Monday Morning Trainer: Out on top

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Rare is the opportunity for an athlete at the top of their game to go out on top. Leave the game a winner. Quit while they’re ahead.

John Elway did it, winning the Super Bowl in his final pro football game at the age of 38 in 1999. Sandy Koufax retired when he was 30 after winning 27 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966. Jim Brown retired from the Cleveland Browns and the NFL after just nine seasons and at the age of 29, leaving behind a legacy that continues to this day as experts debate the best running back of all time.

Landon Donovan retired Sunday on his own terms after helping the Los Angeles Galaxy win its fourth Major League Soccer championship in the last five years Sunday afternoon with a win over the New England Revolution.

A few days before he saddled Eighttofasttocatch in the $125,000 Jennings Handicap at Laurel Park, Tim Keefe gave his assessment of what he thought about all the publicity the 8-year-old Not For Love gelding was getting leading up to his final career start.

“I hope he doesn’t choke,” Keefe said with a laugh.

Eighttofasttocatch didn’t choke and went out a winner. He won the Jennings in the rain and mud at Laurel in a laugher, retiring with his 12th career stakes victory. Eighttofasttocatch has won the last four editions of the Jennings by a combined 27 lengths.

The horse they call “Catcher” won by 10 3/4 lengths Saturday, the most emphatic of his four wins in the 1-mile Jennings and a dominating performance that helped push him over the seven-figure mark in career earnings. Eighttofasttocatch retires to Keefe’s farm in Maryland’s Montgomery County, where he’ll transition to a career as an event horse.

Don’t bet against him being successful in that discipline, too.



Claiming Cowboy

Gulfstream Park opened its 2014-’15 Championship Meeting Saturday with the Claiming Crown.

We purposely omitted most of the Gulfstream races in our weekly Saturday Special rundown, but thankfully touted a couple winners in the Daily Double – going with Todd Pletcher in the opener (Costenia) and Ken and Sarah Ramsey in the second (Smokem Kitten) – and coming away with a $44.40 mutuel. Easy game, right?

Rough sledding for a little while after that, although Best Behavior ($7.80) delivered in the Glass Slipper and Saffron Hall ($11) helped validate the statement “When all else fails, go with the Ramseys and Maker” winning the Emerald.

Cease didn’t fire in the featured Jewel, but Catholic Cowboy came through after getting a decent tout along the way. A winner at the trip and at the track in the past, Catholic Cowboy gave trainer Nick Zito back-to-back wins in the Claiming Crown’s biggest race after taking the 2013 edition with Nevada Kid.

Catholic Cowboy returned $37.80 for his half-length win over favored Page McKenney and Cerro.

Gulfstream reported strong interest in its Opening Day card, with total handle of more than $10 million compared to $8.8 million a year ago. The total is especially impressive considering that tracks that are part of the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative did not have access to the Gulfstream races due to an impasse over simulcast signal costs.


End of the road

Woodbine wrapped up its 2014 season Sunday with the traditional closing-day featured, the Grade 3 Valedictory going 14 furlongs on the Polytrack.

Turkish, claimed for $40,000 in late September, battled most of the way on or near the lead and won a stretch battle with the subsequently disqualified Royal Blessing for his first stakes win. The 5-year-old son of Istan also improved on his sixth-place finish in last year’s Valedictory won by Quaesitor.


Mid-Atlantic juveniles

The Pennsylvania Nursery is by no means a new stakes race for 2-year-olds, but it certainly grew in stature a little more than 10 years ago when Smarty Jones won it en route to one of the more memorable runs at the Triple Crown.

The race has popped up in headlines every so often since and it’s rightfully in the news again in 2014.

Nasa, a colt bred and owned and trained by the same people who teamed to win the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Smarty Jones, landed his first stakes victory in the $100,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Saturday at Parx. He’s also by Smarty Jones, who formerly stood in Kentucky and now stands at Northview PA in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania. Nasa was bred and is owned by Patricia Chapman’s Someday Farm and is trained by John Servis.

Laurel also hosted a couple good 2-year-old stakes Saturday and two familiar names came away with odds-on victories.

Lake Sebago delivered first, winning the $100,000 Gin Talking for owner Tim O’Donohue and trainer Jerry Robb at 4/5. The daughter of Munnings followed up on her victory last month in the Smart Halo Stakes with a 2-length win over Darling Sky in the Gin Talking. O’Donohue purchased Lake Sebago for $22,000 at last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale.

Two races later Golden Years won the $100,000 Maryland Stakes easily at 2/5 for Ellen Charles’ Hillwood Stable and trainer Rodney Jenkins. The son of Not For Love was a $120,000 purchase at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern fall yearling sale, the co-fifth most expensive price at the auction.