Eddie Graham’s stable goes seven horses deep. He and his wife Wendi own five. On Saturday, at the Radnor Hunt Races steeplechase meet in Malvern, Pa., the two outside horses won.
“Oh my God,” he said Wednesday. “That doesn’t happen. Everyone was laughing and telling me to smile for the pictures. I couldn’t. I felt like I was in shock. I only have two owners, those two horses, and they’re the only jumpers. My parents were there, my kids were there. It was my first stakes win.”
The first double of Graham’s training career came courtesy of first-time starter Dr. Skip in a maiden hurdle and veteran Rainbows For Luck in the $40,000 Radnor Hunt Cup timber stakes.
The former made his NSA debut, and throttled eight foes to win a $25,000 maiden hurdle for jockey Jody Petty. The 5-year-old Eddington gelding reeled in Foolish Surprise late and won by 2 ½ lengths over West Is Best. Last fall, Graham bought the Maryland-bred from owner/breeder Michael Cataneo and trainer Leigh Delacour. Now owned by Charley Strittmatter’s Clorevia Farm, Dr. Skip tuned up for Radnor with back-to-back point-to-point scores, one on the flat and one over jumps. The experience paid off, and he won a traditionally deep maiden race.
“He was green at Radnor, but he’s a jumper and tried like crazy,” Graham said. “I think he’s useful.”
Two races later, 12-year-old Rainbows For Luck extended a career that’s been more than useful when he won Radnor’s timber feature. Also ridden by Petty, Greg Bentley’s son of Benny The Dip roared through the stretch to catch Hot Rize in the final stride and win by a nose after 3 ¼ miles. Horses sometimes get better with age, but this one is taking the description to an extreme with four wins in his last seven starts. Graham took over the training responsibilities in 2011, when longtime friend Paul Rowland was diagnosed with cancer. Rowland died last year, but his old horse and his old friend are continuing to succeed.
Saturday’s win was vintage Rainbows For Luck. He stayed close for Petty, fought his way over some jumps, battled among the crowd. And found a way to make a run in the stretch.
“There was no way he was going to get there,” Graham said, still in disbelief. “He missed three fences in a row and was pinned down on the inside. Luckily he pinged the last; that won it for him. They all spread out in front of him and Jody cracked him and he took off. It was a miracle. Paul must have been watching out for him.”
Rainbows For Luck raced for breeder Sam-Son Farm and trainer Mark Frostad during 2003-05, winning three times at Woodbine. In 2004, he finished fifth in the Breeders’ Stakes, fourth in the Grade 2 Sky Classic and second in the Chief Bearhart. Rainbows For Luck won his final flat start in June 2005, switched to steeplechasing in 2007 and won a maiden hurdle at Kentucky Downs the next season. Timber came next and he’s nibbled at big things with wins at Winterthur, Morven Park, Willowdale and Shawan Downs. Saturday’s win was his first sakes triumph, of any kind.
Graham, whose wife is an official at Parx Racing, calls training Rainbows For Luck a lesson in balance. The trainer keeps his horse fit and fresh most of the time, works on recovery after races and picks spots.
“He’s old, he’s got a lot of issues and problems,” Graham said. “His stifles have been beat up for years, his knees are banged up. He’s like a hockey player. He goes to Fair Hill (Equine Therapy Center) for the cold saltwater spa, gets a cold hose, all those things you do.”
Based near Unionville, Pa., Graham won’t soon forget the trip to Radnor in 2013. The trainer worked for Bruce Miller and Sanna Hendriks, and learned plenty though he may have surpassed both in the worry department.
“I thought his horse would be tough to beat in the maiden,” said Brianne Slater, who worked with Graham at both early jobs. “I told him that and he just got more nervous. Afterward, I had to tell him it was OK to smile. I get nervous, don’t get me wrong, but he’s still nervous after they win. He does an amazing job with his horses and it’s nice to see him do well.”
– Slater, hired less than a year ago by leading owner Irv Naylor, continued her strong spring season when veteran Decoy Daddy won the $50,000 National Hunt Cup hurdle stakes at Radnor. The 11-year-old Irish import led most of the way, yielded the lead briefly to Gustavian in the stretch and battled back to win by a half-length for jockey Carol Ann Sloan. Decoy Daddy improved to 2-for-3 this year and added the Radnor race to a score in the Temple Gwathmey last month.
Saturday’s victory was typical for the hard-trying veteran, whose career includes 47 starts over jumps in the U.S. and Ireland. In America, he’s won six times (plus one on the flat) since arriving in October 2010. Though a multiple stakes winner, he just misses being a Grade 1 horse – not that it matters.
“He’s the horse who’s going to give you everything he has every time,” Slater said. “He doesn’t have excuses. If he doesn’t win it’s just because he’s not good enough, not because he doesn’t try or something else. He probably can’t beat Demonstrative, Divine Fortune, horses like that, but he just goes out there and does his job.”
Decoy Daddy gave the runner-up 12 pounds and yielded up to 20 to his seven rivals in the race.
– Regally bred Martini Brother (Darren Nagle) won the $30,000 allowance hurdle for Bill Pape and Jonathan Sheppard. The 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy and Grade 1 winner Island Sand outran nine others including Absolum by a half-length at the line to get a second consecutive win.
Martini Brother raced twice on the flat for breeder My Meadowview Farm and trainer Nick Zito in 2011, emerged a year later for owner/trainer Brian Murphy (losing three starts over jumps and two on the flat). Sheppard and Pape bought the Kentucky-bred late last year and he’s 2-for-2 in 2013.
– Sheppard, Pape and Nagle also teamed up to win an open claimer with veteran Dugan, who defeated Organisateur and three others to collect a second victory on the year.
– Black Pond won the Radnor finale for owner/trainer Michael Leaf, capturing a maiden claimer with Kieran Norris aboard. The 5-year-old made one start for leading owner Naylor last year, before moving to Leaf’s barn in 2013. The son of Forestry, bred by Aaron and Marie Jones, lost 16 starts (flat and jump) with Mark Johnston and Nicky Henderson in England before being imported last spring.
The Kentucky-bred is a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Classic and Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer. Their dam Golden Ballet won two Grade 1 stakes in California and earned more than $700,000.
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