Tom Howard thought back Monday afternoon to the days leading up to the March 6, 2014 waiver-claiming race at Oaklawn Park where he and Lewis Mathews Jr. were able to land Ivan Fallunovalot for what now looks like a bargain price of $25,000.
The thought centered on a conversation between Howard, a trainer with a small string not looking to get much bigger and preferably stay in the Southwest close to home, with his handful of owners. One of those owners was Mathews, who didn't have a problem whatsoever with Howard's agenda.
"What happened, my owner is there at Oaklawn and I told him I wanted to go to Lone Star in Dallas, like 5 hours from my house, to Remington, about 5 hours from my house and go back to Oaklawn. Those three, that's it," Howard said. "If we can get a horse that can go somewhere else I don't mind going, but I don't want to go to Chicago, Kentucky and all this.
"So I lost a few owners off the deal, which is fine. They can go wherever they want to. It was about two weeks after that and Lewis called me and said, 'since we're going to go to Dallas in Texas we need us a Texas-bred. There's a Texas-bred running tomorrow, see if you like him and if you do let's take a chance on him.' "
Ivan Fallunovalot, who won last weekend's Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park, as a three-time winner in eight starts when he showed up in that waiver-claimer going 5 1/2 furlongs for a $25,000 tag.
Howard liked what he saw in the then 4-year-old son of Valid Expectations, who finished second in a Sam Houston Race Park allowance about a month before the Oaklawn race.
"Yes, sure enough I liked him and that Texas-bred was Ivan," Howard said. "And the funny thing is he hasn't gotten to run against a Texas-bred yet."
Howard laughed at that statement, which is indeed true, although he did win an open-company allowance at Lone Star two starts after the claim.
Howard and Mathews did risk Ivan Fallunovalot once more for a tag after they claimed him. He won for $50,000 in his next start a month after being claimed, one of 11 victories from 15 starts for Ivan Fallunovalot's current connections. The most recent victory came in last Saturday's $250,000 De Francis, where Ivan Fallunovalot and jockey Calvin Borel tracked the early speed of 1-5 favorite X Y Jet before taking the lead in the stretch en route to a 4 1/2-length victory.
Sidelined for much of the season with a troublesome quarter crack that required a few months of turnout at his owner's farm in Bismark, Arkansas, not far from Oaklawn, Ivan Fallunovalot picked up his fourth win in as many starts in the De Francis. He'd won back-to-back starts before the De Francis at Remington Park.
"The outcome was good, let's put it that way," Howard said of the De Francis. "And our experience in Maryland, we loved it. My wife and I really enjoyed it. The people were super nice to us, the racetrack officials and all. I was in Cal Lynch's barn, what a super nice guy, both him and his family. You couldn't have asked for a better trip than what we had. Everything went real good.
"Of course I overate on the crab cakes, but what can you do? I didn't realize they were so rich; they're pretty potent you know?"
Ivan Fallunovalot proved pretty potent the last few seasons at Oaklawn and Howard is optimistic the gelding can be a force there again in the track's three-race sprint series in 2017.
The series kicks off Feb. 4 with the $125,000 King Cotton, a race Ivan Fallunovalot won in January before being sidelined and in 2015, before the $125,000 Hot Springs March 11 and the Grade 3 $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap during the season-ending Racing Festival of the South April 15.
"Hopefully he'll be able to run in all three of them," Howard said. "I would love to go in there and win all three of them. Just because, and not to be greedy, it would be so prestigious for Ivan. But it's a tough little series. Big purses, that definitely gets some people that want to be a part of it."