AFLAC recap: No Apologies

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Sometimes you have to say you’re sorry.

“Sorry lads, I apologize now for going too fast,” Robbie Walsh said to his six rival jockeys at the start of the AFLAC U.S. Championship Supreme Hurdle at Callaway Gardens Nov. 1.

Dr. Bloomer apologized for nothing.

Walsh and Dr. Bloomer combined in a clinic of front-running precision to hold off Swagger Stick and The Price Of Love in the $100,000 novice stakes. Owned by Calvin Houghland and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Dr. Bloomer tipped his hand to Walsh before the race.

“I knew today,” Walsh said. “I jumped on him to go to the start and he locked his jaw sideways, spooked and took off with me. I was like, ‘Uh oh.’ I got down to the start and had to apologize. In fairness to him, he did jump off and relax but he was sharp, very sharp.”

Making his 13th career hurdle start and perhaps his final scrap in novice company, Dr. Bloomer utilized Callaway’s undulation to his advantage, managing breathers when he needed and stealing lengths where he could. The Price Of Love, one of three Sheppard entrants, clawed his way closest to Dr. Bloomer down the backside but couldn’t match his finishing run.

Dr. Bloomer won by three-quarters of a length over Swagger Stick (Willie Dowling) who bested The Price Of Love (Richard Boucher) by a nose for second after 2 1/4 miles in 3:57 1/5.

As confident as Walsh was before the race, Sheppard didn’t know what to expect during.

“No, of course, I didn’t know,” Sheppard said. “I didn’t know what to expect, you figured he might hold on but frankly I wondered. Robbie said he walked through the second-to-last but they didn’t really close on him, I think they had been driving up the hill to try and close. He said he had a little bit left and could barely pull him up. I don’t think he’s perfectly clean-winded, he might get a little short of air. I always thought when Doc Henderson owned him that he would be a good jumper type, we schooled him and he was pretty brilliant.”

Owner/breeder Doug Henderson’s Marablue Farm campaigned Dr. Bloomer on the flat with Sheppard, but sold the son of Fantastic Fellow to Houghland. The Florida-bred started quickly with a second at Nashville and a win at Colonial Downs last year. He made two disappointing starts at Saratoga, then fell in the novice stakes at the Meadowlands. Regrouped for the AFLAC last year, he opened up a big lead but couldn’t see it out  and finished third to Planets Aligned and Lead Us Not. This year he sandwiched a win in the Marcellus Frost with losses in the Carolina Cup, Temple Gwathmey, Zeke Ferguson, Jonathan Kiser and Monmouth County.

He made up for an unproductive summer and hinted at a promising fall with a close third to Seer and Be Certain at Monmouth Park in September.

“He’s always had the license to step up when it sets up for him. He’s probably a little better horse at a track like this where he can get a breather. He was still in front jumping the last at Monmouth but it’s hard to get a breather at the track,” Sheppard said. “He’s not that easy to train because he’s rank. We’ve got a couple of people on the farm who do pretty well with him, Timmy Wyatt and Frankie Steall can ride him pretty well.”

Sheppard sent Dr. Bloomer to Camden with his Aiken string, a week before any of his other Callaway runners, to meet up with another key assistant.

“I just had a feeling Jonathan Smart would settle him. He’s good at it, he gets him to gallop, seems to not be afraid to let him gallop along without fighting him,” Sheppard said. “He gave him a school and a work, three-quarters in 1:15 and 2 inside the mile track on the turf. It was obviously a good work. He ran well here last year when he was quite a lot greener. It’s his last go-round as a novice unless we take him to Florida.”

Walsh climbed aboard Dr. Bloomer for the first time in the Temple Gwathmey, finishing third, and then guided him to a win in the Grade III Frost at Nashville this spring. Walsh tossed a fifth in the Ferguson when he couldn’t get near the lead and then loved his run at Monmouth – which filled the jockey with confidence for Callaway.

“I knew I’d end up on the lead here because there was no other speed. He was sharp the whole way, he jumped brilliant. He was dragging me everywhere, in a good way, in my hands,” Walsh said. “I knew when I jumped the third-last and got a breather and still no one was taking me me on, I was like, ‘This lad is going to take some catching today.’ He will pick up going to the second-to-last and then he’ll flatten out a little, but today he never came off the bridle until after the last.”