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Boyce's Barn / Prado's Sweet Ride / No Turf in Sight

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Illinois Veteran Chicago trainer Michele Boyce had a very nice group of Illinois-bred stakes horses in her barn during the 2018 Arlington season. In fact, she still has them.

The Boyce operation takes it easy with 2-year-olds in order to focus on having horses that last – and boy, have these horses lasted.

If names like Lovely Loyree, Puntsville, Devileye, Blue Sky Kowboy, and My Mertie don’t ring a bell, well, you haven’t been paying attention to Chicago racing in recent years. The only Illinois-bred stakes stalwart in the Boyce operation unlikely to return to action in 2019 is 9-year-old Super Soldier, whom Boyce said probably will be retired.

Lovely Loyree’s the senior member of the group in regular training at Arlington, and she’s back working steadily for her first start as an 8-year-old. “She’s coming along nicely, getting ready to run,” said Boyce. When and where Lovely Loyree does get to run is a different question. Even after five seasons of racing Lovely Loyree (a daughter of Cactus Ridge and Lil Cora Tee) has made only 25 starts, and she has a penchant for being entered in turf races that get rained off grass, which she needs for her best performances. The light schedule, however, has led to longevity, and just last summer Lovely Loyree, who races for Feel the Thunder Stable and Cherrywood Racing, scored one of her best wins capturing the $100,000 Indiana General Assembly Stakes at Indiana Grand.

Lovely Loyree is an eight-time winner, which puts her considerably behind 7-year-old Puntsville, who has crossed the wire first 13 times in 25 starts. Where Lovely Loyree excels racing two turns on grass, Puntsville is a sprinter, though she can handle dirt, synthetic surfaces, and even turf, in a pinch. Puntsville, bred and owned by Steve and Diane Holland’s S.D. Brilie L.P., has really bulked up since she first hit the Arlington track as a 2-year-old of 2014, but her form has remained as solid as ever and over the course of her last two seasons racing, Puntsville (by Cashel Castle out of the wonderfully productive mare, Deville) has six wins from nine starts. Boyce would love to run her at Arlington but lacking an allowance-race option Puntsville could make her first start of the season May 23 at Prairie Meadows in the Prairie Rose Stakes.

Devileye, Puntsville’s 5-year-old half-brother by Indygo Shiner, is farther behind schedule than his sister owing to a relatively minor foot problem that interrupted his training just as he’d arrived at Boyce’s barn ready for his first breeze of the year. Devileye returned to training May 14 and won’t be fit to race until sometime this summer, at which point Boyce and the Hollands must figure out which route to take with their horse. Devileye has shown vast versatility while going 8-4-0 from 13 starts, running to form on dirt and synthetics, long and short. Boyce thinks he’s best sprinting, but it’s always good to have options, and Devileye provides them.

My Mertie ran a little flat making her first start of the season last weekend, while Blue Sky Kowboy’s intended 2019 debut Friday fell victim to wet weather, Boyce scratching him when his intended race was rained off turf.

It won’t only be old-timers populating the Boyce barn, and by late summer, Boyce could have about 10 two-year-olds under her care. Many are part of the same families from which these older horses hail, and Boyce, in some cases, will be training the fourth generation of a female line. She herself still keeps a couple broodmares and continues, despite the ill-health of the state racing industry, to keep producing Illinois-breds.

“I foaled them in Illinois again this year and intend to keep doing it as long as there’s some viability,” said Boyce.

Some of that viability, at some point, will be lost when Boyce’s crew of aging stakes horses finally leave the track. For now, they keep racing.

Prado’s Sweet Ride onto next phase

Prado’s Sweet Ride, one of the better Illinois-breds of recent seasons, was retired from racing over the winter, is in foal to Speightstown, and will be sold at the Keeneland November breeding-stock auction by owners Darrell and Sadie Brommer.

Chris Block, who trained Prado’s Sweet Ride for much of her career (sending her to other trainers for winter campaigns in Louisiana), said Prado’s Sweet Ride is being boarded at a Kentucky farm in preparation for her sale this fall. The Brommers, longtime Illinois racing supporters, bred Prado’s Sweet Ride through a mating of Fort Prado, who Block trained, and the General Meeting mare, Excellent Idea.

Through five years of racing, Prado’s Sweet Ride compiled a record of 32-8-5-7 with earnings of $559,414. She was a Grade 3 winner on turf and scored her most important win last fall when she captured the Grade 2 Falls City, a nine-furlong dirt race at Churchill Downs.

No turf in sight

Arlington director of Chris Polzin’s dark humor has come in handy as the track waits to run it’s first turf race of the season. Grass racing, as has been the case every day so far this meet, was abandoned on a chilly, wet Friday after another round of storms swept through the area Thursday night.

“More rain tonight and cold as hell. It’ll probably frost,” Polzin dead-panned.

Grass racing Saturday, May 18 was a 100-1 shot at best, and with more rain forecast next week, there’s no end in sight to the off-turf cards this meet.

“The course is pretty well drenched right now,” Polzin said. Former Arlington racing executive Frank Gabriel “used to not card turf races until June. Maybe that’s what we’re going to have to do. All we can do is wait for it to dry out a little bit.”