Part of Irv Naylor’s ever-growing, ex-European brigade, the Irish-bred secured a length or two lead the whole way before drawing off to win by 6 1/4 lengths. Ridden by Ross Geraghty and trained by J.W. Delozier, Black Jack Blues skipped clear to beat Country Cousin, making his first start since June, and All Together, making his first start out of the novice ranks.
“He’s done it pretty well, he was going a good gallop the whole way, I needed every jump down the backstretch, just to fend them off, but he’s done it well, he’s going to improve from that run,” Geraghty said of the 9-year-old’s first race since winning the Grand National at Far Hills in October. “He feels a better horse this year, he’s stronger, he’s improved and I think there’s more improvement there. He was bought to race on good ground, he handles soft ground also, which is a bonus, but a lot of that is just he has that bit of class to him.”
Purchased out of Rebecca Curtis’ yard after a six-win career in Britain, Black Jack Blues landed running, winning the Dot Smithwick the day after arriving at Delozier’s barn and returned three weeks later to win the richest race of the year, the Grand National. Those two wins, both on yielding ground, propelled him to an Eclipse Award over Naylor’s Tax Ruling and Decoy Daddy.
Geraghty felt like a winter break strengthened the dark bay son of Definite Article and his performance at Camden solidified that assessment.
“It was great to get that one out of the way anyway, I’ve been looking forward to him for a while,” Geraghty said. “He got a nice mild winter here which was a good help, it helped him acclimatize, he’s done really well, he’s strengthened up. He’s going to improve, he’s five months off the track, he’s going to come on again.”
Black Jack Blues combines quick jumping, an electric gallop and deep stamina to take control of his races from the start. He’s yet to see a horse in three starts in America.
“He just likes it, I think he can be rated if I wanted, but he likes racing that way, that’s him,” Geraghty said. “He’s a little bully, he likes to dictate, that’s him, that’s his personality. Once he’s going his speed, he doesn’t mind anything. He just likes to roll along, he loves jumping, that’s him, he goes from fence to fence, he enjoys it, he landed over the last and went away from them again, he knows his job.”
The 3-mile Iroquois looks like the next logical spot, where Black Jack Blues could square off with Tax Ruling, winner of the past two runnings of the Nashville classic. Geraghty goes guns blazing.
“I have no hesitation about the trip, he’s got stamina, he stayed 2, 5 in heavy ground at Far Hills, he could have gone a lot further, he wasn’t tired at Far Hills. He has a lot of class about him,” Geraghty said. “It shows his class, he can win over all these distances, he wins the Dot Smithwick, that was short enough for him, he beat a nice horse in Demonstrative, he goes to Far Hills, then he comes out and beats All Together and Country Cousin, they’re not mugs, they’re nice horses. It takes a lot of doing to do what he’s done.”
The beat goes on.
Jimmy and Emily Day have had a long winter.
“Emily and I are back to where we were when we first got married, no help, doing it all,” Jimmy Day said. “We’re both are fit and in good shape.”
And off the board with a win by Duc de Savoie in the maiden. Owned by Jim and Melinda Carter’s Randleston Farm, the 6-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday emulated Black Jack Blues, controlling the race from the outset before skipping clear to win by 5 lengths over Alfarabi and Sit A Spiel. Jeff Murphy guided the winner, who was making his first NSA start over hurdles. Bred in America but raced in Ireland, Duc de Savoie made three starts over hurdles in Ireland, finishing fourth twice before finishing sixth, beaten 65 lengths in his final start there. Entered in the Tattersalls Horses in Training Sale last fall, Duc de Savoie was purchased privately by Day before he traveled to the sale.
“I thought I could buy him cheaper, he wasn’t very expensive. He’s paid for himself now. We’ll have some fun with him,” Day said. “I had him entered in a fall meet but he got here and fell apart, we went back to the basics, I had a three-day rider do some dressage with him, to get his body back, we started him back in January and every week he thrived, just did better and better and better.”
Day used a hurdle prep at Blue Ridge and another flat spin at Piedmont Point-to-Point to sharpen Duc de Savoie for Camden.
“He ran a really good race at Blue Ridge, we were just schooling him around, he ran a big race, then I let him gallop around on the flat at Piedmont and that set him right, he came out of it ready to run,” Day said. “I told Jeff, he’s going to love that new track, a big, galloping track, just let him run and jump. He came of the race really good, I have to figure out where to go now. He’s 6, he’s ready to go on. He has talent, he never had the body to fulfill it, he’s turned around and he’s a happy horse, it will be exciting to see what he can do.”
Sometimes all it takes is a phone call. Willie McCarthy called Arch Kingsley before Queen’s Cup last year to see if he could use a rider for a first-time starter. The Irish-born jockey got the ride on Baltic Shore. And kept it. The duo won their second race together, taking the allowance at Camden.
Another victory accomplished from near the front end, Baltic Shore sat just off Dugan for most of the 2 1/8 mile trip before cruising to a 3 length win over late-running Sergeant Karakorum and Dugan. Owned by High Hope Stable (Bill Price and crew), Baltic Shore won for the second time in his six-race hurdle career. The son of Johar finished fourth in his debut at Queen’s Cup, returned to dominate a maiden at Strawberry Hill. Put away for a summer campaign, Baltic Shore did everything but win a tough two-other-than allowance at Saratoga, failing by a nose to Royal Rossi. Kingsley wheeled him back in two weeks at the Spa, that didn’t work. The free-galloping chestnut ran once in the fall, finishing second to Gustavian at Aiken. Trained locally, Baltic Shore walked up the sand road from Kingsley’s barn at the far end of Springdale, rifle aimed and ready.
“I like him a lot, he’s improved a lot from last year, both physically and mentally, he’s a different horse,” McCarthy said. “He was a tad too strong in his races last year and he didn’t have the physical strength to go with it, he’s filled out into the big frame that he is, he’s able to go that strong gallop now and he stays going. Most importantly, mentally he’s a different horse, he just had to figure out he had to go 2 miles instead of a mile and an eighth.”
McCarthy spent the winter at Vinery in Ocala, making frequent trips to school – and keep an eye on his best horse – for Kingsley in Camden. McCarthy has ridden Baltic Shore in all six starts. The Saratoga loss was a heartbreaker.
“That run at Saratoga, I don’t think I’ve had a horse pull that much through a race, he was so strong that day and he battled that horse after the last, it showed how big a heart he has,” McCarthy said. “This year, he’s settled down mentally, he could be a force to be reckoned with this year.”
Baltic Shore has avoided the novice-stakes triangle, going through the basics in six starts over hurdles and could be rounding into a quality performer. As for McCarthy, who landed in America in January, 2011, he’s glad he called Kingsley and hoping Baltic Shore can carry his flag.
“How it first came about, I was down in Camden for a month or two, just after I came over from Ireland, I never rode for Arch, but I made myself available to him, I met him, spoke with him a few times,” McCarthy said. “At Queen’s Cup, I was going down there to ride two horses, when the overnights came out, Baltic Shore was without a rider or it might have been a double booking for one of the riders, so I called up Arch and made myself available. Luckily enough, he took me up on it. He’s a lovely horse to be associated with, last year was my first year, to have him for a second season, hopefully he’s a horse that can get my name out there.”
McCarthy rode as an amateur in Ireland, moved to Britain and rode out his (apprentice) claim while riding predominantly for trainers Tom George, Ian Williams and Brendan Powell. Once he lost his claim, he knew it was time to make a new plan and followed the well-trod path to the land of opportunity.
“Once you ride out your claim in England, it becomes way different, I could see it was going downhill, the quality of rides, it was time to make the move to United States,” said McCarthy, who has a five-year visa. “I’ve had some success, I got my name out there a little bit last year, but I didn’t have the quality of horses, I’m hoping this year will be better. Like this horse, he’s one to look forward to.”
McCarthy plans to move to Fair Hill in May.
“It’s central enough when the season moves up there,” he said. “It will be handy to go racing, it won’t do me any harm.”
Trainer Doug Fout added a much-needed name to the filly and mare roster when Maggie Bryant’s Quiet Flaine took the nightcap, a filly and mare maiden, for jockey Jeff Murphy and Maggie Bryant. The 4-year-old filly erased two dismal efforts last fall to secure her first victory in third career start. The homebred daughter of Real Quiet sat off Beating The Odds (who eventually lost jockey Brian Crowley) before easing away to a 16-length score over first-time starters Eastern Starlett and Lonesome.
Quiet Flaine ran twice on the flat, managing a fourth on the turf at Colonial, before pulling up in her jump debut at Foxfield in the fall and losing Murphy in her second start, an open maiden at Montpelier. Fout knew those efforts were in the past.
“She had been training good, she was just immature last year. She had an easy point-to-point at Warrenton, a good third all on her own, she’s grown up, gotten strong, gotten aggressive, she’s just an honest filly,” Fout said. “I’ve always liked her, that was the last breeding I did with my mom before she passed, it meant a lot to me. She did it the right way, she gave them a jumping lesson down the backside and went on about it.”
Bred in Virginia by the Virginia Tech Foundation and owned by Eve Fout, Quiet Flaine’s dam Flaine broke her maiden over hurdles at Colonial Downs in 2001 (the jockeys that day – Rob Massey, Roger Horgan, Michael Cooney, Michael Traurig, Pat Cooney, Josh Beavers, J.W. Delozier and Tom Foley). Flaine lost her eye after an infection and surgery and was retired to the broodmare band. In 2006, she produced eventual filly and mare champion Ptarmigan.
“She was a big strapping filly, could go all day long,” Fout said. “Mom would have been excited. It takes so long to come around, that it’s cool when it does come around. There are so many variables.”
Paddy Young hopped off Dance Faster at Thornton Hill Point-to-Point and told his wife/trainer Leslie Young that the first-time starter over timber handled the conversion and could handle facing winners at Camden.
“When Paddy thinks they can do it,” Leslie Young said. “I say let’s go for it.”
The Youngs entered the two-time hurdle winner for Camden’s $20,000 non-winners-of-two timber, figuring it was a short field, Paddy knew the horse . . . ah the best laid plans of . . .
Paddy Young broke his arm when Darkwatch fell in the maiden and Leslie Young needed to go fishing for jockeys. She settled on the quiet-handed Darren Nagle, convinced owner Ann McIntosh that it was a good idea, then did the sign of the cross.
Dance Faster settled deep in the field of six, moved to third at eating time, tracked Four Schools to the last and nailed the long-time leader by a head. Veteran Gather No Moss finished third.
Dance Faster won twice over hurdles (with Young aboard) in 2011. The Youngs purchased the 5-year-old out of Ricky Hendriks’ barn in December, teaching him a new trade this winter. Dance Faster prepped at the point-to-point and collected a check for $12,000 in his NSA debut.
“Ann McIntosh used to be part of the Scanden Stable syndicate, she was looking for a timber horse, so we asked Ricky about Dance Faster, he was always a good jumper, Paddy thought he might convert, and if he wasn’t good at it, he could always go back and run over hurdles,” Leslie Young said. “We schooled him a lot this winter, so we took him to Thornton Hill and he finished second, Paddy said after the race, ‘Camden comes up light sometimes, if he keeps going in the right direction, schooling, we should take a shot.’ “
Young certainly didn’t think she’d be giving riding instructions for the race.
“I said to Darren, ‘just hunt around, try to get in a rhythm, and try and pick it up as you go along,’ ” she said. “I did say to him we didn’t come down here for the fun of it, we think he has a shot.”