Jazz Napravnik laughs when people talk about a shortage of Thoroughbred racehorses. Yes, the trainer knows the foal crop is down and some racetracks struggle to attract full fields. But from where she sits, as a dual-purpose trainer based in Maryland, there are plenty of horses.
“There are so many horses out there,” she said last fall when asked about So Outspoken, a hurdle prospect in her barn. “The foal crop is down, but horses go everywhere else (other than jump racing) first and it’s a good opportunity. I’d like to see a choice with Jockey Club papers that allowed or encouraged a horse to become a steeplechaser. Our community has to educate flat owners better.”
Napravnik and So Outspoken helped the cause last fall, taking part in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover at Pimlico and you could do worse with a poster boy for the sport this year. The 5-year-old son of Bernardini and the Danzig mare Green Door has won twice in four starts over jumps and is a player in Friday’s $35,000 optional-claiming hurdle at Monmouth Park after his flat career ended with a single win in nine starts.
Owned by the BMore Hopeful Stable of Anne Gummerson and Jayne Miller, So Outspoken is 9-2 in the field of 10 going 2 1/4 miles. Others in the race include rising maiden winners Iron Works, Western Exchange, Hot Sand and African Oil in addition to the stakes-placed Street Fight.
Monmouth hosts three jump races, carded as the first, third and fifth on a 10-race card which begins at 12:50 p.m.
Bred in Canada by Austin and Brenda Paul, So Outspoken came to jump racing in a typically roundabout fashion. Repole Stable bought him for $350,000 at Keeneland September in 2011, but quickly decreased the value as he finished ninth in his debut at Saratoga (behind future graded stakes winner Noble Tune) in September 2012. So Outspoken missed eight months and made three more starts for Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher, including a win for a $25,000 tag on the turf at Saratoga in 2013, before getting claimed by trainer Linda Rice. He was claimed again in September by Napravnik’s brother-in-law Joe Sharp and was in his current trainer’s barn by November. Three flat starts in the Mid-Atlantic produced little more than questions.
“He was running well, but we didn’t feel like his heart was in it,” said Napravnik. “We decided in 2014 to try him over jumps. All of my horses school to some degree and he showed potential and really seemed to enjoy it.”
So Outspoken was aimed for the spring meetings, only to be derailed by a fractured hock and four months on the sidelines. By fall, Napravnik had been talked into showcasing the horse as a steeplechase prospect at the Thoroughbred Makeover in October, but ran into more snags than a bad fisherman.
The list included a popped splint, a lack of suitable race fences to school over at the event, the closing of Pimlico’s turf course and finally some bad behavior at the Baltimore track a few miles from Napravnik’s base.
“He’s the most laid back horse in the barn, you could do anything with him, but I don’t know what I brought to Pimlico that day,” said the trainer. “I was ill-prepared for his behavior. I hopped on him. He wouldn’t go over to the demonstration area. I talked and my assistant led me in a circle.”
Napravnik and the horse nicknamed “Joe” got an A for effort, but did little to educate the crowd and even less to make a dent in Icabad Crane’s win as the Most Wanted Thoroughbred in America. Facing a winter with no progress, Napravnik put some routine training into So Outspoken in November and liked what she saw – or didn’t see – and thought about a training flat race on the Colonial Cup card in South Carolina Nov. 15. There’s not much point to a training race at the end of the season, but Napravnik was sending a horse for another race and made room in the van.
“I would never have a horse in a training flat race at the end of the year, but I thought it would do him some good,” Napravnik said. “He’s an emotional horse, he doesn’t like the starting gate, the race came up easy so we drove all the way to Camden for an ego boost.”
In his first start in almost a year, So Outspoken finished a fast-closing second and made plans for 2015. “Mission accomplished,” Napravnik said.
This year, the 5-year-old opened with a fourth at Aiken, then won a $20,000 maiden hurdle at Stoneybrook he won again two weeks later, getting the measure of Overwhelming (who won over hurdles at the Colonial Cup) at Atlanta. Fourth in his last start, going 3 miles May 9, So Outspoken has made just shy of $30,000 this year to nearly double his career earnings.
“I’m thrilled with him,” said Napravnik. “He got a little break and he schooled (Tuesday) and did it well. We’re ready.”
So Outspoken, who will be ridden by Mark Watts once again, still has plenty of upside, according to his trainer.
“I just think he’s super athletic,” she said when asked about what made him take to jump racing. “He’s got good conformation he’s compact without being too little. He’s got a great brain on him, very versatile and he really seems to enjoy jumping. When we started with him, he loved it, he lit up, his face lit up. You could see the expression in him. He made it pretty clear that he wasn’t going back to the racetrack.”
Dogwood Stable’s Street Fight, who won his jump debut back in 2013 but has placed in two open stakes, rates a mild favorite at 3-1 for trainer Arch Kingsley and jockey Willie McCarthy. The 6-year-old Street Sense gelding placed, but failed to threaten, in his two starts this year. Two-time winner Arrakis, fourth in a handicap hurdle at Fair Hill last month, is the third choice at 5-1 for trainer Julie Gomena.
Gary Barber’s African Oil, who blew away the year’s richest maiden hurdle race at Nashville May 9, makes his first start against winners for trainer Kate Dalton at 8-1. The 5-year-old French-bred raced on the flat in California with trainer Simon Callaghan before the conversion this spring. The son of Royal Applause came back positive for the corticosteroid Depo Medrol after the Iroquois win, though Dalton is appealing the ruling.
The day’s first two jump races are for maidens. The first features eight runners – after the scratches of North Star Boy, Secret Reward and Ohthgift. Aheadofthecurve finished second in his jump debut in April for trainer Mary McGlothlin and jockey Carol Ann Sloan. The son of High Cotton could end up the favorite along with Simply Certain, Cash Crop and Dye For in wide-open race. Two races later, nine more maidens head postward. Second twice this year, Ride Away is the morning-line favorite, but will have plenty of competition from the likes of Curmudgeon (third at Fair Hill), Jack Fisher-trained rookie Wise Minister and Jonathan Sheppard-trained rookie Sartorius.
Watch So Outspoken win at Atlanta in April.