The Grateful Dead coined one of the most iconic lines in rock and roll history, when they sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been…”
Belisarius could be Jerry Garcia.
The 7-year-old son of Montjeu began his long strange trip in Ireland. Bred by Lynch Bages Ltd and Camas Park Stud, he made six starts under the Coolmore banner, winning a Dundalk maiden and finishing second in the Lenebane Stakes at Roscommon in 2014. He made his American debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and owners Brous Stable, Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable, finishing seventh as the favorite in a Saratoga turf allowance. He went 1-for-16 while tussling with tough turf foes on the East Coast. Sent to the west coast in 2016, Belisarius failed to light a fire out there, losing five in a row in Southern California before falling another peg to Golden Gate Fields where he won a $12,500 claimer last fall. Dipped all the way to $6,250, it was hard times for a once promising horse.
With a little bit of experience at reclamation projects over jumps (African Oil went from refusing to race on the flat to a Saratoga hurdle winner), the owners decided to send Belisarius to trainer/jockey team Kate and Bernie Dalton in South Carolina.
“Gary Barber was always high on him,” Kate Dalton said. “When we had African Oil, he was like, ‘Belisarius is your next champion.’ ”
Belisarius won’t catch Iranistan for novice champion this year. But there’s always next year. The 7-year-old gelding won his third in a row (Monmouth maiden, Suffolk flat) dominating the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills Oct. 20 to improve his 2018 earnings to $130,700.
“He took to it right away and now he really likes it,” Kate Dalton said. “That was better than I even hoped for, I knew he was a nice enough horse to win the race, but he looks like a super nice horse, it was 5 seconds faster than the other division and he was pulling up. He validated everything we’ve ever thought of him.”
And overcame the craziest part of his long strange trip. A month earlier, Belisarius was due to run in the Entenmann at Belmont Park. The morning of the race, he could barely stand up, necessitating a scratch and an emergency trip to New Bolton Center.
“We walked in Thursday morning to feed him and he collapsed. He was unstable, swaying, he was scared, he was looking at us, he tried to run over to Bernie and sat down like a dog. It was awful,” Kate Dalton said. “We both decided to take him to New Bolton. He was definitely steadier, he wasn’t normal but we felt OK about shipping him. He shipped way better than I thought he would.”
Belisarius stayed at New Bolton, passed every test (EPM, etc.) they could muster and was discharged to Janet Elliot’s Pennsylvania farm Monday. By Saturday, he was at Shawan Downs to join the Daltons to head back to their Camden base. By the next week, he was back jogging, then cantering, galloping, schooling, breezing and on the road to Far Hills.
“It was one day at a time. We got him home, started jogging and that was fine, had a little canter and that was fine, we cantered him some and that was fine, we took him to the five eighths and schooled and that was fine, we worked him and that was fine. He acted completely normal, like nothing had ever happened. We started talking about Far Hills, I’ll admit, I was very hesitant,” Kate Dalton said. “There are a lot of theories but they were all pulling at straws, it could have been a stroke, it could have been a blood clot, it could have been a seizure. I’m not going to speculate, I’m just going to hope it never happens again.”
• Ross Geraghty thought his chance of a winner at Far Hills was gone when top weight Surprising Soul proved no match to Belisarius. Surprising Soul finished second. For Geraghty, it was two down, one to go. He made that one count, engineering a perfect ride aboard Detroit Blues to collar pacesetter Gibralfaro after the last hurdle to score by a half-length in the second division of the Foxbrook. Completing a double for Rosbrian Farm and Ricky Hendriks, Detroit Blues earned his third career hurdle win and second since coming to America.
“I was really impressed with the horse I was second on, he was my best shot all day, he ran his eyeballs out and got beat by a better horse. I thought that was my chance gone, I love having winners here and this fellow just stepped up,” Geraghty said. “All I wanted was for him to travel, fresh ground, I warned Ricky I was going to stay way on the way outside. It’s great riding for Ricky, he said, ‘You know what you’re doing, man.’ I just went and did my thing.”
• Sean McDermott doubled on the card, guiding French-bred Invocation to win the Appleton Stakes, a handicap hurdle, and Irish-bred Two’s Company to win the New Jersey Hunt Cup to close the card.
Owned by Bruton Street-US and trained by Jack Fisher, Two’s Company garnered his sixth timber score since leaving the Irish point-to-point scene in 2014.
“He’s one of the barn favorites,” McDermott said. “He’s honest, he’s got pocks of ability, he came from Ireland with a shoulder injury, I had actually sat on him in a training flat race and schooled him over some fences in Ireland. He’s always been carrying niggling injuries, he’s so honest, he’s got a massive heart. He deserves that.”
McDermott and Two’s Company sealed the win with a determined jump at the second-to-last which ended Kings Apollo’s rally on the outside.
“I was keen that it didn’t turn into an absolute sprint, he jumped OK, a little bit high and a little bit deliberate, when I had Kings Apollo on my outside, I wanted to put it to bed and make him make a mistake. That worked,” McDermott said. “We’re only scratching the ice with him. If he came out of his mother tomorrow morning and we had a go at him again he could be timber champion and really challenge Doc Cebu.”