CHICAGO – Boyce and Block – two of the better-known trainers on the Chicago Thoroughbred racing circuit. Their horses ran one-two last weekend in the Illini Princess Stakes over the Hawthorne turf course, and both barns run Illinois-breds in the turf stake race Oct. 15 at Hawthorne.
Michele Boyce, recovering from a nasty bout of the flu, sends out Readthecliffnotes. Chris Block, coming off a very good summer of racing, runs the favorite Saturday in the $75,000 The Pizza Man, Another Mystery.
Readthecliffnotes hasn’t raced since he won the 2021 The Pizza Man a year ago when the stake was rained from grass onto dirt. Another Mystery, since Readthecliffnote’s last start, has won a Grade 3 turf stake in Texas and nearly won two recent 1 1/2-mile grass stakes in Virginia and Kentucky. Those divergent paths are a pretty good representation of how things have gone for these two outfits during the bleak Chicago racing landscape of 2022.
Boyce, who has been training in Chicago for decades and has become an Illinois owner and breeder over time, stocks her stable primarily with Illinois homebreds. With Arlington out of the picture this year owing to Churchill Downs Incorporated’s icy-hearted closing of one of America’s iconic racetracks, and the Hawthorne spring meet ending in June, Boyce chose to take stalls at Horseshoe Indianapolis. She set up shop in the spring. The place does have a Chicago feel. Former Arlington racing secretary Chris Polzin serves in the same capacity in Indiana, where many of his former Arlington staff also work. Arlington announcer John Dooley calls the races. But this was nothing like an Arlington summer for Boyce.
“Thankfully I’m out of there. It was not a good decision to go, really. You need Indiana-breds. I didn’t know it would be so hard to get races to go. And it rains there so frequently, my turf horses kept getting rained off. It was not a good summer, but live and learn,” Boyce said.
You can see Boyce’s lack of opportunities through the absence of races for horses like Readthecliffnotes. The 7-year-old gelding, owned by Boyce’s Cherrywood Racing Stable, Terry Biondo, and Laura Donohoe, is a better horse on dirt than turf. Boyce is downplaying his chances in The Pizza Man if the race stays on grass, but the gelding hasn’t started in 50 ½ weeks. He needs to run.
Same thing happened last week in the Illini Princess with the good 4-year-old filly turf horse Katie M’Lady, owned by Cherrywood and Oak Rock Racing. Katie M’Lady, whose dam and second dam Boyce also trained, raced for the first time in exactly one year. She was pushed into a very fast turf-route pace and valiantly held second as the Block-trained Trail Ridge Road whipped past her in the final furlong.
“There’s another race in the new [condition] book for her,” said Boyce. “I’m praying it goes.”
Chris Block, whose family partnership, Team Block -- headed by Chris’ father, David -- chose to move his stable to summer quarters at Colonial Downs in Virginia. That worked better than Indiana. Colonial cards mainly turf races; Block has a lot of turf horses. And the number of races restricted to horses bred or raised in Virginia is limited.
“The horses came out of Virginia in good shape and have been doing really good,” Block said.
Block has 13 winners since Hawthorne closed its spring meet on June 25, and in stake races during the period, his runners have gone 11-2-2-3. Another Mystery was beaten a neck and a nose in the Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs, a race worth nearly $700,000, and has shown himself this year to be among the better long-distance turf horses in North America – not bad for an Illinois homebred.
Another Mystery is by turf influence Temple City and is out of Ioya Two, a Grade 3-winning turf mare for the Blocks in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Ioya Two surely is one of the best Illinois broodmares ever. She produced two other graded-stake winners, Ioya Bigtime and Amazing Results, as well as stakes-winners I O Ireland and Mavericking. Another Mystery was entered in the Sycamore Stakes on Friday at Keeneland, but the Blocks opted to keep the gelding home at Hawthorne.
There are other hot horses in the Block barn on Hawthorne’s backstretch. Oeuvre, a 3-year-old Illinois-bred Shackleford filly bred and owned by Richard Perkins, has won five out of six starts this year. She could race in an Illinois stake at Hawthorne or an allowance race at Keeneland later this month. Also headed back to Keeneland is Knockyoursocksoff, a 2-year-old Kitten’s Joy filly owned by Town and Country Racing who finished a strong second there Oct. 7 in the Grade 3 Jessamine Stakes. Knockyoursocksoff blew the start and had no chance to catch a winner who coasted on an easy lead, but she finished well enough that Block would like to take her back for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
We mustn’t forget Cammack, who began his racing career on June 1, 2013, and starts as the favorite in the first race Saturday, a $10,000 turf-route claimer. At age 12, Cammack, a brother of the stallion Fort Prado, still has spark and still is owned and trained by the folks who bred and raised him.
Boyce has a second horse entered Saturday, an Illinois homebred filly named Journeyist owned by Steve and Diane Holland’s S D Brilie. Boyce thinks she’ll need a race – the filly hasn’t started since December.
Things should look up for Boyce and other displaced Illinois racing folk with Hawthorne open for training all winter and racing in 2023 through Labor Day.
“It’s better,” said Boyce, “but then you get to the time of year when it’s hard to go anyplace.”
Two Emmys getting downtime
Two Emmys, winner of the last Arlington Million (which was renamed the Mr. D Stakes and worth a half-million bucks in 2021), is getting some turnout time after what amounted to a lost summer.
Two Emmys last raced at Hawthorne, winning the Outbound Ike Stakes on June 25 by three lengths over some capable horses. His majority owner and trainer, Hugh Robertson, the guy who picked him out of Keeneland’s September yearling sale in 2017 for $4,500, sent Two Emmys east to stable at Delaware Park with his son, trainer Mac Robertson. When the younger Robertson went to run Two Emmys in a stake race at Monmouth Park a couple months ago, New Jersey racing officials refused to license him. Back at Delaware, Two Emmys was ready to run in a turf stake, but heavy rain forced a move to dirt, and Two Emmys never did get in an East Coast start.
That means Two Emmys won’t race again until he’s a 7-year-old – which should be just fine. The slight gelding is by English Channel, whose progeny don’t usually get good until they’re at least 5, exactly when Two Emmys hit his stride. Besides the Mr. D, where he held off the Chad Brown-trained behemoth Domestic Spending, Two Emmys annexed the $300,000 Muniz Memorial this past March at Fair Grounds. A return to that race seems like a reasonable goal – though Hugh would never say it. “One race at a time,” is the mantra he trains by. ***Three cheers for the Hawthorne racing office (and to Hawthorne horsemen!) for getting 84 entries on the eight-race card of Oct. 15. That’s an average of more than 10 per race, and the races are almost all deep and exceedingly competitive. The program is one of the most appealing in North America for gamblers who are paying attention – and here’s hoping they are.