Jonathan Sheppard confessed. The Hall of Fame trainer was asked if heworried more about Informed Decision because she’s riding a five-racewin streak.
“Well, you do a bit, yes,” Sheppard said, walking back to his barn at the Annex Friday morning. “I’m trying to stop myself from reading about her, she’s 8-for-10, won five in a row, unbeaten at seven-eighths.”
There’s plenty to read. Augustin Stable’s Informed Decision takes on champion Indian Blessing in today’s Grade I Ballerina, which drew a select field of six as the 10th race.
Sheppard admits she might be the fastest he’s ever trained.
“I would probably say, just for pure, raw speed, yeah. Storm Cat was pretty speedy,” Sheppard said. “It’s just how God made her, she’s a running machine, which is odd because she’s bred to go a mile and a half, by a Derby winner out of a His Majesty mare, so you never know. She’s just very up, forward, aggressive.”
The gray daughter of Monarchos has lost two races in her life, both stakes, both last year. She finished 2008 with stakes wins at Belmont Park and Keeneland. Put away for the winter – a good jump trainer never forgets – Informed Decision has been flawless in 2009. She looked beaten strides before the wire in the Grade I Madison but nailed Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint heroine, Ventura, on the wire. She produced the same finishing kick when she won the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs and again in the Chicago Handicap at Arlington Park.
Friday morning, Sheppard directed the most eclectic shedrow of horses in Saratoga. Champion Forever Together, the Diana winner, was back at his Pennsylvania farm but the rest of his team consisted of veteran jumpers Mixed Up, Sermon Of Love, Lead Us Not and Three Carat as well as turf filly Sobee, 7-year-old one-eyed Dirge who finished sixth for a $100,000 tag here last week and the gray filly looking out over a webbing and diving into her haynet. She’s a freak, especially in Sheppard’s typical turf brigade.
“Mine are usually two-turn types. She was about the third horse that Patti Miller (of EQB bloodstock consultants) had picked out for us. Forever Together was one, the other one was extremely fast but unsound, both of those had staying pedigrees but were very fast, so when this one came, I rather expected her to be quick, she was the highest price at Timonium, so I knew she was fast. You kind of have to throw the pedigree out the window.”
Sheppard doesn’t get many $320,000 2-year-old purchases. He’s more used to being the last stop than the first stop. For years, he’s worked magic with homebreds for George Strawbridge, Bill Pape and ones of his own. He buys turf horses looking for new careers over jumps and imports some European steeplechase prospects. But, for Sheppard, to have his finger on something as high-octane as Informed Decision, well, that’s new territory.
She breezed 5 furlongs over the main track in 58 seconds four days ago.
“She always works fast. She is fast. What do they say, ‘A loaded gun will go off in anybody’s hand,’ ” Sheppard joked. “Until we found out how fast she was, we didn’t do anything different in her training, but it was fairly obvious fairly early on. We gallop her shorter distances and let her gallop a little bit faster, it doesn’t take much doing to get her to gallop faster. We don’t try to restrain her.”
Informed Decision spent most of her summer stabled at Presque Isle Downs with Sheppard’s assistant Barry Wiseman.
Sheppard has horses spread from Saratoga to the farm in Pennsylvania to Springdale Training Center in Camden, S.C.
Wednesday, the trainer was in Saratoga to oversee two schooling sessions and a routine gallop for Informed Decision, he drove to the farm to check on Forever Together, then flew back to Saratoga in time for Thursday’s training and to saddle two in the New York Turf Writers Cup.
He’s been known to have three rental cars in use at one time and go to BWI Airport and wonder why his flight isn’t on the Departures board, only to realize he was meant to fly from Philadelphia. Already in the Hall of Fame, he’s never had a better stable than right now. Mostly turf, except for God’s creation who runs in the Ballerina.
“I’ve tried to keep some of them on the dirt but they always seem to end up on the turf, like With Anticipation,” Sheppard said. “A lot of it is how they’re bred and my background. I prefer seeing horses run on the grass, it’s a little bit easier on them, but if you have a big stable, it’s nice to have some balance.”
Especially when she’s 8-for-10 and 2-1 in a Grade I at Saratoga.