The Maryland Million: Tim Keefe on the Big Horse

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Veteran Eighttofasttocatch seeks his third victory in the Maryland Million Classic Saturday. Trained by Tim Keefe, the 8-year-old owns 15 wins since making his debut in a 6-furlong maiden at Laurel Park in October 2008. With a victory, the son of leading Maryland Million sire Not For Love would surpass the $1 million mark. Owned by Sylvia and her late husband Arnold Heft, Eighttofasttocatch finished eighth in the Sept. 6 Japan Racing Association in his lone prep for the Maryland Million.

This Is Horse Racing’s Sean Clancy caught up with trainer Tim Keefe for 30 (or so) questions – some pertinent, some inane. Goats and gallops, stalls and stops…this is Eighttofasttocatch.

TIHR: Where does he live? And why?

Keefe: He lives in Stall 3, Barn 6A. It had a full screen and I didn’t want to change screens to keep Gigi (the goat) going in and out of it. It sits on the top of the hill and overlooks most of the backside, it’s the best vantage point, he likes to see everything, he likes the action.

TIHR: What about the goat?

Keefe: I think he likes consistency, a routine. and the goat helps. When I gave him time off this summer and brought him home, I left Gigi at the racetrack. For the first two weeks, we had lambs on the farm, every time he would hear a lamb holler, he would get wound up, thinking it was Gigi looking for him. I was thinking I might have to put one of the lambs in with him. He doesn’t know the difference between a lamb and a goat.

TIHR: What was he like on the farm?

Keefe: He was tense the first few days, looking for something to do. When he realized his only job was to go out and eat, chill and relax, he was great. He got turned out with two mares, one lawn ornament and my wife Rumsey’s event horse.

TIHR: What’s his daily routine at the track?

Keefe: Pete (Brown-Whale) gets on him every morning, he’s been riding him since he was a 2-year-old. There were two times, one when Pete broke his collarbone and one when he broke his leg, both in motorcycle accidents, when Molla (Sletzinger) got him.

TIHR: What’s he like to gallop?

Keefe: For Pete, he’s an absolute piece of cake, but he’s not easy to ride. Molla rides him well too. He’s not crazy or a runoff but he’ll take a hold of you. He likes to take his time going to the track, he likes to stand there and watch things. Nothing gets him wound up other than when he sees a horse in front of him, he’ll clock him.

TIHR: How would you do if you had to get on him tomorrow?

Keefe: I would adjust his training schedule…he would go out at 5:30, when the track was as quiet and dark as possible. I would take him once the wrong way…and pray.

TIHR: Describe his jockeys over the years.

Keefe: He’s had several. Two stand out. His current jockey, Forest Boyce. She’s quiet, kind hands, patient, she doesn’t fuss with him. He likes that. Sheldon Russell always rode him well similarly, very quiet, very patient. He likes both of them.

TIHR: Do you remember his first start?

Keefe: I think he finished third (fourth), I remember being disappointed, I always liked him.

TIHR: What was the best day with him?

Keefe: When he won the Maryland Million and Arnie said, “I’ve been in sports my whole life and I’ve never had a champion. Tim gave me a champion today.” That gets me choked up. I’ll never forget that.

– Watch Eighttofasttocatch win last year’s Maryland Million.

TIHR: What was the worst day?

Keefe: I can think of three. When we stopped him at 3, when he had chips in his knees. Certainly when he got beat in the Maryland Million in 2012, he ran poorly, he was doing well, we were hoping for the best, he threw in a bad race. And the day he ran off on the lead and got beat.

TIHR: What was the best move you ever made with him?

Keefe: Probably hooking him up with Gigi. Also, it might sound strange, but taking him to Keeneland, when he was fourth behind Wise Dan. I wanted to take a shot with him, I wanted to reach out and see if he was good enough. We took him down there for a week, we gave him every shot, he just came up a little short. I didn’t have to think, ‘I wonder if I ever took this horse out of Maryland…’ I did and he just wasn’t quite good enough. Note: Eighttofasttocatch finished fourth, beaten less than 6 lengths for the win and about a length for second, to budding superstar Wise Dan in the 2011 Fayette Stakes on Keeneland’s Polytrack.

TIHR: What was your worst move?

Keefe: There have been several. Running in the Dixie and the Pimlico Special the first time, they were bad moves.

TIHR: What would he drink when he came home from work?

Keefe: He would drink something with cranberry. A fruity drink.

TIHR: Really? I was thinking whiskey?

Keefe: Nah, fruity.

TIHR: What sport would he play?

Keefe: Hockey.

TIHR: Hockey? And drink a fruity drink?

Keefe: I know, it sounds strange.

TIHR: Would he be married, single, kids…?

Keefe: Married…two or three times.

TIHR: Who would be his top three bands on his iPod?

Keefe: U2 for sure. He would probably listen to The Grateful Dead. And I’d say Steely Dan.

TIHR: Steely Dan?

Keefe: Yeah, Steely Dan.

TIHR: Equipment over the years?

Keefe: I tried blinkers just to change it up, like most trainers, then took them off. He likes his figure eight, that’s probably the most important. I haven’t thrown a lot of stuff at him.

TIHR: What’s he think of you?

Keefe: He likes me. I think I make him a little nervous, he knows I’m business, knows I’m pushing the buttons. I used to make him more nervous, he’s more laid back now. He used to always pin his ears at me, now he’s good, he’s very kind. We have a good working relationship. He loves Pete. Pete is his buddy. I’m more his boss. And he knows that.

TIHR: What were you thinking when you ran him for a $32,000 tag in February 2011?

Keefe: It was a hard decision, I felt like he was at his lowest point, he needed some confidence and I needed to see him put in a good race. To this day, Mark Lapidus never lets me forget it, every time the horse wins a stake, ‘You know how lucky you were that I was in Florida that day…’

TIHR: Explain the reason for his longevity?

Keefe: It’s a combination of everything. Arnie never pushed me with this horse, he always said, do the right thing with this horse. That’s part of it. Part of it is just him. After the chips, he’s never any issues. Finding spots for him, never over-doing it. He’s Cal Ripken.

TIHR: Describe his team.

Keefe: Juan Morales has been his groom for the last three years. Joaquin Garcia groomed him before that. Miguel is his hotwalker. Teresa Garcia walks him some. He knows all of them.

TIHR: Any superstitions or rituals for Maryland Million?

Keefe: Same shirt, tie and jacket.

TIHR: But they’ve lost a few…

Keefe: I’ve changed it periodically.

TIHR: You didn’t change it after the debacle in his last race (last in the Japan Racing Stakes)?

Keefe: No, I didn’t. I’m going with the same thing as last year.

TIHR: What will it be like walking over there this year, knowing he’s retiring at the end of the year?

Keefe: I’ll get emotional, win or lose. Because Arnie’s not here anymore, he was one of my biggest supporters, he got my career off the ground. Also, for the best horse I’ve ever had, knowing I’m one race away from going up and not seeing him in Stall 3, Barn 6A. It’ll be emotional.