The barn work must have seemed easy Friday morning for Paddy and Leslie Young. Easier anyway. A Grade 1 win will do that to you, especially when you run a small, husband/wife training operation.
"We win claimers and we win an odd race here and there," said Paddy, who rode the stable's Gustavian to victory in Thursday's $150,000 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park. "You win and say job well done but you get up and muck out the next morning. We'll definitely do it again (Friday), but it will be with a bigger spring in our step."
The Youngs - she's the program trainer, he's the program jockey but they're both the grooms/hotwalkers/caretakers/stall muckers - won the biggest race of their lives by a nose, on the big stage at Belmont. Recently purchased by Maggie Bryant, Gustavian rated just off the pace early, found a dream trip on the rail and matched strides with All Together to the last. The latter blundered badly, but dug in again and the two hit the wire as one with Gustavian winning the bob. Italian Wedding finished third with Demosntrative fourth in the 2 ½-mile test.
A son of Giant's Causeway, Gustavian won for the fourth time over jumps and finished in the first three for the 12th time in 13 starts. Sent to the Youngs by Hickory Tree Farm in 2010, Gustavian cost $325,000 as a yearling (his dam Mossflower was a Grade 1 winner) at Saratoga and raced 11 times on the flat for trainer Graham Motion. Bred in Kentucky by the Ohrstrom family's Whitewood Stable, Gustavian won a Presque Isle Downs maiden in September 2009 and added a Keeneland allowance one start later. He tried Santa Anita and Keeneland in 2010, then became a steeplechaser.
And found a home. For Hickory Tree, Gustavian won three times and earned $118,300. He always ran well, but more often than not settled for second or third - including two strong stakes tries to the stout veteran Decoy Daddy this spring.
"He always runs his race," said Paddy Young. "It's been bad luck and bad timing on my part or he would have won five of those races. He's never going to win by 2 or 3 lengths. It's always going to be that short margin."
Gustavian did not make a Saratoga trip, instead spending much of the summer at Maui Meadow Farm's swimming facility. He battles issues with his feet, and does better staying off summer turf. The Youngs manage him carefully, spoil him a bit.
"It was very, very hard not to go to Saratoga with him this year," said Paddy. "It was a wetter summer, we were thinking about the A.P. Smithwick and he had a little tiny problem. We could have made it, but we said let's be smart and waited."
Gustavian returned to the Youngs' barn near Unionville, Pa. - they rent from Henrietta Alexander - in late August and started prepping for Belmont. He likes the fresh ground, the sweeping layout. Thursday he faced a solid group, but had a slight advantage as a fresh horse and a choice 144-pound weight assignment.
"He excels in our place, and seems to enjoy the way we train them," said Paddy. "He is the big horse in the barn. We've got nothing in the barn as close to as good as he is. He gets the best paddock, he's first fed, first out. He gets acupuncture. Little things like that make a difference. He feels like the lord of the manor."
Thursday, he was lord of the Lonesome Glory. Divine Fortune set the pace, but was shadowed throughout by Hunt Ball, as Young tucked into third on the inside. Past the wire with a circuit to go, Divine Fortune still led Hunt Ball. Gustavian dove through the fence, but lost little momentum and went back to galloping down on the inside. Up the backside the final time, All Together and Italian Wedding drafted into fourth and fifth. Divine Fortune still led entering the final turn, but looked vulnerable. Ross Geraghty drove Hunt Ball, but received little response. Gustavian waited, Italian Wedding poked. All Together kept pace. Five horses reached the second-last within a stride of each other, but Gustavian and All Together found the most and kicked toward the last. All Together gained a short advantage just before the fence, but met it wrong and nearly fell. The mistake opened the door for Gustavian, who barged through and alongside his rival. All Together fought back, drew even again and they finished as one with Gustavian holding sway - just.
Staying On sees it out
Jack Fisher trained Staying On for about a week, and didn't really do much - other than suggest a change in tactics.
"Nothing," Fisher said, when asked what he did differently than Michael Moran, the horse's owner and former trainer. "He sent him to me ready to run. All I did was change his running style. To me, he's always been too on the muscle. I told Jeff (Murphy) to cover him up and see what happened."
What happened was a win, Staying On's first in more than a year, in Thursday's $75,000 William Entenmann novice hurdle stakes. The Irish-bred broke in the back, stayed out of trouble in a race with plenty, worked through the field and had plenty left to edge Powerofone by three-quarters of a length late. Sharp Numbers, also trained by Fisher, rallied for third.
The winner, who raced on the flat in England with Walter Swinburn and in the United States with Christophe Clement, made his jump debut in June 2011 and finished second at Penn National. He didn't run again for almost a year and won by 16 lengths at Radnor. It's been tougher going since, including three fourths, a second to Dr. Skip at Parx in June and rough seventh at Saratoga. In most cases, Staying On was strong early and offered little response late though he earned an excuse or two when bounced hard from both sides on the final turn at Saratoga. He wasn't going to win that race, but could have easily been third with a cleaner trip.
Then came the move to Fisher (Moran was headed out of town), Murphy's late start and the horse's best race. He's won twice in eight jump starts now and earned more than $76,000.
NOTES: In the Entenmann, Dr. Skip hit the third fence hard and lost jockey Jody Petty, then helped play a role in further calamity when running loose the inside of the fences. At the fourth, in the stretch, early leader Cognashene dove through the inside wing and fell . . . Steeplechase action returns to the race meets this weekend with Shawan Downs Saturday (Sept. 28) and Foxfield Sunday (Sept. 29).