-special-weight sprint, a low number for a Fairmount shipper from a barn that hadn’t sent out a debut winner in more than five years.
Can’t Stop the Cat made $7.40 look generous, actually. The gelding was slow to get going in this 5 1/2-furlong Polytrack dash to the extent that jockey Julio Felix had to use his crop to motivate his mount less than a furlong into the race but by the far turn Can’t Stop the Cat had found his rhythm. Felix got caught four wide around the bend but that didn’t slow Can’t Stop the Cat’s momentum, and after cornering for home with the lead, he extended it all the way to the finish. Final margin: 13 ¾ lengths.
“I think he’s going to be something special,” Bentler said.
Bentler, through his wife Judy and in partnership with Steven Bush, bred and own Can’t Stop the Cat, a son of Run Away and Hide and Sir Catalack, by Sir Cat. Bentler also trained Sir Catalack, who won seven of 16 starts as a fringy statebred-restricted stakes horse and has foaled three previous horses to race. Can’t Stop the Cat was raised at Gallagher Farm east of Saint Louis and caught the eye enough as a yearling that, spotted cavorting in the fields, he was the subject of purchase offers.
“We told them no. We breed to race, and we’ve kept him,” said Bentler.
Most of Bentler’s 2,366 starters have come at Fairmount or Hawthorne; Thursday’s win was only his sixth at Arlington – not this year, but ever. Bentler is on his second stint as a horse trainer. His first came after a serious car accident forced him to stop working as a Saint Louis firefighter. That was in 1976. In 1985, burned out on the horses and winning few races, Bentler all but closed shop, working for years as a school district maintenance supervisor. He had four starters in 1986, then none again until 2001. He started back with plans to dabble in the sport with a horse or two. Now he has 10 and hopes the gelding who crushed his rivals Thursday can take him to the Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity this winter at Hawthorne.
“I’m not a young man,” Bentler said. “I’ve got 10 horses and I’m trying to have fun and enjoy whatever time I have left.”
Smila the latest for Robertson
A national racing radio host wanted to know about a first-time starting 2-year-old Sept. 15 at Arlington named Smila’ssenseofsnow. The host knew the name – a well-received book by Peter Hoeg turned into a well-received movie, a Danish murder-mystery thriller (the actual title, which doesn’t fit in the Jockey Club character limit for names, has a second ‘l’). Fine, but what was the name doing attached to a horse owned and trained by Hugh Robertson? Wasn’t Robertson a crusty Nebraska-born trainer, a decades-long veteran of the backstretch slog, the claiming game?
Yes, that’s Hugh Robertson, but anyone who has pried just a little beneath Robertson’s exterior realizes there’s plenty going on in the man’s head. So, no, it’s really no surprise he would name a horse after what he called “one of my favorite off-brand movies.”
There’s more to the story. Smila’ssenseofsnow has talent. Breaking from the rail last Saturday under Constantino Roman she went straight to the front and never looked back, winning an open 2-year-old maiden-special-weight race by four lengths while ridden out.
“Hopefully she’ll be all right. That was the first time we’ve ever let her run,” said Robertson.
Robertson paid all of $12,000 for Smila’ssenseofsnow at Keeneland’s September yearling auction in 2017. She was one of three yearlings he bought at the sale by Trappe Shot, who had been a popular sire when he first went to stud but was rejected after his expensive auction horses failed to produce on the track.
“That’s the kind of horses I buy. They all want the hot stallion. The horses by Trappe Shot that brought a lot of money the first two years didn’t do much, so no one wanted them,” Robertson said.
Trappe Shot’s two and three from the 2017 auction are turned out and out sick, respectively. Smila’ssenseofsnow hasn’t but a wrong foot forward yet and came out of her debut win like an old pro. But she still has a long way to go to come anywhere near the best Trappe Shot in the barn.
That would be Hotshot Anna, who was to leave Sunday from Arlington for Presque Isle Downs in western Pennsylvania, where she’ll be among the favorites Monday evening in the $400,000 Presque Isle Masters. Robertson paid $20,000 for Hotshot Anna at Keeneland in 2015 and she’s already run out close to $300,000.
“This filly’s a lot bigger and prettier than Hotshot Anna,” said Robertson. And has a more memorable name, too.
Streamline back to graded stakes
It looked earlier in the summer like this might be the end of the line for Streamline. A move to turf Aug. 3 at Arlington produced an overdue win following a pair of bad losses -- and a lifeline to extend her career.
Instead of packing off to the farm, Streamline, one of the most successful Illinois-breds of recent years, has gone back off to Kentucky. She starts Saturday at Churchill Downs in the Grade 3 Locust Grove Stakes, her connections hoping for cool weather.
“I think she just doesn’t like it real hot,” trainer Brian Williamson said, analyzing the mare’s early-summer trough. Streamline, too, is 6 going on 7 now with 26 starts behind her, a Grade 2 winner with a Grade 1 placing. Retirement to life as a broodmare is probably not far removed. “That’s the plan but that’s not written in stone. She’s acting like she’s a young horse again, bucking and playing, doing that kind of stuff. But she is getting older and it is getting tougher. She’s got some wear and tear.”
Williamson concedes a chance at $1 million in career earnings has exerted a pull. The problem is the milestone feels slightly too distant for this year: Streamline is $126,621 short.
It only feels like Streamline’s equine family has been linked to her human connections for a million years. Williamson is married to Lyda Williamson nee Vanier, son of Harvey and Nancy Vanier. Harvey has passed away, but Nancy is the breeder and co-owner of Streamline. Streamline is by the Vanier stallion, Straight Line, and out of their mare Love Handles. Love Handles is out of Hip Huggers, who is out of Hip, who is out of Parlor, who was bred in 1969 by Harvey Vanier.
Harvey Vanier was from Nebraska but started coming to Arlington the better part of a half-century ago. Harvey and Nancy moved into Fairberry Farm in Waterloo, Illinois in 1960. The place is still going.
Williamson, besides wondering how long Streamline will be around the track, wonders how long the Vanier family can stick it out in Illinois. Williamson will have eight stalls at Churchill this fall, the rest of his 36 active horses stabled at Hawthorne.
“The last year or two have been really hard trying to figure out what to do. Is this thing going to keep going in Illinois? It looked like it was going the wrong way, but this meet’s okay. You can make money here now with Illinois-breds,” said Williamson.
Especially Illinois-breds like Streamline.
***An item in this space Sept. 7 reported that the 2-year-old filly Thunderous Gem was in the process of being sold and was scheduled to leave the barn of trainer Justin Johns following her run in the Arlington-Washington Lassie. That sale, however, was never consummated, Hutch Holsapple said before the Lassie. Holsapple bought Thunderous Gem at auction and the filly campaigns for his wife, Krystle. Racing for the same connections as in her winning career debut, Thunderous Gem was a solid second Saturday in the Lassie.