The phone in David Nunn’s pocket is ringing like crazy these days.These things happen when you win your first graded stakes race on one of the biggest racing days of the year in New York.
It’s also pretty easy to fall behind on the calls when you’ve got seven siblings, nearly all of them involved with horses in one way or another. They know of the struggles, the bad breaks, the tough beats.
Friends are coming out of the woodwork, too, calling to congratulate Withgreatpleasure’s victory in last Saturday’s Ruffian Handicap, a Grade 2 race for older females on the Wood Memorial Stakes undercard. Nunn knocked off fillies and mares from the barns of Motion, Dutrow, Hushion, and others in the Ruffian. Two days later he shared some air time on a radio show with guys in or destined for the Hall of Fame.
“I did an interview on the Steve Byk show [At the Races with Steve Byk on Sirius XM],” Nunn said Tuesday, the day before he celebrated his 44th birthday. “Todd Pletcher was on there. Nick Zito was on there. Here I am on there, little David Nunn. I listen to the show all the time. Never in a million years did I think I’d be on there.
“I’ve got more friends that I ever thought. Winning a Grade 2 changed everything. I was second, third, but nobody ever called me then. You win a Grade 2 on the biggest day of the year at Aqueduct and man, it’s unbelievable.”
Nunn’s unbelievable ride started when Withgreatpleasure, a 5-year-old mare by Hold That Tiger, was moved to his barn after a short stint in Southern California by her owners and breeders Valerie and David Blethen.
Withgreatpleasure started her career in Kentucky with William “Buff” Bradley before going west to join Robert Troeger’s barn. She was 1-for-6 before Nunn got his hands on her. She is 7-for-31 since, with 11 seconds and three thirds, and a bankroll of nearly $600,000.
What made the difference?
Change of scenery, with a twist.
Withgreatpleasure thrives at the Overbrook Training Center in Colts Neck, N.J., where Nunn is based with his small string of 14 horses. He owns about a third of those horses and he gets on them all. Riding your own gives you a big edge, says Nunn, who knows what the good ones feel like.
“I galloped Formal Gold, galloped Red Ransom as a baby, so I’ve been around some great horses,” said Nunn. “But as far as training I’ve never had anything near close to this caliber. I’ve had a lot of claimers, played the claiming game, and never had anything close to her.
“I feel very lucky to have her. She was out in California but they were having trouble getting races to go. She broke her maiden but couldn’t get an a-other-than to go. So they decided to send her east with more opportunity here in the Mid-Atlantic region. We thought she was a nice filly, but she’s surpassed all my wildest dreams.”
Withgreatpleasure made an immediate impact, winning a couple allowances and placing in five stakes, including two graded races in 2011. She won her first stakes in the Stonewall Farm Ocala Unbridled Belle Stakes last season at Delaware Park and ended the second with three straight runner-up finishes in Mid-Atlantic stakes.
The victory in the Ruffian was her second of the season, following a score in a handicap at Charles Town Races. She’s run at nine tracks since joining Nunn’s barn and rarely runs a bad one.
“She’s a tough cookie and has more frequent flier miles than Johnny Velazquez,” Nunn said. “We had her stabled at Monmouth for a while but it didn’t pan out. She was miserable. We got her to the farm in late fall last year and you can see her form cycle turn big time. We got her off the track and back to the training center and she just took off.”
“She loves grass and lovers her peppermints. At Monmouth with the races going on every day she was too high strung, never relaxed. At the farm it’s quiet and she can go out and graze in the afternoon and not be on a set schedule. I can change it up, turn her out.”
Overbrook is also home to Nunn’s twin brother and trainer Douglas Nunn, and fellow conditioners Willard Thompson and Bruce Alexander among others. It is conveniently located just about six miles from Monmouth and in close proximity to other tracks in the region.
Which of those tracks Withgreatpleasure will show up at next isn’t known just yet.
Nunn hoped the give the mare a fourth day of walking the shed, but planned to send her back to Overbrook’s half-mile track Wednesday. After that he’ll do what he always does to pick her races.
“Right now I’m still trying to enjoy the moment,” he said. “She’s the kind of filly that tells me where and when. The New York race was last minute. Literally last minute. There’s a few opportunities if I want to aim high, a few races on the undercard at the Derby or Oaks. Or I might stay local for a nice race at the end of May at Monmouth [the May 26 Monmouth Beach Stakes]. That’s probably more realistic.”
ARCHIVE ALERT: While combing through some old files we found this one of the Grade 2 stakes-winning trainer David Nunn in the saddle at the Little Everglades Steeplechase in 2006. Nunn booted home Eskimo Passion in a $10,000 Florida-bred flat race. Tod Marks photo.