When Eric Guillot talks about Moreno, the trainer says things like this: “If you’re in front of my horse early, you’re going too fast,” and “I told my jockey to ride him like he stole him and the posse is chasing you,” and even “I’m here for two reasons, to pass out lollipops and win big races and I’m fresh out of lollipops.”
People laugh. Guillot cackles and winds up another one – “You think I can be this witty by being stupid?”
The horse just runs.
Moreno, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding, won Saturday’s Charles Town Classic in a track-record-setting power play around the 6-furlong track. He left eight others in his wake, winning by 2 lengths over 2014 winner Imperative, with multiple Mid-Atlantic stakes winner Page McKenney third and heavily favored Shared Belief pulled up by jockey Mike Smith. Owned and bred by Southern Equine Stable, Moreno collected $852,000 to pass $2.9 million in career earnings. Cornelio Velasquez rode the winner, getting a lead from longshot Warrioroftheroses for a half-mile in :47.18 and leading the rest of the way in 1:48.81 for 1 1/8 miles.
Looking back on it, Moreno kind of figured. He usually makes the lead in his races, then gets harassed, tired or distracted – sometimes all three – and is vulnerable to a late challenge. The Charles Town race features three turns and a short stretch, a perfect recipe for a horse who thinks about what he does, wears blinkers and does much of his morning training at a trot.
“You take Shared Belief out, and (Moreno) is the best horse in the race,” Guillot said. “Bullrings are notorious for speed. I told (owner Mike Moreno), it’s an eighth-of-a-mile stretch, if we have any chance of beating Shared Belief, it’s here. Moreno won’t know where the wire is, he’ll just come off that turn and keep going. ‘Where am I? Am I working in the morning, or what?’ “
The Grade 2 victory gets added to Moreno’s tallies in the Grade 1 Whitney last year and the Grade 2 Dwyer in 2013. He’s also finished second in the Travers (by a nose), Pennsylvania Derby, Suburban, Woodward and Santa Anita Handicap and third in the Jim Dandy, Charles Town Classic (2014) and New Orleans Handicap.
Moreno made 12 starts as a 3-year-old, and eight more last year while tangling with the best in the game. There were only three truly poor efforts: a 10th in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic at the end of a long campaign, a 12th in the 2014 Met Mile in a failed off-the-pace experiment and then last year’s pileup at the break of the Breeders’ Cup Classic when Moreno lost all chance at his usual spot at the front and finished 14th.
Ask Guillot why and he’ll talk about spider bandages, iron, hemoglobin, Cajun horsemanship and who knows what else. Otherwise, it’s pretty simple.
“I don’t over-train him,” Guillot said of Moreno. “I never drain the gas tank. I put back in what I take out.”
Moreno had off-season ankle surgery to remove three chips, and dove straight into the deep end to launch his 2015 campaign in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap going 1 1/4 miles March 7. He led throughout, but got passed by Shared Belief in the stretch and settled for second. Three weeks later, at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Moreno shortened up a furlong and finished third – beaten a half-length for everything – in the New Orleans Handicap.
Then came Charles Town. Third last year, he was second choice to Shared Belief in the program at 7-2 but wound up going off at 7-1 as fans hammered Shared Belief down to 1-5 and General A Rod to 5-1.
“The only reason he got beat last year was because he was jumping shadows, with the lights,” said Guillot. “When I found out it was daytime this year, I knew I had a chance. He’s 4 years old and he was jumping shadows . . .”
Guillot briefly mapped out a plan for his stable star – a break for a bit off a demanding start to the year, the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs June 13, then Saratoga to defend his Whitney crown and ultimately another try at the Breeders’ Cup.
There will be plenty of talk along the way.
NOTES: Charles Town set a record for total handle of $4,827,105, besting the 2013 Classic program . . . Bettors wagered $2,423,782 on the Charles Town Classic itself, easily a single-race mark at the West Virginia track . . . With Shared Belief pulling up, show prices were lucrative ($23.20 on Moreno who paid $16 to win, $71.20 on Imperative and $45.60 on Page McKenney) . . . Reports from Charles Town said Shared Belief had gone for a nuclear scan of his right stifle, perhaps injured while coming out of the starting gate, and was otherwise healthy for a return trip to California Tuesday.