Needing to Win

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You need the win. You always need the win. Every horse, every race, you need the win. Whether it’s for the owner, the trainer, the jockey or the job, when you participate in Thoroughbred racing, you need the win. It’s your team, your decisions, the wins can be culmination, reclamation, affirmation or salvation – sometimes all four.

Yellow Mountain ran five times over hurdles. We needed the win every time.

Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, the Irish-bred son of Danehill Dancer made his debut at Far Hills in 2014. Slightly rushed to get there, he reached the lead, came up the hill like it was going to happen and got out-sprinted to the wire. Second. We were ecstatic he ran well (full disclosure, I had mentioned to assistant Keri Brion about running him for a $5,000 tag after three lackluster performances on the flat), but finishing second, as we all know, is agony. It’s there, but not there. Mark Grier, his family and friends come to Far Hills every year – it’s why they’re in the game – they were there, ready to celebrate, ready for a free day. It didn’t happen.

A month later, we ran him back at Camden and he got sideswiped at the first hurdle, made a run and finished second to Overwhelming. A win would have made the weekend, a second, well, it was good and bad as always. Ross Geraghty said he could claim foul on the winner, but, we decided he was better off a maiden. There were days when I rued that decision.

The next spring, he ran at Atlanta Steeplechase and finished second again (if you’re counting, that’s three). We didn’t need that one as much, we were headed to Iroquois for our spring target.

Need? It was time for Yellow Mountain to graduate, George Baker and all my friends from Britain and Nashville were there, big purse, big day, stamp a ticket to Saratoga. We needed this like the Great Barrier Reef needs clean water. Yellow Mountain went to the lead, but always looked pressured, got tired and finished third. I once wondered if he tried, he came back like he had been to Normandy on June 6, 1944.

By July, he was back at it, going to Parx for another maiden hurdle. It was time. Win and erase the four losses, head to Saratoga with an experience edge against allowance foes. The Irish-bred flew the last hurdle, the money was in the bank, the need satiated and then it wasn’t as Curmudgeon looked like he ran out of the casino to nail him by a nose. We needed the win and wound up with a photo-finish loss. Then all that disappeared as Geraghty pulled him up and jumped off. Now, we simply needed him to be OK.

He actually seemed OK back at the barn, but a month later, a bowed tendon appeared as they do and that was that.

He transferred to the field and we transferred our need onto other horses.

Fifteen months later, he returned to Far Hills, in the maiden hurdle, yes, the same race where he made his debut. Pointing maidens to important maiden races is part of everybody’s equation. Pointing the same maiden to the same important maiden race two years later, well, that’s not exactly how John Nerud would have written it. Need? This was like oxygen, after The Grange stood at the start of the first and Riverdee was down to one last chance on the day we point for every year.

And in four minutes, Yellow Mountain met out need, barreling up the hill and drawing off by nearly 4 as we barreled down the hill, reveling in that crazy cocktail of culmination, reclamation, affirmation and salvation.