Drawn up on paper, the ratings hurdle division was meant to give opportunities for horses who didn't have any - you know the ones - not quite good enough or had graduated from the novice division, horses who couldn't compete in open stakes, horses owned by owners who didn't want to risk them in claimers and/or horses who are better in the hurdle division than the timber division.
Well, hello, Perfect Union.
Owned by Beverly Steinman and trained by Doug Fout, the 5-year-old son of Purim earned a 3-year-old championship in 2014, then went winless in six starts in 2015.
"We got lucky, it wasn't a great group of 3-year-olds that year, let's be honest, and then it was a very disappointing 4-year-old year," Fout said. "I was pulling my hair out, I couldn't get anything right, but he was going through a lot of changes."
This season, Perfect Union won a ratings race at High Hope in the spring but was 1-for-5 going into Far Hills.
A horse without a race? Not any more.
Perfect Union returned to the winner's circle, taking the Appleton at Far Hills Oct. 15. Ridden by Kieran Norris, the dark bay 5-year-old sat well off the frazzled pace of Time Out, rolled past the spent frontrunner coming up the hill, survived a blunder at the last to win the $50,000 stakes.
Restricted to horses rated from 110 to 140, the Appleton attracted an eclectic mix, ranging from the inexperienced Lyonell and Time Out to the imported Hisaabaat and Spirit Of Shankly to the established Class Cherokee, Lune De Caro, Awesome Pearl and Perfect Union. Established but not exuberant, Perfect Union found his spot, waiting 50 lengths behind Time Out in the 2 5/8-mile affair. Toting 141 pounds, Perfect Union drew even with Time Out, who fell at the last, and scored by 35 lengths over Hisaabaat and Lune De Caro. The latter pulled up lame.
Perfect Union earned his third hurdle victory and second over the Far Hills course.
"This horse has always liked this course, he likes the distance, we knew we were going to get a light weight, coming up that hill three times, if he was in the first four, I was going to be tickled to death. I didn't think we had a chance to win it, not with some of the other good horses, but the race was just crazy," Fout said. "I knew he'd stay. And he tries. He's a plain horse that always tries, he jumps well, you get lucky with weight going that distance, he'll be fifth or sixth in his next three or four races and then he'll run a big one, that's just him."
The ratings initiative has elicited plenty of criticism since its inception in 2015 - the Appleton was far from pretty - but it was made for horses like Perfect Union.
"The ratings is the best thing we've ever came up with, he's competitive, he picks up checks and everybody's happy," Fout said. "There are no illusions that you're going to go any further, it's perfect."