Lee Lewis gives Mark Hennig a basic order to fill when the trainer goes to Keeneland September. Racehorses. Doesn't matter if they're fillies or colts, long or tall, chestnut or bay. Just find racehorses.
They found one.
Hennig, with help from Brothers Lavin (Allan and Kevin), picked out a bay filly by Medaglia d'Oro at Keeneland September 2011. Lewis came to town and Hennig went through his short list with his longtime friend/client. Bred by Edward Cox Jr. and consigned by Wintergreen Farm, the bay filly out of the Smoke Glacken mare Glacken's Gal, made the list. Lewis wasn't convinced.
"I had to talk him into it," Hennig said. "She was a little on the small side at the time, she was a late April foal, but you know when you look at one and they're still small but they're leggy, got a big walk on them, a nice overstep, I thought she would grow up and be a nice-sized filly."
Lewis, Hennig and the Lavins stood and watched her walk - up and back, up and back while Hennig and Lewis talked - up and back, up and back.
Lewis: "I think she's too small."
Hennig: "No, Lee, watch her walk."
Lewis: "All I see is Smoke Glacken."
Hennig: "All I see is Medaglia d'Oro. Keep watching her. Keep watching her."
Lewis: "You really like her? You really like her? I hope she grows. I hope she grows."
She grew - into one of the best 3-year-old fillies in the country. Live Lively increased her win streak to three with a dynamic front-running win in the Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park February 23. Joel Rosario allowed her to control the race, cruising to a comfortable lead and holding off favorite Dreaming Of Julia.
After bucking her shins and chipping an ankle in her debut in June, Live Lively has won each of her three starts, graduating at Aqueduct by less than a length, decimating Gulfstream allowance rivals by 11 and taking her stakes debut. Hennig plans to keep her training at Palm Meadows and aim at the Grade II Florida Oaks March 30.
Nobody thinks she's too small any more.
Lewis paid $160,000 for Live Lively at Keeneland, sending her to the Lavins' Longfield Farm in Louisville for some down time and the initial breaking process. After that, she transferred to Hennig's dad, John, at Payson Park. Mark Hennig saw her in December. There were no doubts about her size.
"She had grown considerably the first time I had seen her in December. By February she had really grown up, she was one of the bigger babies. By the time she got to me in May, she was a good-sized filly," Hennig said. "I loved her. She wasn't flashy, she wasn't going out there and going real fast, but she's got a beautiful way of going, one of those that naturally wants to go along at a clip, always willing all the time. It wasn't how fast she did things, it was how easy she did things."
Live Lively made her debut in June at Belmont, flattening out to be third, leaving jockey Julien Leparoux and Hennig perplexed. Leparoux came back and told Hennig he had no idea why she got beat after the feeling she gave him around the turn.
Hennig was thinking shins - and they were sore the next day - but also found a small chip in an ankle. He sent her Patty Hogan's for surgery and some time.
"It was probably a blessing," Hennig said.
The surgery went smoothly and Live Lively began to live lively at Hogan's vet clinic in Cream Ridge, N.J. By the end of August, Hogan sent photos of her paddock antics to Hennig. The trainer booked her a stall at Belmont.
Live Lively came back better than she left, galloping out another furlong or two after every breeze. Hennig decided to run her at Aqueduct in November, knowing she wasn't completely fit, rather than shipping to Florida, risking a setback and waiting for a maiden race. He told Rosario she wasn't that fit but she was fit enough.
"You know when you breeze one the first three eighths and they gallop out a half, you breeze them three eighths again and they gallop out a half and almost five eighths. That's where she cruises at," Hennig said. "I felt like I had her three quarters fit, I told Lee, I hate to run her real short again, but it might work in our favor, to get a race into her in New York. She got pretty tired but she's just good enough to overcome it."
With that win under her belt, she set herself up for an un-pressured winter in Florida, enjoying five weeks at Palm Meadows between her maiden win and her breakout allowance win. She had arrived.
"I wasn't surprised in the manner she won because I was always high on her, I would have been crushed if she got beat," Hennig said. "She's sharp leaving there, Joel said he didn't ask her to run, she was just happy to run around there. By then, I was very confident she was fit. He said, 'You were right about her being three quarters fit the first time, because that was much easier.' "
Hennig skipped the Forward Gal, avoiding a 7-furlong slugfest with Kauai Katie and took his time again, capitalizing on the seven-week gap between the allowance win and the Davona Dale. The Gregorians couldn't have planned it any better. Now, she'll have another five weeks before the Florida Oaks.
"I passed on the Forward Gal because it was seven eighths, take on Kauai Katie, I said to Lee, 'Two races in January when we're thinking big things ahead,' " Hennig said. "We went the seven weeks between races, I think, she kind of needed the race the other day."
As for Lewis, he doesn't question her size any more.
"No, he's happy," Hennig said with a laugh. "She's on the trail to get to the Kentucky Oaks and hopefully beyond."
Photos taken by Patty Hogan, provided by Mark Hennig.