Phil Schoenthal was in need of a new truck. He was also in need of a two-turn race to see if Miss Behaviour, a homebred Jump Start filly he trains for Cal MacWilliam and Neil Teitelbaum, could handle a slightly longer distance than she'd run in her first four starts.
He got both, thanks to the timing of Saturday's $500,000 Delta Downs Princess Stakes.
"We're here, got here last night," Schoenthal said Wednesday afternoon from Vinton, Louisiana, a long way from home base at Bowie in Maryland. Schoenthal and Miss Behaviour, winner of the Grade 2 Matron Stakes in late September at Belmont Park, made the approximately 1,300-mile trek in a white Ford 6.7L pickup that he bought just for the two-day trip that included an overnight stop in southeastern Tennessee.
"I bought a truck for the trip," Schoenthal said. "I had an older diesel and knew it was on the last legs, so I bought a newer truck, just to cover myself. The trip was relatively easy. We stayed over outside Chattanooga last night, at a little farm, and basically drove 10 hours each day to get here."
Here is of course Delta Downs, a racino with a 6-furlong racetrack that annually hosts some of racing's elite horses and horsemen for the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot for 2-year-olds and Delta Princess for 2-year-old fillies. The surrounding area and racetrack itself will never be confused for say Belmont Park, where Schoenthal started Miss Behaviour in her last two starts, but it has attracted horses trained by such nationally known names as Mark Casse, Bret Calhoun, Doug O'Neill, Ken McPeek, and Tom Amoss for the two Grade 3 stakes.
"It reminds me a lot of Charles Town, except it's in the middle of nowhere," Schoenthal said with a laugh. "There's a Sonic, a Burger King, a grocery store and that's it. Charles Town is a metropolis compared to this place. I was looking forward to having some fun while I was here.
"This is my first time here and I'll tell you, everybody here has been tremendously nice. I don't know if that's how it is in Louisiana or if it's because I've got a horse in a big race. Either way, they've been helpful, gracious, very nice."
The field for the 1-mile Princess, run a sixteenth shorter than the Jackpot, drew three fillies who made their last start in Kentucky, one from California, two from Louisiana and one from New York, that being Miss Behaviour.
Schoenthal picked the Princess not because he was anxious to plunk down some cash for his new ride, but to give the Pennsylvania-bred filly a test running longer than she's run before. She won her first three starts, a 5-furlong state-bred maiden at Parx, the 6-furlong Sorority at Monmouth and the 6-furlong Matron at Belmont. Miss Behaviour lost for the first time last time out, finishing a close second as the odds-on favorite in the 6 1/2-furlong Sharp Cat on closing day at Belmont.
The Matron win came at the expense of highly regarded Saratoga maiden winners Sweet Whiskey, Gracer, Court Dancer and Ocean Boulevard. Wins like that immediately trigger thoughts of bigger prizes, namely the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. The filly's owners and breeders were interested. Schoenthal was not.
"After the Matron victory I think they would have liked to go to the Breeders' Cup," Schoenthal said. "I pretty much talked them out of it and stand by that decision still. I just didn't think it was the right thing for the horse, to go to California, run off Lasix and going two turns for the first time. Then after watching the race, seeing the speed-biased racetrack, they kind of felt sorry for themselves for at least not going to see if the belonged with the best horses in the country.
"This was really a nice alternative to that. We can come down here and feel like we're running against good horses for good money, but maybe dodging some of the better ones in the country. It's a seven-horse field for $500,000, you can't sneeze at that."
Schoenthal also can't sneeze at the fact Miss Behaviour is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Princess.
Miss Behaviour will need a top effort against the small and select field she'll face. The first two at the finish of Churchill's My Trusty Cat - Bahnah and Synapse - Grade 2 Sorrento winner and Juvenile Fillies ninth-place finisher Concave figure to be the chief competition.
Bahnah, the diminuitive Elusive Quality filly who dead-heated for victory in the Grade 3 Schuylerville at Saratoga, was disqualified and placed fifth in the My Trusty Cat. She gets a new rider as Rosie Napravnik takes over for Corey Lanerie.
Miss Behaviour also gets a new pilot with Schoenthal's go-to man Sheldon Russell back healthy. Trainer and jockey will make their Louisiana debut in the Princess.
"Somebody told me they made us the morning-line favorite and now I'm a little more nervous than I would have been," Schoenthal said. "You spend your whole life working to have the favorite in a half-million-dollar race, and here I am. It's almost surreal and I don't believe it. Of course next week I'll be back to work in the same old routine. Right now it's fun, I'm trying to enjoy it and not take it for granted."
Post time for the Princess is 4:43 p.m. ET and it goes as race 6, one before the Jackpot at 5:15 p.m. The 1 1/16-mile Jackpot drew a field of 10, led by 5-2 morning-line choice Coastline for Casse and 3-1 second choice Rise Up for Amoss.
Coastline comes off a win over a good field in the 1-mile Street Sense Stakes on the "Stars of Tomorrow" program that opened the Churchill fall meeting. He defeated Ichiban Warrior, Ride On Curlin and Almost Famous in that race after winning his maiden going 7 furlongs on Polytrack 22 days earlier at Keeneland.
A win by Coastline could significantly boost his sire, WinStar Farm's Speightstown, as he chases Kitten's Joy in the race for North America's leading sire in 2013. Speightstown trails Kitten's Joy by less than $300,000 heading into Thursday's racing.
Rise Up won the Jean Lafitte Stakes, Delta's top local prep for the Jackpot, after finishing sixth in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill in his first start for Amoss. The next three finishers in the Jean Lafitte - Mighty Brown, Flat Gone and Roman Unbridled - are back for the Jackpot.