April 30, opening day of the Arlington 2021 race meet, Cammack won the sixth race, a 5-2 shot finishing solidly to beat just five foes in a turf-route race open to $16,000 starter-allowance horses or $25,000 claimers. Just another race, sure, but Cammack is not just another horse.
The gelding is an 11-year-old, and with that recent victory, he now has won a race at Arlington six years in a row, yet Cammack’s ties reach even deeper into the past than that. The gelding made his career debut eight summers ago, in June 2013, and scored a first-out victory back in an entirely different era of Chicago racing.
“He really is an amazing horse,” said ITHA board member Chris Block, who has trained Cammack (pronounced KAY-mac) throughout his long career. Block’s family, racing and breeding as Team Block, bred this ageless wonder mating the great stallion Giant’s Causeway to their mare, Fort Pond, who in 2001 produced subsequent multiple graded-stakes winner For Prado, who himself would become a sire.
An outsider looking at Cammack’s past performances this past winter might have wondered if night was falling over his racing career. As remarkable as Cammack’s sheer longevity on the track was his ability to hold surprisingly high-level form through advancing racehorse age; even during 2020, at age 10, he raced competitively for a $62,500 claiming tag, just a couple notches below stakes level. Last December, coming back from a layoff of several months, Cammack finished seventh over the Tampa Bay Down grass course while racing for a $32,000 claiming price. In January, Block dropped his horse down to a $16,000 claimer, by far the lowest level at which he’d ever raced, and Cammack still could only finish fourth. In March, still at Tampa, Cammack came home a one-paced sixth. Block and his father, David Block, began to talk about retirement.
“Knock on wood, he’s been a sound horse, so when you think about retirement, it’s about desire: Do they still have the desire to do it,” Block said. “He still loves to go out there and compete. I’ve been around him long enough I’d know when he doesn’t have that anymore. I told my dad, ‘We got to get him back to Chicago and see what happens before we decide anything.’”
In the April 30 race, Cammack appeared to be racing with only modest interest past the three-eighths pole and headed into the stretch. “I didn’t know if he was going to kick in. All of a sudden, he just leveled off and I said, ‘That’s him,’” Block said.
The old gelding still has his spark. Block, though, still is waiting on a much younger horse, Charlie’s Penny, to return to racing shape. Three-year-old Charlie’s Penny, bred and owned by Bob Lothenbach, won the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds by more than three lengths, but before she could run back Feb. 13 in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes there, Charlie’s Penny was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in her shin.
“It’s just a slow healing process,” Block said of Charlie’s Penny, a sister to 2019 Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Mom’s Red Lipstick. “It’s probably another 30 or 45 day before we can get her under tack.”
Future unclear, Boyce looks forward, at least, to Friday
Friday’s racing program almost feels like the old Arlington, the one that existed before the COVID-19 shutdown of 2020, before parent company Churchill Downs Inc. decided to pull the plug on Arlington’s long existence.
Illinois-breds these days are in short supply but there are good ones in race 2, an Illinois-bred Polytrack sprint, and in race 7, an open turf-route allowance race.
Owner, breeder, and longtime trainer Michele Boyce has retired several of the Illinois-bred that found so much success over the last several years, horses like seven-time stakes-winner Puntsville, whose racing career ended in 2020 and who now is in foal to Lookin at Lucky. But Puntsville’s 7-year-old brother, Devileye, is among the entrants in race 2.
The Boyce-trained stakes-winner Kate the Great has produced three stakes-winners during a successful broodmare career – My Mertie, Katie the Lady, and Blue Sky Kowboy, the latter part of the field for race 7, Blue Sky Kowboy’s first start at age 7. Blue Sky Kowboy, by Kodiak Kowboy, has won six races from 27 starts while earning a quarter-million dollars, yet his career might have been much fuller simply with better luck. Blue Sky Kowboy from Day 1 has been a deep, one-run closer, the sort of horse with no early speed and thus especially subject to the fickle winds of fortune. Blue Sky Kowboy tends to avoid traffic trouble because he generally rallies wide, but he has been victimized over and over by races run at a slow tempo. A slow pace in a turf route race leaves the front-runners full of energy for a sprint home, making the task of the later movers like Blue Sky Kowboy more difficult. In fact, 13 of the 18 turf races in Blow Sky Kowboy’s career have unfolded at a pace that universally would be called “slow.”
“So many things have to go right for this horse,” Boyce said.
Blue Sky Kowboy, shockingly, has found a race with some actual pace in it Friday. But among those he has to beat is a younger stable-mate, 4-year-old Boyce-trained Summer Assault, who won the Mystic Lake Derby last summer and, unlike Blue Sky Kowboy, has a 2021 start behind him.
As for Devileye, his career, too, has turned out less than it might have been. Debuting in 2016, Devileye, by Indygo Shiner, won his first five starts, two of them stakes, and after 10 races sported a gaudy record of 7-3-0. Since that point, Devileye has gone only 3-1-4 from 14 starts, and after hitting a graded-stakes-class 100 Beyer Speed Figure winning the 2018 Addison Cammack Stakes over Arlington Polytrack, his favorite surface, Devileye has never earned a Beyer as high as 90.
“All I know is he’s training very, very well for this, probably better than last year and even better than the year before,” Boyce said. “I would hope he gets a good shot at it.”
Four horses entered Friday, but as things currently stand, just four more months left in the history of a racing venue Boyce first came to during the mid-1970s while still married to the late trainer, Neil Boyce. A mutuel-clerk strike at Golden Gate fields near San Francisco, Michele Boyce recalled, sent the operations seeking different summer quarters; the Boyce’s found a stable circuit in Chicago.
“To look at this beautiful, beautiful track – it’s hard to imagine it not being there,” Boyce said. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I’m not looking to move to another state, but I might have to. We’re just taking it one day at a time for now, see what develops. I’m still hoping for Arlington to be resurrected, that there’s still is some life left.”