Champions 2011: Novice Lake Placid gives to all

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Breeders and original owners Diana and Bert Firestone . . . owners Debra Kachel and Irv Naylor . . . trainers Neil Morris, Ricky Hendriks and J.W. Delozier . . . jockeys Matt McCarron, Paddy Young, Jacob Roberts and Carl Rafter . . .

The multi-stopped season of novice champion Lake Placid touched many people in 2011. Some did better than others, but he paid them all in a year that included 12 starts (11 over  jumps), six wins, and $114,750 earned.

The 6-year-old won a maiden claimer in April and a stakes in October. He changed hands via the claim box ($10,000 each time) twice. He won six of the seven jump starts he finished – losing his jockey once, veering off course once and pulling up with a suspected injury in the final jump race of the year.

“He was a lot of fun,” said Delozier in early December. “The horse rewarded all of us, and that’s the great thing. He’s as tough as nails. Loves to run, loves to win and you have to admire that.”

Delozier reported that the 6-year-old gelding came out of that final race, the Hobkirk Hill starter allowance at Camden, in fine shape. Jockey Carl Rafter felt what he thought was a bad step and pulled up coming to the last fence, but examinations and tests have revealed no injury.

“Carl did the right thing by the horse, but fortunately, he was wrong and the horse is fine,” said Delozier. “He’s been a wild man since he’s been home. He crossed that road right before the last fence and I think he took a bad step. It was a sad ending to the year, or it seemed like it at the time. We’ve scanned his tendons, taken X-rays, he’s fine.”

Of course he is.

Lake Placid is nothing if not tough. Bred by the Firestones, he made 13 starts on the flat with Michael Matz and Leigh Delacour, winning once at 2 and again at 4. Morris took over in 2010 and converted the horse to hurdling. The son of Giant’s Causeway attacked his new career – literally. He flashed plenty of speed and power while racing near the front, making life miserable for McCarron who tried to ration the energy. The project included equipment (German martingale, ringbit and so on), and continued into 2011. Lake Placid won a point-to-point nicely, faded to third after leading early in a maiden hurdle at Aiken in March, then dipped to the maiden claiming ranks at Middleburg in April.

He led every step, won by 16 lengths and was claimed by Kachel and Hendriks.

“We didn’t think he’d ever be a great horse, he certainly turned out to be a good horse on the racetrack,” said Morris. “I wanted him to be successful obviously, but I didn’t like him in the mornings. I tried to harness some of that energy, treat him like he was a nice horse. Most of our horses like their jobs, with him you never knew whether he wanted to duck out, he was a runaway, he didn’t want to train. He ran for 12 (thousand) on the flat, I talked to Bert Firestone and we decided to put him a maiden claimer. We thought we’d lose him.”

As far as watching the horse succeed, Morris is over it. With a second chance, he might have done things differently, allowed Lake Placid to ramble along on the lead the way he did at Middleburg and not worried about all that wasted energy. Otherwise, horses get claimed every day.

“Bert Firestone called me and said ‘I’m still glad we don’t have that horse,’ which was funny and nice of him,” said Morris, who won a Virginia Gold Cup with $15,000 claim Lord Kenneth. “He was turnkey, the perfect claim.”

Two weeks after the claim, Lake Placid came through for his new connections by winning the optional claimer at the Virginia Gold Cup. Hendriks removed the German martingale, added a shadow roll and watched jockey Paddy Young engineer a front-running, 13-length win going 2 1/2 miles. After a miscue sent Brian Crowley to the turf at Radnor, Lake Placid and Roberts upset a classy optional claimer at Parx Racing June 5. Hendriks tried a novice stakes next, but Lake Placid struggled home sixth after contesting the early lead. Hendriks skipped Saratoga, but did try the flat – where the Kentucky-bred finished eighth in a $25,000 claimer Aug. 2 at Parx.

By September at Colonial Downs, Lake Placid was back in for a $10,000 tag and destroyed five others by better than 13 lengths. The aggressive drop in class caught the eye of Delozier, who had recently signed on to train for leading steeplechase owner Irv Naylor.

“He had given me a heads-up that if I found a horse that would be a good claim, he’d be all for it,” Delozier said. “Ricky had dropped him, he could have run for 15. He did the classic scare. I’ve done it, we’ve all done it. Either the horse was broken or Ricky was trying to scare everyone off.”

And at the price, Delozier figured it was worth the gamble so headed to Colonial Downs with the truck and trailer, dropped the claim slip and took home a new horse.

“I gave him four weeks, got to know him, he is very tricky and likes things his way,” said the trainer. “He’s not a straightforward individual. Great Meadow was the logical spot, the next starter allowance in the book.”

With Rafter aboard, Lake Placid rolled around Great Meadow and won by 20 over yielding turf a month after joining the Naylor stable. The victory paid for the claim, plus $5,000, and produced another big step forward as Delozier tried the $75,000 Foxbrook Novice at Far Hills a week after Great Meadow. Leading throughout, thriving in the going and at the 2 1/2 miles, Lake Placid won again – against a tough group that included 2011 stakes winners Demonstrative, Complete Zen and All Together.

Sure, the ascent went awry at Callaway Gardens (off course) and Camden (pulled up), but the claimer was a stakes winner, a six-figure earner, a novice champion by season’s end.

The success validated Delozier’s claim back in September, but the trainer paid credit to the horse. Lake Placid learned to swim, which seemed to help the aggressive tendencies – as did some work in the farm’s show ring. Delozier tried to find a routine: making Lake Placid the first horse to the turnout paddocks every morning for example.

“He is not an easy horse to train, he’s hard on himself,” Delozier said. “There’s no question Neil (Morris) had his work cut out for him getting the horse off the racetrack. I didn’t have to teach him how to jump, he came in fit. I just had to keep him happy and sound and ready to run and keep weight on him.”

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Lake Placid
B. g. 6, Giant’s Causeway-Saranac Lake, Smart Strike.
Bred by Bert and Diana Firestone in Kentucky.
Owners: Irv Naylor, Debra Kachel, the Firestones.
Trainers:  J.W. Delozier, Ricky Hendriks, Neil Morris.
Jockeys: Ross Geraghty, Carl Rafter, Paddy Young,
Jacob Roberts, Brian Crowley, Matt McCarron

Passed through three owners and trainers during the year after getting claimed twice for $10,000. Earned $17,500 for Firestones including claim, $56,500 for Debra Kachel including claim, $60,000 for Naylor. Started in the first and last jump race of the season.