Strong to the End

- -

The voodoo dolls are nowhere to be seen outside Barn 72 on the Oklahoma Training Track at Saratoga Race Course. The famous gumbo pot, stirring paddle and makeshift picnic tables and chairs are all packed away for next summer, the next season, the next racetrack.

A Southern Equine Stable signs still hang on each end of the barn that’s been home to Grade 1 Whitney winner Moreno and his stablemates for the better part of five months. Eric Guillot is still around, too, zipping around the stable area in his golf cart, still wearing shorts and still cracking jokes.

“It’s getting close to 30 degrees, that means it’s time to get out of here,” Guillot said as a set cooled out just before the second break on the Oklahoma Tuesday morning. “I heard it was like 105 the other day at Santa Anita. That’s too hot. It’ll cool down soon though, down to like 90, 95, perfect weather, like summer starting all over again.”

Guillot and Moreno are headed out of town, first to Belmont Park for Saturday’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and then to Santa Anita Park for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and a winter break. They leave Wednesday and by Friday the rest of the barn will be gone, too.

“I’ve got loose ends everywhere,” Guillot jokes, standing under a blue piece of baling twine tied to a tree limb and blowing in the breeze. “Pletcher must have come over and cut down my voodoo dolls. Cut it down with his pocket knife or something.”

On the other side of the tree is a framed picture of Guillot in his glory moment of the summer – or perhaps his life – draped in the blanket of flowers Moreno earned for his Whitney win Aug. 2 at Saratoga. Moreno finished second in his second 2014 appearance at Saratoga, yielding at the wire to Itsmyluckyday in the Grade 1 Woodward on closing weekend.

Moreno breezed once in the 28-day stretch between the Woodward and Saturday’s 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, nothing all that out of the ordinary for the Ghostzapper gelding. Guillot likes to keep him fresh between races, sticking to a normal routine of jogging mostly and turning him around occasionally for a fast breeze.

Moreno went 5 furlongs on the Oklahoma last Saturday in 1:03.31, a move that doesn’t look spectacular on paper but pretty good considering the bullet went to Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes winner Fashion Alert in 1:02.29.

“He’s as good as he can be,” Guillot said.

Moreno comes into the Gold Cup as almost a bit of an anomaly – top a member of the older male division still racing as the Breeders’ Cup gets closer.

The division has lost Palace Malice, Game On Dude and Will Take Charge in recent weeks, and Itsmyluckyday doesn’t appear on the road to the Classic with his connections favoring Saturday’s Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at 1 mile and then possibly the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or Cigar Mile after that.

Moreno will face top 3-year-olds V. E. Day, Wicked Strong and Tonalist – the first three finishers in the Travers – along with Zivo, Big Cazanova, Last Gunfighter, Prayer for Relief, Stephanoatsee and possibly Speak Logistics in the Gold Cup. A win would give Guillot’s stable star two Grade 1 victories this season on dirt, more than any other member of the division still in training.

“They’re all dropping like flies,” Guillot said. “I could wind up with the best older male horse, that crooked gelding.”


Watch Moreno win the Whitney.

Watch Itsmyluckyday win the Woodward.