School Days, Good Rides, Road Trips

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Kevin Boniface talked his son Fritz through the early stages of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup’s maiden timber race. Fritz and Moonsox showed the way. Kevin might as well have been along for the ride.

“Steady. Steady, son steady,” he said from the hay wagon on top of the hill. Twisting, leaning, bending, riding. The histrionics peaked when Sgt. Bart and hey Doctor ranged alongside at the second-last, then went another direction when the rivals fell.

“Hold on, son,” he said. “Hold him. Hold on. Hold on.”

When Moonsox touched down over the last and won easily the Bonifaces took a deep breath, victory safely achieved.

“My wife (Chris) won’t even watch it with me, she’s scared to death and excited at the same time,” said Kevin. “For me, I rode a little, all I want to do is give him instructions. I kind of stay away from them both on raceday.”

The win erased the memory of a pre-race school one day earlier. Fritz and Moonsox were supposed to run down over a few fences as a final tightener for the race. Instead, Moonsox jumped poorly, lost his rider and instilled anything but confidence.

“The horse had a terrible school yesterday, dropped him twice,” said Kevin. “I had to catch the horse on the other side of the farm and I said ‘Fritz, you’ve got to take it through once more and get him right.’ He did and he jumped them all three beautifully.”

So they could all get ready for the next day.

Meet Kevin Tobin
Kevin Tobin needed a job and called Tom Foley, who knew the fellow Irishman from an American stint  as a 10-pound apprentice in 2005. Foley had horses, but no job so Tobin looked elsewhere. Then Foley broke his leg.

“I called and he was here in two days,” Foley said.

That was more than a year ago, and Tobin hasn’t left. The Irishman rides, grooms, mucks, works on the farm for Foley and Kristin Close. Race rides come sparingly, but Tobin made the most of a chance at Montpelier – getting Decoy Daddy home first in the $40,000 Noel Laing Stakes.

“It means the world to me to ride a good horse in a good race and I’m delighted I could come through for them on the day,” said Tobin, who got the ride when Ross Geraghty went to Callaway Gardens. “They stuck by me, feels very good. Tom had every reason to use any jockey in the weighroom. He offered me the ride and I jumped at it. I might be doing a few extra hours around the barn now, but it’s worth every minute.”

The Laing was Tobin’s 29th career win and second over jumps this year. He did most of his winning in England, riding for trainer Charlie Mann – highlighted by a victory in the 2007 William Hill Hurdle aboard Kanad. Before that he rode in Ireland for Jessica Harrington and was a top show rider. He hung up his saddle after the 2008-09 season, but not for the usual post-racing pursuits. Tobin did not become a trainer or a bloodstock agent or even a journalist, he studied to become an addictions counselor and is certified to work in the field.

Back in the United States, he’s giving horses one more try.

“When I finished riding in England, I went back to Ireland and studied there,” he said. “I will definitely do it as a career someday, but I’m not going to be able to ride forever. I’m in Tom’s in the morning down to the track some too.”

Tobin and Decoy Daddy earned their shot in the Grade I Colonial Cup – and a try for the 2011 Eclipse Award.

“All credit to Tom and Krissy, they’ve done the real work, and to (owner Irv Naylor),” Tobin said. “They gave me a chance, gave the horse a chance.”

Steeplechase Road Trip
So you want to work in steeplechasing? Assistant trainer James Piper left Virginia at about 6 Thursday morning with boss Doug Fout’s horses, arrived at Callaway Gardens in Georgia about 7 that night. After winning a stakes with Well Fashioned, Piper put the horses on the trailer and headed north at 7 Saturday night, getting to Virginia at 7 Sunday morning.

He should have then promptly taken a nap – a very long nap. Instead, he went to the Pennslvania Hunt Cup three more hours up the highway.

“I went home, walked around in a daze, played with my dog, had a few cups of tea and figured why not go to the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup?” he said. “I got halfway up the road and thought it was a really stupid idea.”

Only it wasn’t.

Piper went for the racing, the timber racing, and watched the Fout barn’s G’day G’day win the featured Hunt Cup. Afterward, he waxed poetic.

“Timber racing is all about the jumping, and this horse jumps,” he said. “It’s such a thrill watching a good timber horse jump a fence properly. It looks so magical. I love it. It’s the way they jump. They’re older horses, they are more experienced, more canny, and when they are right they are so right. My background at home (England) is pure hunting so I’d be biased toward it.”

That and driving.