The Fourstardave Recap

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Kiaran McLaughlin shook hands with jockey Alan Garcia, owner’s representative Jimmy Bell and a host of others after Justenuffhumor won Sunday’s Fourstardave Handicap. But the trainer made sure he didn’t miss Roy Williamson.

 

“There’s my gate man, I’ve got to tell him ‘nice job,’ ” said McLaughlin. Williamson and the gate crew helped get Justenuffhumor ready to run as much as anyone.

The lessons included almost daily visits to the gate – and even some last-minute adjustments as the horses were loading for the $150,000 turf stakes – but paid off with a fifth consecutive win for the 4-year-old. After some rocky behavior in the gate, Justenuffhumor split horses in the stretch and drew off late to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Mambo Meister with Cowboy Cal third in 1:42.83 for the 1 1/16 miles. Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Kip Deville finished eighth of nine.

“He’s found the grass and he’s found the winner’s circle,” said Bell, representing owner Darley. “He’s done everything that’s been asked of him at every stage since we got to the grass.”

Papa Bear bounded out of the gate first, but was quickly challenged and passed by favorite Cowboy Cal, who led into the backstretch. Cosmonaut drafted into third with Kip Deville fourth and four wide early. Justenuffhumor drifted back to eighth at one point, idled on the turn and kicked hard in the stretch. At the furlong pole, Cosmonaut and Cowboy Cal battled on the lead, Mambo Meister reached contention on the rail. Still drafting, Justenuffhumor charged from fourth to first – inside Cosmonaut and Cowboy Cal, outside Mambo Meister – in about six strides and won comfortably.

“At the three-eighths pole I was just looking for a hole to let him run,” said Garcia. “Turning into the stretch we dove inside and he switched leads and just took off for me.”
Justenuffhumor joined Darley as a $500,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland September, and brought plenty of turf pedigree including half-siblings Dreaming Of Anna and Lewis Michael. Their dam, Justenuffheart, is a half-sister to turf champion Kitten’s Joy. Unraced at 2, Justenuffhumor lost his only start at 3 (on Polytrack) last fall. At 4, he moved to the turf and has done nothing but win – a maiden in January, a first-level allowance in March, a second-level allowance in April and a third-level allowance in June. The only step left was a stakes.

McLaughlin gave much of the credit to the gate work, though he had to sweat through a long loading process in the Fourstardave. Justenuffhumor loaded fine, that’s really not his problem, but rocked the gate with some antics – stirring up Papa Bear and prolonging the process.

“He tries to sit down, sit back in the starting gate,” said Williamson. “He’s very studdish  and doesn’t want anyone standing next to him, but he sits down so much that we need to leave someone in there to make sure he’s up on his feet. It was a teeter-totter in there today, going back and forth quite a bit. The horses next to him got bad, it was kind of tough for a minute, a tough race to get all of them figured out and away from there.”

To counteract Justenuffhumor’s problems, Williamson and McLaughlin put the horse through numerous schooling sessions. The son of Distorted Humor improved enough in the morning that he could stand in the gate without an assistant and was even dismissed from a few sessions. The gate crew uses extra pads inside the stall  – keeping the horse off the back doors and further nestled into place.

“We have regular pads built into our gate, but with horses like him we use quarter pads too,” he said. “They line the stall and they act like a blanket. I think it works better than the blanket because the blanket can move. The pads stay there and help the horse.”

Pads or not, Justenuffhumor tried a few shenanigans before the Fourstardave, prompting McLaughlin and Williamson to talk about some more work.

“Most of what you’re seeing is him just being a colt, that’s all it is,” said Williamson. “He sits back, he wants to bite and he wants to be left alone, but the way he sits back, you can’t trust him to be alone. We’ll keep working with him.”

Like the horse’s four prior victories, the Fourstardave looked smooth as hazelnut coffee once the gate opened.

“He got a great set-up – down inside, beautiful trip and fast enough when he needed to be,” said McLaughlin. “He looks like he’d keep going, too.”

Not just to the gate.