March 30, 2011

Louisiana Derby Day

     The Fair Grounds Race Course is a venerable old facility. We have talked many times about the experience of being in the Big Easy for the biggest day in Louisiana thoroughbred racing.  Eclipse Sportswire photographer Bob Mayberger ventured to the oldest site for racing in the United States where meets are still held.

     It was a big day with Mission Impazible breaking through in the New Orleans Handicap and Pants On Fire stealing the Louisiana Derby. But, the biggest surrounded the rider for Pants On Fire, Rosie Napravnik. Stride LIVE featured her earlier in the year and she never stepped off the gas.

     Rosie closed out the first riding title for a female jockey in 139 seasons of racing at The Fair Grounds. Her 110 wins far outpaced the 2nd place rider Shaun Bridgmahon, who finished with 79.
     Take a look at our slideshow of some of the images we hope will bring Stride LIVE readers into the event and give you a flavor for the people, the venue and the event. 

Louisiana Derby Day from Stride LIVE on Vimeo.
Have a look behind the scenes of Louisiana Derby Day at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, Louisiana as shot by Eclipse Sportswire photographer Bob Mayberger.

March 28, 2011

Kentucky Confidential!!!

     The clock is ticking and there are only a few more major Kentucky Derby prep races to be run. Finding interesting insight into the Derby experience can be challenging. Yes, everyone has their Top 10 lists, but Derby is about more than just the horses.
     While we at Stride LIVE are out there trying to bring you much of this, there is another new venture that’s aims to bring you so far inside the Derby insanity one might think an owner’s or trainer’s license should be required. We should also mention that many of the same photographic providers for Stride LIVE are helping out with this new website – Kentucky Confidential.
     You really should check them out @  The best part of KYC is their funding concept. Unlike the current print magazine where you shell out a chunk of money and you might get four or five real stories for your $6 and the rest are ads, you decide how much the content is worth. That’s right – YOU DECIDE.
     Through an interesting website called (, the readers pledges money up front.  The founders of Kentucky Confidential have a number in mind that will fund all of the writers, editors, videographers and photographers.
     Having wandered out into the publishing world ourselves at Stride LIVE, we know how expensive it is to put out a quality product. Look at their product, look at their stable of writers. It is crazy good.
     Stride LIVE suggests you look at Kentucky Confidential and the pledge page at  If you like this idea and you like this content – please support it. We think this platform is a winner. It could be the prototype that finally gives thoroughbred racing fans an intimate look into the sport they love so much.
     Go here to support Kentucky Confidential - Also, be on the lookout for the announcement of a special Kentucky Derby experience sponsored by Kentucky Confidential and Eclipse Sportswire.

March 22, 2011

If you can't afford to take at least 4 bills to the track stay home!!!!

The title of this post was the anonymous response left to an early view of Rebel Stakes Day at Oaklawn Park.  The intention was always to update those photos with a much more in depth slide show of the entire scene.  Rebel Stakes Day is a big day for Arkansas racing, in fact the second biggest. And while Arkansas Derby Day is the big one, Rebel Stakes Day is always important. For Arkansans who love racing, it marks the end of winter and the beginning of Spring. There were many brutal days through this winter meet, many races cards canceled due to snow and Rebel Stakes Day was quite the departure.  With 70-degree weather and the apple blossoms starting to bud, it was a beautiful scene.

     Enter the response from an anonymous follower of Stride LIVE. Do hardcore race fans really believe that quote. We will repeat it: “If you can't afford to take at least 4 bills to the track stay home!!!!” In fairness, here is the full response: "The stands are full becuase nobody is betting. All those people and on track handle only averages 70-75 dollars per bettor. If you can't afford to take at least 4 bills to the track stay home !!!!"
     Ponder this quote for a minute.
     We at Stride LIVE believe quite the contrary. Racing needs more fans, not less. And for every heavy hitter who brings $1,000 to the races, if 50 more show up, betting their $50 and buying hot dogs and soda, which element has a better impact on racing? Here was our response:  “Respectfully, we at Stride have to disagree. Part of the allure of racing, especially during tough economic times, is that every person, no matter how deep their pockets, can be a fan. Look at the vast support of Seabiscuit and Secretariat as evidence of that. While you might need $400 or more to enjoy a day at the races, the folks who bring $50 or $75 have fun too and their contribution to racing should not be discounted.”
     Take a look at our video slideshow of the people, the racetrack and racing at Oaklawn. We welcome your opinion.

Rebel Stakes Day at Oaklawn Park from Stride LIVE on Vimeo.
It is the second biggest day of racing in Arkansas and 40,000 people showed up to celebrate great horse racing and the emergence into Spring from a brutal Winter.

March 21, 2011

The Next Seattle Slew?

Uncle Mo wins the Timely Writer (Stuart Browning/Eclipse Sportswire)

     Shortly after The Factor cruised home with a 6 ½-length win in the Rebel Stakes, the debate started all over the internet about whether he was the real deal.  The conversation then quickly devolved on places like Twitter into a vehement argument attacking the credentials of The Factor or Uncle Mo and just about every other Kentucky Derby contender.

Mucho Macho Man wins the Risen Star (Jonathan Bachman/ESW)
     At first glance, the resumes of both horses are solid. Uncle Mo is the reigning Horse of the Year in the Juvenile Division. The Factor set one track record and came within a breath of two others while increasing his distances this year.  Depending who the source is, they are likely to occupy the #1 and #2 spots in Derby Top Ten lists of most pundits.
     Then you have the rest of the top contenders in the likes of Mucho Macho Man, Soldat, Flashpoint, Anthony’s Cross, Riveting Reason Premier Pegasus and Stay Thirsty.  To parse out which horse is better this time of year is downright confusing.  Every horse is barely three years old – some a little more, some a little less. They are all developing at different rates and have the potential to be vastly different animals later in the Triple Crown trail.
The Factor wins the Rebel Stakes (Bob Mayberger/Eclipse Sportswire)
     Can anyone really prognosticate this, now?  Is there a point to doing it beyond having something to write?  The only real story is which twenty horses end up in the starting gate on May 7th.  If recent Derby’s have proven anything, the race is open to the best horse for that day, in those conditions, in a race that develops in that particular way.
     All one needs to do is look at Mine That Bird. He won, but it had little to do with the horse.  That was a superior ride, practically a theft, by Calvin Borel. Look at Lookin’ At Lucky last year.  Based on the rest of his three-year-old campaign and the trip he had in the Derby, it can easily be argued he was the best horse and should have won – but the inside post killed him. So, the best horse doesn’t always win. What happens if Uncle Mo gets the 1-box and The Factor gets the 20-box? What then?
     The part of all of this that should make race fans happy is that there is a debate. These are very nice horses that look to be peaking at the right time. They are running solid races in fast times.  Their performances are so outstanding many have even likened Uncle Mo to Seattle Slew. That is rarified air.
Stay Thirsty wins the Gotham Stakes (Sue Kawczynski/Eclipse Sportswire)
     As race fans look at what 2011 will hold, in a year without Zenyatta or Rachel, is it not comforting to know there just might be a big story brewing in the thoroughbred world? Maybe not a Triple Crown. Maybe a great rivalry. Maybe The Factor and Uncle Mo are BOTH that good? Maybe Premier Pegasus can run like his dad?
     At least people are talking, even fighting, to say how good these horses are. Racing needs animated discussion like this to invigorate the fan base, bring in new fans.  Let’s keep these non-fans talking. Maybe we can bring a few news fans into the sport wondering about Uncle Mo or The Factor or whoever. The debate is good.


March 19, 2011

Spring Has Arrived At Oaklawn Park

     On the day before the official start of Spring, the forces of nature served up 70-degree, partly cloudy weather for Rebel Stakes Day.  After suffering through a brutal winter, even in the normally temperate Hot Springs, more than 40,000 fans showed up to join in the party and catch some great racing.
     Here are some early scenes from the track. 


March 17, 2011

Afleet Alex Babies Take Same Route To Kentucky As Sire

Archarcharch winning the Southwest Stakes (Jimmy Jones/Eclipse Sportswire)
The Rebel Is This Week's Only Points Race In The Road To The Roses Contest 
     Elite Alex and Sway Away are looking to take the same route to the Kentucky Derby as their sire in this Saturday's Rebel Stakes.  Afleet Alex didn't win the Rebel or the Derby, but he did win the Arkansas Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in his three-year-old campaign.  They aim to one better than dad.     
     Sway Away looks to stretch out the sprinter's speed he showed last out in the San Vicente, when he closed from last-to-first only to be beaten 3/4-length by The Factor.  The third-place finisher in the San Vicente - Premier Pegasus. The Factor also looks to make the 7-furlong stretch out Saturday in the Rebel.
Elite Alex before the Southwest (Jimmy Jones/ESW)
     Elite Alex’s goal is to turn the tables on Southwest Stakes winner Archarcharch.  Elite Alex broke from the 9-post in the one mile race, got parked wide, ended up fanned 6-wide and still managed to close on Archarcharch to finish third a couple of lengths back.
     Also of note in the race are JP’s Gusto, Alternation and Caleb’s Posse.  This is a stacked field of Derby contenders.  The Stride LIVE entry in the Road to the Roses managed to work its way up to 4th place and we have Elite Alex and Sway Away going.  We are hoping Oaklawn is one of those tracks where if daddy did well, so do his babies.
The Factor winning the San Vicente (Charles Pravata/Eclipse Sportswire)
     The rest of the Top 10 in Stride LIVE’s Road to the Roses Fantasy League are below. Keith Cooper and Gark Schneekloth still have a stranglehold on the top spots, Hello Race Fans’ and Green But Game’s Dana Byerly made a very nice move to get closer to the leaders.
     If you want to handicap the race yourself, here is the link to free past performances provided by Oaklawn Park -


League Rank    Score    Stable Name    Player    Hometown
1                       90    Zain-in-my-heart Stable    Keith Cooper    cassatt
2                       87    Bourbon Bliss Barn    Gary Schneekloth    Alexandria
3                       79    Zain-In-My-Heart-2    Keith Cooper    cassatt
4                       78    RubberBandINDaStretch    Stride LIVE    Parts Unknown
5                       76    Kelso's Kennel    Gary Schneekloth    Alexandria
6                       74    Jell-ooooooo    Ashley Bolsei    LeRoy
7                       72    Chop 'im up at Charlie's    charles pravata    arcadia
8                       71    CMCC    Barry Mitchell    Inglewood
9                       69    ChiTown to Derby #2    Thomas Haydock    Mundelein
10                     67    Superterrific Stable    dana byerly    New York

March 15, 2011

Carrying On The Mr. Prospector Line - Myung Kwon Cho, Part 2

     After Part One of this story, we really wanted to know about Myung Kwon Cho. We wanted to know the real story, not just the few tidbits that were out there in Google-land. So, we reached out to his son Raxon and found something we feel Stride LIVE readers will enjoy.

story by Scott Serio
photos by Cynthia Lum, Ed Van Meter and Charles Pravata
      Fusaichi Pegasus was the last son the legendary sire and racehorse Mr. Prospector to win the Kentucky Derby. South Korean emigrant, horse breeder, trainer and owner Myung Kwon Cho is counting on that bloodline to deliver him his first Derby win.
     From his small stable of six horses, Cho has two Kentucky Derby contenders in Premier Pegasus and Riveting Reason and they are both offspring of Mr. Prospector. Speaking through his 17-year-old son Raxon Cho, Myung Kwon said, “I chose Fusaichi Pegasus to breed to Squall Linda mainly for the history of him being one of the last of Mr. Prospector’s children,” and added, “Plus, the price was right.”
     The journey to the 2011 Kentucky Derby trail for Cho is marked with an almost stunning level of success in picking the right horses, by a man who arrived in the United States in 1978 having never heard of the first jewel of the Triple Crown. In fact, he had never even seen a horse race.
     Myung Kwon Cho was born in North Korea, but grew up in Seoul.  He left South Korea and came to the United States for the promise of a better life. He had no family when he arrived, only a dream. His first job was painting apartments. Cho’s current business is exporting clothing back to his homeland. It started as an endeavor to help a friend and turned into a company that now ships clothing around the world.  While his business ventures grew, Cho met his wife Lydia and started a family.  They have five children.
     Then there is the horse racing.  Cho went to see his first races at Santa Anita with a group of friends.  According to Raxon, “He thought a horse race would be more like the equestrian competitions, where they are jumping over obstacles.” But that wasn’t the case. “Once he saw that they were actually racing, he got really interested in the sport.”
     In 1992, Cho finally jumped into horse racing as an owner with the purchase of a $16,000 claimer Zonar. What has followed for the man who has never ridden a horse is nothing short of remarkable.
     At first, Cho was just an owner, but now he has a trainer’s license and is involved in breeding. In spite of the shipping export business, which is a full-time family business, Cho thinks he probably spends more time with horse racing. According to Raxon, “For 15 years my father would go to the racetrack at four in morning until 10 am. Then he would go to his business and spend the rest of the day there.”  But that wasn’t the end of the day. “He believes that he may spend more time with horse racing mainly because before and after work he is thinking and working horses.”
     Cho’s dedication has led to success.  He claimed Video Ranger for $30,000 and managed to pull a fourth place finish in the 1990 Kentucky Derby out of him. In 1996, Cho’s first entrant into the Breeders Cup was Critical Factor. This $30,000 Keeneland purchase went on to finish third in the Juvenile. Then there was Nationalore.  He finished third in the 1997 Breeders Cup Juvenile as a maiden and ran ninth in the 1998 Kentucky Derby.
     That Derby was the first memory of horse racing for Raxon Cho. “I was so young I only remember Kentucky being very cold and wet from the rain,” said Raxon, the second youngest of the elder Cho’s children.
     Now seventeen, Raxon is intimately involved in his father’s racing operation and hopes to become even more involved.
     “I guess I'm the one to be the most involved, because I was drawn to racing more because my father took me to the races all the time when I was younger,” said Raxon. “ Where as my older siblings weren't as into it. I was getting into it. My dad was picking up in racing with horses like Double Galore, then Street Hero.”

     Street Hero was the first true Kentucky Derby hopeful for Myung Kwon Cho. He won the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at two and finished third to eventual Champion Two Year Old Midshipman in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. But, for all the promise, it was short-lived. Street Hero exited the race with an injury and was retired to stud at Vinery's Lexington operation.
     Raxon has a front row seat with his father for this Road to the Roses. According to Raxon, “I think its an amazing feeling to have two horses that could run in the Derby. Its always been my dream, from a horse racing stand point, to go to the Derby,” And as for his father, Raxon added, “It has always been his dream to win the derby and the Triple Crown and this year with two horses it makes that dream closer to achieve.”
    Riveting Reason and Premier Pegasus are solid contenders, but making it to the Churchill Downs with a healthy horse and winning the Kentucky Derby is a formidable task. When those two minutes of insanity are over – either you have the ultimate prize in your grasp or you just have hopes for the future. Raxon Cho has a good grasp on the concept.
     “I plan to be very involved, I actually think I could get my trainers license by the end of the year,” said Raxon. “I do see myself going to college. I will probably be just a trainer for my dad until he decides that I should do all the other stuff, like owning and breeding. I am learning all tools of the trade but concentrating on training right now.”
     When given the option of choosing a role model to emulate, Raxon’s choice is simple. “There is really no one else besides my father. Maybe Bob Baffert just because of the work he has done with horse racing, but other than him, I really have to say my father,” he said.
     And if things don’t work out this year, the Cho’s have another prospect on the horizon for 2013.  They are still making plans for the yearling. “We have some ideas for name's but nothing yet. Probably something like (something) Hero. He looks just like his full-brother Street Hero. We hope that he runs just well, if not better.”
    Myung Kwon Cho’s success is not a solitary venture, he is aided by two assistant trainers, Maria Ayala and Rafael Martinez. When commenting on how integral a part of the operation Ayala is, he said, “My father relies on her quite a bit because she is his eyes. My dad cannot be at the track 24/7 because of work.” Raxon added, “He trusts that she will tell him everything and listen to whatever he asks her to do.”
     All of the trust and long hours seem to have paid dividends in 2011.  First, there was the Robert B. Lewis on February 12, 2011. Riveting Reason fought Anthony’s Cross to the wire, only to lose by a nose.  The stretch drive was stirring and provided one of the more hotly contested prep races of the Derby season.
     This weekend Premier Pegasus, or PrePeg to the Cho’s, re-emerged on the Derby Trail. He avenged his third place finish in the February 20th edition of the San Vicente with a 7 ¾-length romp in the San Felipe. PrePeg chased early fractions of 21.75, 44.58 and 1:08.98 and sprinted clear to finish the 1 1/16-miles in 1:41.23 over a fast track.
     The next stop for the Cho’s is the Santa Anita Derby, but they think their two sons of Mr. Prospector will carry them much further, hopefully all the way to the infield at Churchill Downs standing next to one of them – wearing a blanket of roses. That is the plan at least.

March 13, 2011

Who Is Myung Kwon Cho?

Riveting Reason (6) battles Anthony's Cross to the wire in the Robert B. Lewis (Cynthia Lum/Eclipse Sportswire)
     With just under two months to go in the 2011 Kentucky Derby trail, which trainer has the most formidable contenders? Some might think that is a slam-dunk and say Todd Pletcher, but Los Angeles-based businessman and trainer Myung Kwon Cho makes for a pretty good argument.

     Pletcher has Uncle Mo, but Cho has Riveting Reason (seen above losing to Anthony's Cross by nose) and Premier Pegasus.  Pegasus is a homebred for Cho, who also owns him, and like Riveting Reason is out of a dam who has already produced a stakes winner.

(Cynthia Lum/Eclipse Sportswire)
     Cho, 68, lives in California with his wife Lydia and has five children.  He arrived in the United States in 1978 and built up a clothing export business which still ships to Asia from the downtown plant is Los Angeles.

      But when the racing bug hits, who can stop it? Cho got involved with racing and by the mid '90s was training, according to Breeders' Cup records. He enjoyed early success with a $40,000 claimer Video Ranger. He has taken other modest sales purchases and has had likewise success.

     The aforementioned Video Ranger ended up fourth in the Kentucky Derby.  Cho then took Critical Factor, a $30,000 Keeneland purchase, and finished third with him in the 1996 Breeders Cup Juvenile. Next up for Cho was another show finish in the Juvenile in 1997 with maiden Nationalore.

    But it wasn't until 2008 when Cho would again start to make noise on the Derby Trail with Street Hero. But Street Hero's party was short-lived.  The Grade One winner was injured after finishing third to Midshipman in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Premier Pegasus winning the San Felipe (Cynthia Lum/Eclipse Sportswire)
      It is in Street Hero's dam Squall Linda where you can find Myung Kwon Cho's link to the 2011 Kentucky Derby trail. Premier Pegasus is also out of Squall Linda, and that makes him Street Hero's half-brother.

       Cho's other Derby contender - Riveting Reason.  His stretch drive duel with Anthony's Cross in this year's Robert B. Lewis is arguably the most stirring battle yet between Derby contenders. As with Premier Pegasus, Riveting Reason's sire is also Fusaichi Pegasus.

(Charles Pravata/Eclipse Sportswire)
     To say Myung Kwon Cho likes the Mr. Prospector sire line provided by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus is an understatement.  The stallion stands at Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky. If Riverting Reason or Premier Pegasus make it to the first Saturday in May and win, it will be both their sire's and Cho's first Derby win.

      Whether it is $25,000 Keeneland purchase Riveting Reason or his homebred Premier Pegasus, Myung Kwon Cho looks as if he is ready to have an impact on the rest of the 2011 Derby Trail.  And, if this Derby Trail doesn't work out for Cho, there is already another Squall Linda baby out there for Cho. This one a yearling and a full brother to Street Hero.

     You can look for his signature purple and gold silks next in the Santa Anita Derby.
(CORRECTION: Mr. Cho's wife's first name is Lydia, not Lygia, as compiled from another source)

March 6, 2011

Catching Up With Larry Jones and Karyn Wittek

story by Scott Serio
photos by Jimmy Jones, except as noted   

 As trainers Larry Jones and Karyn Wittek gallop their horses around the Oaklawn Park oval, one would be hard-pressed to find a link between the veteran Jones and the freshman Wittek.     

     But on the backstretch, kinships often are formed during the pre-dawn light through passing conversations. It was through those conversations, that Jones and Wittek formed a bond, discussing the sport they love and the connections they make with their horses by galloping them each morning. Without this, the pair would never have crossed paths.
  Jones saddled his first winner before Wittek was born. He was raised in the rural setting of Hopkinsville, KY.and Wittek grew up on Staten Island in the shadow of Manhattan. But, the road that led them to Hot Springs, Arkansas has provided each of them with memorable experiences and valuable lessons.
     Originally a commercial farmer, Larry Jones turned to horses in the 1970’s when the economy was hurting.  Jones grew up riding horses and, while he never really thought he would end up in thoroughbred racing, he did.
      Wittek aspires to be like Jones. But, Jones, in his typical self-deprecating manner advises the young trainer to aim her sights a little higher.  It was Wittek’s father, Dennis, who actually first exposed his daughter to racing with regular trips to Monmouth Park. Wittek says, “We used to have picnics, but I would always make him take me to the paddock. He would go bet and I would hang out with the ponies.” Wittek now owns a couple of horses with her father.
     She can still remember rooting for Alysheba to win the Kentucky Derby with her father when she was three.  It is her first memory of horse racing and, to this day, the 1988 Horse of the Year is still her favorite. She even had Alysheba written on the back of her shirt when she ran track in high school. “My coach would wait at the turn when I ran the ¼ mile and call me Alysheba as I was running by.”
     Six years before Alysheba, Jones saddled his first winner at Ellis Park. Since then he Jones has trained, and also owned, many horses with names familiar to fans of thoroughbred racing – Hard Spun, Just Jenda, Honest Man, Friesan Fire, Old Fashioned, Wildcat Bettie B, Island Sand, Ruby's Reception, Josh's Madelyn, Solar Flare, Proud Spell and the ill-fated Eight Belles were all trained by Jones.

     Jones’ career has not been without challenges. The man with the signature white cowboy hat was on top of the world after Eight Belles finished second to Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby on May 3, 2008. He had won the Kentucky Oaks the day before with Proud Spell and had just missed completing an Oaks-Derby double with his other talented filly.
     As many who know racing will tell you, sometimes those peaks of happiness can be derailed all too quickly. Eight Belles suffered a catastrophic injury on the track immediately after the finish.  There were public demonstrations, there was public outcry and Jones was vilified – all of it undeservedly so.  The filly was in top condition and the accident had nothing to do with Jones’ care according to many experts, including On Call Kentucky Derby Veterinarian Larry Bramlage.
(Joan Fairman Kanes/Eclipse Sportswire)
     With his wife Cindy, an excellent horsewoman in her own right, supporting him, Jones fought through the media frenzy and continued to train and do what he loved. Jones managed to secure an Eclipse Award for Proud Spell as the champion three-year-old filly.
     The furor that followed the 2008 Kentucky Derby subsided and Larry Jones was back on the 2009 Kentucky Derby trail. Suddenly, Jones made an announcement that was a complete head-scratcher for everyone who knew him – he was retiring. On November 7, 2009 he did just that. And while Jones was retiring, Wittek’s career was just getting on a roll.
     She wanted to become a jockey, but there were a few factors lined up against her. She didn’t ride her first horse until visiting a dude ranch when she was seven. She took her first lesson at twelve. “I never had my own horse, I took lessons, but I never competed, “ says Wittek, who added, “I was so jealous of those kids who had their own horses.” And then there was biology – Wittek was just entirely too tall to become a jockey.
     Undeterred, she looked for a way to become more involved in horse racing.  That path led her to the State University of New York-Cobleskill (SUNY for short)for a major in Equine Management. For those of you Googling it, the town of Cobleskill is midway between Cooperstown and Albany along I-88.
     Your next question is “they have equine management there?”  It is a good question. “It was only me and one other girl,” says Wittek, “They just tied us in with the Equine Science majors.” Among other notable alumni from the SUNY-Cobleskill Equine Management program – Trainer Chad Brown.
     But going to Cobleskill paid off for Wittek. “My college instructor got us internships at Saratoga.” Without the move, Wittek believes she would have never made it this far. “If I didn’t do it, I would have never gotten to the backstretch. When I graduated I went straight to work walking hots and exercising horses for Todd Pletcher.”
     With that open door, Wittek made the most of the opportunity. Since then she has worked and learned from many notable trainers like Michael Matz, Mike Maker and even Carl Nafzger when he had Street Sense.
     While Wittek was learning from Nafzger on the Triple Crown trail with Street Sense, Jones was in the middle of a wonderful run of back-to-back 2nd-place finishes in the Derby with Hard Spun and Eight Belles.  Not a win, but still a great showing.  His success made his retirement all the more puzzling.
     Jones didn’t really know why he was retiring, but for the man who made a living out of reading horses, it was his ability to read his own body that may have saved his life.  In a phrase many horseman use to describe their horses, Jones “just wasn’t right” and he knew it.
Larry Jones catches a nap during Preakness Week in 2009. (Wendy Uzelac/Eclipse Sportswire)
     When he was diagnosed with aluminum poisoning and the doctor told him the symptoms, it all made perfect sense. Short-term memory loss, bad decision-making and even the early onset of dementia, were all things Jones was experiencing and now he knew why. For the record, it is not known whether aluminum poisoning causes Alzheimer’s or just facilitates its onset, but the two are definitely connected.
Larry Jones exercises Friesan Fire in 2009. (Eclipse Sportswire File)
     Jones was able to experience the domestic life during retirement. He bought a house in Maryland, close to the Fair Hill Training Center and Delaware Park. For the first time in a long time, Jones wasn’t always on the road. When contemplating his retirement Jones said, “That rocker (on the front porch) felt pretty good for about three weeks, then that horse got to feeling a lot better.”
     As Jones started his recovery, he also considered what life after “retirement” would be like. Things had grown so fast for Cindy and him. At the point he decided to un-retire and return to training in 2011, he wanted things to be different.
     He says the size of their stable is down from its peak. “It gives us a little more individual time with each horse,” and Jones added, “With the quality of the horses we have, its great to work with these kinds of horses.”
     It might take Jones a little longer to get ready for his day than it used to, but getting loosened up to gallop his own horses is important for him. It is that daily routine which has Jones crossing the path of young trainers like Karyn Wittek.
     Maybe in Wittek, Jones sees a little bit of himself. He says, “She does good, you can tell she has a good background, and her work ethic is the same way,” and Jones adds, “she is out there, she works, she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and put her backbone in it.”
     On a recent race day, it was Wittek who decided to go to a spot in the grandstand to her first-time starter at a TV where many trainers go. She was nervous. “I was worried I had him at the wrong distance,” she said, “since I sent him long first time, or for the wrong price, what if he got beat 30 lengths?”   She watched the race with Jones. After the first led most of the way, but faded to fifth, Jones told her she was doing a great job and she just needed to keep at it.
     The fact a veteran trainer like Larry Jones notices her is gratifying for Wittek. She adds what she can pick up from trainers like Jones to the things she has incorporated into her repertoire from trainers to whom she has been exposed.
    “All of them were very hands on people, in the barn every day,” she said. And with regards to Todd Pletcher she said, “He has hundreds of horses, but when he showed up, he knew exactly what was going on with each horse, he never missed a beat.”
     When Wittek set out as a freshman trainer in 2010, she didn’t have hundreds of horses. She had two.  Her first win came in August at River Downs in the likes of the four-year-old Dead Serious. “A friend got him for free from a rescue and he was doing so well on the farm she thought she would race him.“  Dead Serious finished second five times in a row. She said, “I was dying to get my first win. Then he broke his maiden and so did I.”
     Now she is at Oaklawn Park for her first full meet with a string of 13 horses and she has tallied two wins and hit the board numerous times.  “Owner Billy Hays gave me an opportunity and it has worked so far,” she said, “Hopefully, I can keep that going and pick up some owners of my own.”
     Even with the early successes, Wittek’s aspirations are grounded. She doesn’t want a huge stable. “I would like to have a nice string of maybe 30-50 horses.” When asked if winning the Kentucky Derby is included in her goals, she said, “I would just like to be successful, go see my family in New York, go back to my farm in Kentucky and maybe go to some place warm like Florida in the winter with my horses, that would be nice.”
     And with this opportunity comes a whole new set of challenges. Wittek feels it is important to stick with basics. “I love the rush of breezing horses, but being out there on them is so important. You feel every little thing with your horse and you know right away if something isn’t right.”
     Wittek recognizes that as a female trainer there may be a few competitors our there who will be her detractor. “Sure some people don’t respect you,” she says, but adds, “But the more experienced trainers, people like Larry Jones, they show a lot more respect and are much more willing to help you.”
     They are unlikely horse training contemporaries at first glance, but they both get up at 4 a.m. every day. They both gallop their own horses.
     “You don’t get Sundays off, you always worry about your horses.”
     Karyn Wittek said it, but, it could just as easily have been said by Larry Jones.  

March 5, 2011

Stay Thirsty Scores In Gotham

     Uncle Mo's understudy Stay Thirsty made the most of his chance to play the leading role by stealing the show in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct Race Track.  Stay Thirsty took command easily and remained in front for the win, but he lugged in during the stretch drive triggering an objection. Maybe he just wanted to add a little drama for his time in the spotlight. In the end, trainer Todd Pletcher gave a fist pump as the son of Bernardini's first graded stakes win was upheld and owner Mike Repole was able to return to the winner's circle once again.

     Next up for Mike Repole's Kentucky Derby hopefuls will be the 2011 debut of Uncle Mo on March 12th in the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park. If all goes well with that start, Repole Stables will be loaded for the Derby. Stay Thirsty's win jumped him into the Top 10 in grades stakes earnings.

     It is unclear where this win will rank for Stay Thirsty when compared to other Derby preps.  This was his first start since finishing fifth in the 2010 Breeders Cup Juvenile, so it was expected he might not be completely fit. The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile race of 1:44.78 wasn't stunning either. Then there is the aforementioned lugging in.

     For Mike Repole, it is one win down in one debut. According to an interview with the The Bloodhorse, trainer Todd Pletcher was ecstatic and thought Stay Thirsty ran huge off the layoff. Now Uncle Mo will return to the spotlight and it is his turn to deliver.
CAPTIONS: Top, Mike Repole leads Stay Thirsty to the winner's circle (Sue Kawczynski/Eclipse Sportswire); Left, Todd Pletcher gives a fist pump as stewards leave the order of finish unchanged (Eric Kalet/Eclipse Sportswire); Right, Ramon Dominguez talks with owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher while awaiting the outcome of an objection (Eric Kalet/Eclipse Sportswire); Bottom, Ramon Dominguez looks under his arm and sees daylight as Stay Thirsty cruises home with a 3-length win in the Gotham Stakes (Sue Kawczynski/Eclipse Sportswire)