Far Hills Recap: Menacing Dennis placed first in Gladstone

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Look a jockey in the eye after a race and you’ll know the truth. He might be saying one thing, but thinking another or saying nothing and showing everything. After Saturday’s opener, the Gladstone Stakes, Mark Watts and Bernie Dalton offered words and looks that flowed as straight and true as the 3-year-old stakes should have gone around the bend and up the hill at Far Hills.

“He’s got to come down,” Watts said, draping a red overgirth around his neck, after finishing second aboard Menacing Dennis.

“Well, we’re getting second money,” Dalton said, kicking his feet from his stirrups, after finishing third on Down Royal.

Minutes later, stewards Rug Howard, Larry Curtis and Gregg Morris agreed with Watts and Dalton, disqualifying the offender, Gerard Galligan on Snuggling and elevating Menacing Dennis to first and Down Royal to second.

As for the trainers, well, they were just spectators.

“I said, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ” said Julie Gomena, trainer of Menacing Dennis about the melee.

What was going on was Menacing Dennis was becoming a stakes winner in his second start over hurdles for Bonnie Rye Stable, Gomena and Watts. The Florida-bred son of Greatness improved from an out-the-back 35-length loss in his hurdle debut at Shawan Downs to a stalking-the-pace win at Far Hills. Watts, aboard for the first time, placed Menacing Dennis in a stalking spot behind Flash Jackson, leapt into the fire on the turn (the chart includes “crossed the paths…forced wide…took up sharply…may have been best”) before succumbing to the guilty by 2 1/2 lengths.

Gomena expected Menacing Dennis to run well in the Far Hills opener.

“Not surprised,” Gomena said. “I gallop him every day, I’m tucked in, I’ve got loops in the reins, show him daylight and you’re going. I told Mark, ‘Don’t make the move too early, stay right up there, but keep him tucked in,’ because Mark likes to go to the front.”

Watts engineered the plan to perfection, a plan hatched way back in the winter when flat trainer Derek Ryan showed Menacing Dennis to Gomena. Ryan, a source for many of Gomena’s best horses, was on the fence about the bay colt, owned and trained by Ben Colebrook at the time. Gomena jumped right over it.

“That’s lovely,” Gomena said, when asked about her first impression of the colt who fetched $70,000 from Gary Sciacca as a 2-year-old.

And that was that.

Home at Gomena’s farm in Middleburg, Va., Menacing Dennis began the transformation from 1-for-11 flat horse to stakes-winning jumper.

“I had to geld him. He was a naughty colt, but he’s better now,” Gomena said. “He’s been delightful. He’s always been a great ride, good jumper, no problem.”