Two for Toner at Keeneland

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Jimmy Toner walked through the barn area at Keeneland Wednesday morning and lamented about his stable’s lack of success – albeit from a somewhat limited sample size – with three days remaining in the spring meeting.

“I’m doing well, but I wish we could have had a little more luck,” Toner said.

The next day, with Toner just coming off the 700-plus-mile drive from Lexington to Belmont Park and watching the races on television, that luck turned around. The Toner barn picked up two wins on Thursday’s card, winning the second race with Sean Shay’s and Mike Ryan’s Hunter O’Riley and the sixth with Darby Dan Farm Racing’s Manitoulin

The victories, both on the grass going long, provided the perfect salve for the string that didn’t hit the board with its first five starters.

“Jimmy left yesterday, and got to New York today just in time to watch Hunter’s race,” assistant trainer Tiffany Webb said after stopping in the track photographer’s office to order some win pictures. “He was very thrilled with that. I haven’t talked to him yet about this race but Manitoulin, I couldn’t be happier.”

 A huge contingent of partners with Darby Dan Farm Racing – part of the 10,171 that turned out for a breezy but picturesque spring afternoon in Central Kentucky – greeted Manitoulin in the winner’s circle after he and jockey Florent Geroux came up the inside to win going 9 furlongs on the turf.

The win was Manitoulin’s second from 11 career starts, along with a maiden win last June at Belmont Park that came a little less than two months from his turf debut at Keeneland. Mantiloulin hadn’t been out since a third in an Aqueduct allowance in late November and he’d been gelded since that effort.

“Coming off the layoff, we gelded him after his last start and we sent him home after that and he got a little rest,” Webb said. “He joined us in Florida. I call him donkey because that’s kind of what he is most of the time. I told Florent after that I guess I have to give him a different nickname. Florent goes, ‘he needs an upgrade.’

“He’s just the type of horse, I don’t know if you saw coming back when I went out to grab him he stops and tries to follow the other horses. That’s the type of horse he is. He just says, ‘I want to follow my friends.’ He doesn’t want to be on his own. For the hole to open up and for him to go through it, I was like, holy smokes, that’s not him.”

Webb said the win was “huge for the ownership” group led by Darby Dan’s John Phillips, who was on hand for the victory.

A party was already scheduled for the group at Darby Dan, so the victory by Manitoulin made it all the more sweet. A similar party was held during last year’s fall meet at Keeneland, when Phillips and the Toner barn celebrated another big victory.

“I think we had all the Darby Dan Farm ownership here,” Webb said. “They’d already planned a big party at the farm, so the fact that we were able to win and have the party tonight, I don’t have to go to the party and be like, ‘I wish we did this or that.’ I guess they should plan a party for every time we run here because they planned a party for after the Queen Elizabeth last fall and Time And Motion goes out and wins.”

The day got rolling for the Toner barn when Hunter O’Riley, a 4-year-old son of Tiz Wonderful, and Corie Lanerie got up in the final jump to edge Patrick’s Day and Javier Castellano. Hunter O’Riley hadn’t been out since finishing sixth, beaten just 2 lengths, in the Grade 3 W. L. McKnight in late January at Gulfstream.

Manitoulin and Hunter O’Riley will go back with the rest of Toner’s string, which also includes the 3-year-old Medaglia d’Oro colt Soar Once More who makes his debut in the fifth race Friday, to Belmont after the meet. They’ll be joined by a group of 17 other horses, many of which are 2-year-olds.

“Jimmy managed to pick up a few owners this winter,” Webb said. “Some of them are new owners. It’s great because we struggled with numbers last year, when we had a maximum of 14 horses. We went to Florida last year with seven and at one point we were at six before we brought the babies in. I told Jimmy it’s the Time And Motion affect.”

One who won’t be with the group is Tomas Martinez, the groom of both winners Thursday. Webb said Martinez will go back to his regular construction job after spending the winter and spring with the team.

“He was great and it’s so good for him to get two wins today,” Webb said. “He hadn’t groomed since he worked for me with Mike Hushion two winters ago. He spent one winter in Kentucky and said, ‘that’s enough.’ He’s worked with top horseman. He was a groom for David Carroll, a foreman for Rusty Arnold, so he’s a good guy to have. It was really good for him to get two wins. The best story, the first week I got back to Florida Hunter actually broke Tomas’ phone. So all winter long he’s told Hunter he owes him a phone. Today when we went to go pick him up after the race he says, ‘I got my phone buddy.’ ” 

Read more about Manitoulin and his owners