Catch Up

     Trainer Tim Keefe walked into the paddock at Laurel Park Saturday afternoon getting ready to saddle his horse Hughes Next for the first race. Four days prior he walked out of the terminal at Dulles airport accompanied by his wife Rumsey and his four children Ryan, Colby, Liam and Carlin after a three hour flight home from Cozumel, Mexico. If you’re thinking family vacation, well, you’d be half right. The primary reason for the trip was to compete in one of the world’s most arduous triathlons, the Ironman. Roughly a two and a half-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, a 26.2-mile run and about elevenhours of nonstop exertion to get from start to finish. The 46-year-old horse trainer beat his own personal record by an hour and lived to tell the tale to any inquisitive passerby in the paddock. The preparation and anxiety of the race in Mexico had come and gone. However, another race still weighted on his shoulders, the Broad Brush stakes with his powerful horse Eighttofasttocatch, also known as “Catcher”.

     Jennings HandicapWithout taking one look at the program, it was easy to tell that Eighttofasttocatch was running. Keefe wore the usual blue tie with pink flamingos, his exercise rider Peter Brown-Whale made the usual trip to the races with his wife Jen, and the usual chatter about the Maryland fan favorite echoed through Laurel Park. There seemed to be less chatter than usual in the seven-year-old’s last two starts, the Maryland Million Classic and the Jennings Handicap, most likely because of two factors: his overriding class and the absence of speed. Catcher’s next test however, the Broad Brush Stakes, was a different story. There were at least three other candidates that were equally fast if not faster than the Not For Love gelding. Keefe knew that and planned accordingly. “We worked on simulating the race with other horses in the morning,” said Keefe. “We had him gallop in company for the past few days and Peter really worked on him to get him to rate. He’s a very smart horse.”

     Practice makes perfect. Paying attention to subtleties and making appropriate changes yields success.

2013 Broad Brush Stakes     In early 2011 after two disappointing back to back performances in an Allowance Optional Claiming race and the Native Dancer, Keefe decided to change tactics. Take the blinkers off. A change that led to back to back victories in another Allowance Optional Claimer, and more importantly, his first stakes win in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial. Fast forward two years later to Saturday’s Broad Brush Stakes, another change, another victory.

     Two summers ago I remember asking trainer Bill Mott a question after he won a race at Saratoga, “What did you think of the ride?” Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best question to ask a Hall of Fame trainer. He responded with a question. “Do you think the horse wins the race or the jockey wins the race?” I said the horse. But after two years of watching races I’ve changed my mind to a more liberal answer — both. Eighttofasttocatch and Forest Boyce in the Broad Brush was just another example to support my answer. The pair broke sharp, Warrioroftheroses broke sharper. They didn’t panic. A.P. Cino made a premature move in the middle of the two horses at the quarter pole. Catcher got tougher, Boyce’s hands didn’t move. The seven-year-old frontrunner rated for the first time in a long time. They rated, they won, they had a perfect race. Not him, not her. They.

     Much of the time in horse racing one hears the term “connections” or “team” to describe a horse, the owner, trainer, the jockey, the assistant, exercise riders and groom. Most of the time it’s fitting. But Eighttofasttocatch, Arnie Heft, Tim Keefe, Forest Boyce, assistant Victor Garcia, exercise riders Peter Brown-Whale and Molla Sletzinger, grooms Juan Lopez and Joaquin Garci, and last but not least, the unequivocal support of Gigi the goat. Well, this crew takes the word team to an entirely new level.