The 2015 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland isn’t short on remarkable stories. The obvious ones get most of the press and sound bytes, from Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s bid to add the Breeders’ Cup Classic to his glistening resume and go out a winner to Thursday’s scratch of champion mare Beholder, they’re all covered over and over.
One story that undoubtedly won’t get more than a mention during NBC’s television broadcast nor many paragraphs in the mainstream, or even trade, press, is that of Jimmy Toner.
The fact that Toner is here at Keeneland for the two-day Breeders’ Cup isn’t really the story, he’s already won a Breeders’ Cup race in his career and he’s run six horses at the event since his first starter in 1996. The fact that he’s never finished worse than fifth with those six starters isn’t even the story, although that’s as strong as the proverbial jailhouse coffee.
No, the story is that Toner is here with two starters from a barn that numbers only 10 horses. Just let it sit there for a minute and allow it to digest. That’s right, two from a stable of just 10, here at the biggest annual racing event in North America featuring many of the best horses and horsemen in the world.
Perhaps even better than the sheer numbers – which everyone these days are obsessed over – is that Toner, while proud of the accomplishment, isn’t about to beat his own drum. Thursday morning, before sending Recepta to train on Keeneland’s Polytrack training track, he joked about it even.
“It’s good as long as nobody says, ‘what happened to the other eight, how come they’re not running?’ ” Toner says, getting a laugh from assistant Tiffany Webb as she tacked up the Speightstown filly.
Once the jokes are over Toner prefers to talk about his Breeders’ Cup duo and the conversation includes everything from their past races, their preparation back at Belmont Park, their dams that he also trained and what they’ll do here at Keeneland as the weekend approaches.
The two are both fillies, not surprising considering five of Toner’s six Breeders’ Cup starters were also female. They are also bred and owned or co-owned by John Phillips’ Phillips Racing Partnership, a longtime Toner patron and the owners of his 1999 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Soaring Softly.
Time And Motion, a filly by Tapit out of the Kris S. stakes winner Ellie’s Moment, goes first in Friday’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She’s run twice, is still a maiden and wasn’t selected in the original part of the field but got in after the connections of a filly that beat her last time decided not to run.
Recepta runs in Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile, riding a two-race win streak, running on a turf course she won on this spring and taking on males for the first time. She also got into the Mile field after initially being a few deep on the also-eligible list.
“We’ve got 10 in the barn and we got two in, so we’re OK,” Toner said. “To get two in, I don’t know how much of an achievement it is, but it’s pretty neat. That’s how I look at it. The most important thing is the horses are happy and doing well.”
Right on cue to her trainer’s last comment Time And Motion dropped, stretched out and rolled a few times in her stall before standing up, shaking off straw, most of it at least with a few pieces stuck to her black forelock and returning to an inquisitive spot at the front of her corner stall. She’d already trained for the day, going early on the Polytrack.
Recepta went out a little after 9 a.m., after the hustle and bustle that surrounded American Pharoah’s trip to the training track was complete. Toner and Webb made the walk from Barn 72 in the Rice Road barn area across the road and to the training track.
Once Recepta got to the track she pulled a familiar stunt to her connections, standing near the gap for a long time, ears pricked and checking out the surroundings. She trained at Keeneland in the spring prior to winning a 1 1/16-mile allowance race that was her first start in more than nine months.
“She’d stand all day if we let her,” Toner said, ducking under the rail near the gap to watch the filly.
Recepta moved effortlessly over the Polytrack, picking it up a bit on her second lap of the 5-furlong oval, Toner watching carefully and perhaps a little nervously first when he saw some leaves that had blown onto the surface and then when a pony nearly swerved in her path on one of the straightaways. The rest of the gallop went off without a hitch, the filly with the four orange polos covering the artificial surface with ease.
“She really picked it up that second time around, didn’t she?” Webb said.
Toner and Webb met Recepta, winner of the Grade 3 Noble Damsel Sept. 19 at Belmont and the De La Rose Aug. 8 at Saratoga in her last two starts, by the gap.
“Was she OK?” Toner asked his rider.
“More than OK,” came the response.
A short while later and back at the barn while Recepta cooled out, unperturbed by a tractor emptying a nearby muck pit, Toner looked back at his first morning in Kentucky and ahead at the weekend.
“We had two really good gallops today. No complaints,” Toner said. “We’re ready.”