Richard Valentine walked down the hill after the Grand National and looked across the Far Hills racecourse. Tempering his emotions in front of a reporter but describing what he had just seen, Valentine uttered a three-word mantra, well, it turned into four words.
“What a horse. What a horse. What a ——- horse.”
He wasn’t alone in his appraisal.
Demonstrative and Robbie Walsh coasted to a stop in the corner of the Far Hills course and returned to Valentine, assistant Laird George, owner Jacqueline Ohrstrom and an appreciative group of fans.
Valentine walked to his horse and patted his left flank, swirling handprints in his sweat-soaked dark bay coat.
Winning his third consecutive Grade 1 stakes, Demonstrative clinched the 2014 earnings title and all but sealed his first Eclipse Award as the sport’s best. The 7-year-old son of Elusive Quality won for the first time at the sport’s premier meet, snapping a winless streak that dated back to his 3-year-old year when he lost jockey Matt McCarron at the start of the Gladstone. In 2011, he finished third in the Foxbrook Novice Stakes. In 2012, he finished fourth in the Grand National, laboring on soft ground. In 2013, he finished third in the Grand National, failing to fire his best shot.
But this is 2014.
Demonstrative jumped flawlessly, galloped relentlessly, stalking Divine Fortune and Darren Nagle throughout before stamping a 3 ¾-length win over his 11-year-old rival, who returned to form with a strong effort. Walsh simply picked his hands up when he needed to temper Demonstrative’s enthusiasm and put them down when the time came to put the race to bed.
“He about ran off with me two or three times around there. He’d switch off going down the hills and then he’d grab me when he met the rising ground. I had to back off wide around the bend just to make sure I didn’t get there way too soon, I knew I’d be there too soon today the way he was traveling,” Walsh said. “I sat third last year, but Darren walked the dog and his wind caught him out and he didn’t quicken, this year he just opened up.”
Valentine was confident before Far Hills. More confident after his horses ran well in the maiden, filly and mare and novice stakes before the Grand National.
“For me, I was unbelievably confident with the way the other horses had run,” Valentine said. “It used to be when he was trembling in the stall and acting a little bit sharp, I would worry because he’s always so laid back, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing for him now. He knows the game.”
Demonstrative has earned $352,500 in five starts this year and enters Saturday’s Grade 1 Colonial Cup as the horse to beat. He’ll face old rivals Divine Fortune, Barnstorming, Parker’s Project and Bluegrass Summer. The Jonathan Sheppard quartet have, in one form another, followed Demonstrative home in his latest three victories. Top Striker completes the field, the Arch Kingsley-trainee exits an easy win against novices at Callaway Gardens.
Big race. Short field. One standout.
Valentine put the final touches on Demonstrative at Springdale Training Center Friday morning, sending Walsh and the big horse over four hurdles in a line. Short, long, he did it with his typical aplomb. He’s set for Saturday.
“I over-analyze everything, about three days out before a run, he’ll slow down from eating,” Valentine said. “We don’t school him a lot, but I thought to myself before Far Hills, ‘when we school him, he’ll back off his feed.’ And he did. He’s just an amazing horse, a classy horse, you’d want him as a friend. He is a friend. We all love him.”
Champion 3-year-old in 2010, novice stakes winner in 2011, New York Turf Writers Cup and Colonial Cup winner in 2012, Iroquois winner in 2013 and the champion in 2014. Amazingly, Demonstrative squeezed in a six-race losing streak in there as well. Valentine ordered off-season wind surgery and that skid is long forgotten.
“He always made a whistle noise and last year Robbie finally heard him gurgling. I wouldn’t be surprised after his 3-year-old year that something maybe developed. He’s a big, coarse horse. Maybe we weren’t on top of it because we thought he was such a good horse,” Valentine said. “He’s gotten more professional and more grown up. At Far Hills, he ran to the wire, I was impressed with that. I think he realizes it finally.”
The Colonial Cup decides everything. The final stakes on the final day, it’s where champions are crowned. This year, Demonstrative rolls into the $100,000 stakes with the crown firmly in his grasp. Just five rivals take him on and he’s beaten each one he’s faced. On paper, the 2 3/4-mile classic plays out predictably. Divine Fortune and Top Striker possess early speed, Demonstrative stalks, the rest file in like cards in a deck. Best horse wins.