Conditioner poised for another strong year, sports a trio of promising 3-year-olds including Inaugural winner Tricks to Doo; big return today for 2016 Sam F. Davis runner-up Rafting.
Arnaud Delacour turned a few heads after Saturday’s Lightning City Stakes when he said his winning turf sprint filly Smiling Causeway might not race again until May in The Very One Stakes at Pimlico.
Normally, a victory by a 3-year-old (now 4) in a $100,000 stakes against older horses would send connections scurrying to the condition books to find a similar race within 3-to-4 weeks.
But like the majority of Delacour’s owners, Audley Farm Stable – a tradition-laden farm based in Berryville, Va., which bred Grade I winner Bodemeister – has the wherewithal to give their best horses plenty of time to prepare for each start.
“Audley Farm has a great team that knows horses, and they let us do what is best for the horse. And it usually pays off,” Delacour said.
Delacour, who sent Smiling Causeway to the Classic Mile Training Complex in Ocala after the Lightning City to unwind before she returns to training, said today she might compete next in the Giant’s Causeway Stakes at Keeneland (a race named for her sire) in mid-April.
That’s still a far piece down the road, and chances are Delacour will have Smiling Causeway poised for a strong performance in either case.
Managing 55 Thoroughbreds while raising 5 and 3-year-old sons with his wife, former trainer Leigh Delacour, doesn’t leave much time for reflection.
But he admits there isn’t a day that passes without the couple feeling gratitude for their rise among the ranks of consistent stakes-winning operations.
“We think about it every day,” said Delacour, who won two stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in December, while starting the 2017-2018 Oldsmar meeting with seven victories from 17 starters, to earn the Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of the Month Award. “It’s a delight to work with horses that are well-bred and owned by nice people and that can compete on the stakes level.”
On Dec. 16, the native of France won the Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds with Lael Stable’s (now)-3-year-old colt Tricks to Doo, who drew off to a seven-and-a-quarter-length victory in a swift time of 1:09.58 for 6 furlongs.
Tricks to Doo is one of three possible Triple Crown nominees in the Delacour barn, along with Grade II Remsen Stakes third-place finisher Vouch, owned by Lael Stables and Three Chimneys Farm, and the impressive New York maiden special weight winner, Talon, owned by WinStarFarm, China Horse Club International and SF Racing.
On Dec. 30, Delacour sent out Smiling Causeway to win the Lightning City Stakes on the grass. Under jockey Daniel Centeno, she showed an explosive turn of foot in the stretch to leave her rivals gasping in her wake.
Those victories helped cap a year in which Delacour won 11 stakes, including a pair of graded turf stakes at Belmont with Lael’s then-4-year-old filly Hawksmoor. His 2017 successes came a year after Delacour campaigned the gelding A.P. Indian (since retired) to two Grade I victories, a third in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint and a spot on the Eclipse Award ballot for top sprinter.
A.P. Indian has been retired to owner Green Lantern Stables’ farm in Kentucky. “He’s turned out with the other geldings, and they are hoping to turn him into a pony horse at the track this spring,” Delacour said.
Not having A.P. Indian, who posted a pair of Grade III runner-up performances last year as a 7-year-old before being retired, has done little to slow the Delacour Express.
“We didn’t win any Grade Is (in 2017), but we came close a couple of times with Hawksmoor (second in both the First Lady Stakes at Keeneland and the Matriarch at Del Mar). As far as our quality of runners and our percentages, 2017 was very close to 2016,” Delacour said.
Other graded-stakes winners for Delacour, who took over the stable reins from Leigh in 2013, include since-retired stallion Divining Rod, who won the Grade III Coolmore Lexington in 2015 and finished third in the Preakness to American Pharoah; the multiple-Grade III-winning mare Ageless; and 2016 Grade III Delaware Oaks winner Dark Nile.
Delacour, who races in the mid-Atlantic region during the summer and fall while keeping horses at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, keeps about 20 horses at Classic Mile this time of year with assistant trainer Pablo Sanchez.
The conditioner plans to bring Tricks to Doo back in either the $125,000, 7-furlong Pasco Stakes here on Jan. 20 or the Grade III, 7-furlong Swale Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 3. “He had a very easy breeze (Sunday) and I’m very happy with him,” Delacour said.
“His next start probably depends on timing. If he looks well in his next two breezes, we may try him in the Pasco, but if we think he needs a little more time, we might wait for the Swale.”
One assumes Lael owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson will give their trainer, and their horse, all the time needed to perform their best.
Delacour won with his only starter today, 3-year-old gelding Gallows Bay in the sixth race.
Around the oval. Two winters ago, trainer H. Graham Motion thought Rafting was one of the best 3-year-olds in his barn. He finished a game second to Destin in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs but was a non-threatening fourth against that rival in the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.
But Rafting developed a bone chip that was later removed and had numerous nagging foot problems, according to Motion. As a result, he did not race again until today’s third, an allowance/$32,000 optional claiming contest.
It was a return that was worth waiting for.
Rated nicely by jockey Pablo Morales off pace-setter Hold the Giant, the now 5-year-old gelding Rafting pounced effortlessly on the turn and powered home for a six-and-three-quarter length victory from Hold the Giant in the five-horse field.
The winner’s time for the 7-furlong distance on a sloppy track was 1:24.50 as he improved to 3-for-7. “He’s still a work in progress, but he has a lot of ability and we’re very excited to get him back to the races,” Motion said.
Motion credited the ownership concern of Wertheimer and Frere for their willingness to allow Rafting to grow up and return to 100-percent health. “They have been incredibly patient,” Motion said.
He added that a stakes could be next for the son of Tapit-Paiota Falls, by Kris S., and did not rule out the $100,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Challenger Stakes here on March 10.
Jockey Jose Ferrer rode two winners today. He captured the fifth race aboard Setubal, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Gunpowder Farms and trained by Kelly Rubley. Ferrer added the ninth on Hola Princess, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Penny Lopez and trained by Angel V. Lopez.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.