Of all the horses stabled at Fair Hill Training Center in 2018, none won more races than Justa Scoch, but she’s not about to let it go to her head. No, the only thing she’d like to go to her head is your hand – your rubbing, scratching, continually moving hand. She’s got an itch, an itch she can’t reach – and you should scratch it.
This might take awhile. Rub, rub, rub, scratch, scratch . . . Switch hands . . . Rub, rub, scratch, scratch, scratch . . . Don’t forget the ear . . . And the other one . . . Oh, that’s the stuff.
If the dark bay mare were a Labrador Retriever, she’d roll on her back and start kicking a hind leg. But the daughter of Jump Start is all racehorse.
At a training center most known for high-end performances, Justa Scoch put together a blue-collar, four-win campaign for trainer Carl Doran in 2018. The four wins tied Grade 1 winner Glorious Empire (who races for Chuck Lawrence) and stakes winner My Sistersledge (Mike Trombetta) for the most by a Fair Hill-based horse in 2018.
She’s not going to rival the current or past stars at Fair Hill – which over the years have included Barbaro, Animal Kingdom, Main Sequence, Better Talk Now, Union Rags and plenty of others – but Doran and owner/breeder Donald Wilson will take the success.
Justa Scoch lost her first six starts as a 3-year-old in 2017, but finished second three times, while being risked for as low as a $25,000 claiming price. A shin injury meant some minor surgery and 10 months away from the races but she returned running in 2018 – winning a waiver maiden claimer off the bench in April at 13-1.
The Maryland-bred added back-to-back optional claimers in late summer at Laurel and won a Delaware Park optional claimer in October. In a nine-start campaign, she collected $104,945 while never winning by more than a half-length. Officially, the four victory margins read neck, nose, half, half.
Maybe they should have named her Win By Ten.
“She always gives you a heart attack,” said Doran with a laugh. “She doesn’t want to win by much. We joke around with the owners, they really named her right. It suits her I guess.”
Doran and Wilson tried to get a fifth win late in the year, but some cellulitis in a hind leg cost her some training time. She returned to finish third at Laurel Jan. 4 and is entered Friday in a Maryland-bred or Maryland-sired allowance at Laurel Park.
“She came back in January and ran OK,” said Doran, an Irishman who came to the United States in 2004. “She needs a good bit of work. She’s not one who keeps herself fit. She was maybe a work or two short that race in January. She got a little tired, but got something out of it too.”
Justa Scoch is the latest offspring of Free Strike to produce for Wilson and Doran, following her siblings Escrow Kid, Pure Strike and D T Goodie. A 2-year-old filly by Friesan Fire, Grace N Favor, waits in the wings.
“The whole family has been good, they’re really honest and have done pretty well,” said Doran. “They all get up to the two-other-than level or so. I’m hoping she goes on. She only wins by a little bit every time so you don’t know whether that’s as well as she can do, or if that’s the way she wants to do it.”
That doesn’t matter right now. Justa Scoch still has that Maryland-bred allowance condition in her favor, and then can venture into deeper water and perhaps a state-bred stakes (she finished fifth in the All Brandy last year).
Doran grew up “more of an urban kid” outside Dublin, but got the horse bug from his father and brother, went to the Irish racing academy, worked in England, rode a few amateur flat races there.
“They tried to talk me out of it,” Doran said of family and friends. “They said, ‘It’s a terrible job. You’ll just get yelled at all the time.’ It’s better over here, but in Ireland everyone is very old school when you start out.”
Doran stuck it out, however, learned plenty and came to the U.S. on the advice of fellow Irishman Mark O’Dwyer. Doran exercised horses in Florida for trainer Ron Voss, then moved to Delaware Park and ultimately Fair Hill where he worked for Lawrence. The former jump jockey suggested Doran give that a go and he did for a bit “with not a whole lot of success,” but appreciated the experience.
Doran helped prep young horses with Jodi Pointer in Maryland, kept riding out for Lawrence at Fair Hill and ultimately got a trainer’s license. Y’er Man, a Great Notion gelding bred by Northview Stallion Station, was the first winner in 2009. Doran won two races in 2009, four in 2019 and was up to 14 in 2103. Last year, from 72 starters, the stable won 10 and finished with $308,729 in earnings. Cheverie got the 2019 statistics going with a win at Penn National Jan. 2.
Doran and his wife Megan – they met while working for Pointer – have two young boys (Seth and Cole) and operate Meadow Woods Training Center in Churchville, Md. The business plan includes breaking and training for clients including trainer Damon Dilodovico, a string of rented stalls in Sherene Bracho’s barn at Fair Hill, buying/selling/retraining, Magna-Wave therapy and everything else it takes to run a Thoroughbred business.
NOTES: Glorious Empire led the way, by plenty, in terms of earnings for 2018 Fair Hill runners. Matt Schera’s Irish-bred won four of six and earned $767,830 . . . My Sistersledge also won four of six, and earned $181,984, for Trombetta and owners John and Cheri Banner . . . Six Fair Hill horses won three each – Jessica Krupnick (who also had three seconds), Bunker, Monte Crista, Amapola, Bombshell and Alwaysmining.