Renee and Tim Richardson agree Chasin Charlie is two handfuls
Trainer Tim Richardson sounds like an NFL coach evaluating a top college prospect when discussing his unraced 3-year-old colt, Chasin Charlie.
“With the raw talent that he has, he kind of has everybody’s mouth open right now wondering just how good he’s going to be,” Richardson said of the strapping, well-built Kentucky-bred. “Even with him still not really knowing what he’s doing, his talent will make it hard for a lot of 3-year-olds to stay with him.
“When I helped break him last April, we knew we had a monster just because of his sheer strength. He would just turn his head and look to the right, and he’d almost jerk you off your feet with the reins because he didn’t know how strong he is. We’ve been in love with him from the first day we saw him.”
Richardson, 54, and his wife Renee purchased Chasin Charlie and another 3-year-old colt, Tiz Too, from breeder Chris Duff’s Ripplewood Farm when Duff decided to sell his remaining Thoroughbreds due to what Richardson calls the “equi-nomics” of the racing game.
Simply put, Duff has spent much more money on the horses over the last several years than he’s taken in. “Tim has been a great trainer for us, but we haven’t been able to turn the corner the way we wanted,” said Duff, who started Ripplewood Farm in 1996. “The horses are like pets to him and Renee, and I know they are going to do what’s best for them.
“Tim is not going to run a horse just to make a buck. If he thinks it would be detrimental, he’s not going to enter until that horse is 100 percent.”
Richardson is also negotiating with Duff to purchase Mellow Fellow, a 6-year-old gelding which won the 2014 Gin Rummy Champ Stakes at Gulfstream Park West for the connections. Tiz Too and Mellow Fellow are half-brothers, both being out of the broodmare Sanguinity.
After arriving at Tampa Bay Downs in early November, Chasin Charlie and Tiz Too worked out together until a few weeks ago, when Chasin Charlie’s sprinter’s speed proved too much for Tiz Too. The latter probably will be steered toward longer races on the turf course because of his pedigree. “They’ll work out together again when they break out of the gate, but there comes a time when you have to train your sprinters and your route horses differently,” Richardson said.
“It doesn’t do a horse good to get beat up in the mornings. We don’t want one horse to think, ‘I can’t ever beat him. I don’t know why I’m out here.’ ”
Despite being less physically impressive than his stablemate, Tiz Too has proved to be a fast learner in the mornings. “He seems to put things together quicker than the big colt. He’s more businesslike; he has a little more ‘snap to it,’ the way he approaches things,” Richardson said.
Chasin Charlie’s learning curve has been less pronounced. Richardson has taken his time with the colt’s gate training to prevent him from being spooked by the giant steel contraption. “When you get a horse as big as he is whose nose is touching the front and his butt touching the back of the gate stall, it can be claustrophobic,” Richardson said.
“You want to be careful over there that you don’t get them too antsy or too much on their toes, so we’ll take them over to the gate a couple of times and just have them stand and back out. We don’t want to make them maniacs, when all they’re thinking about is breaking.”
Outside the barn with Tiz Too, left, and Chasin Charlie
CHASIN’ THE DREAM, AGAIN
The acquisition of Chasin Charlie and Tiz Too represents hope for the continuation of Thoroughbred bloodlines that have served both Ripplewood and the Richardsons well. Mellow Fellow and The Real McCoy, a 7-year-old daughter of Sanguinity which won a claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 23, have combined for 10 victories and career earnings of more than $320,000.
“We just love that mare (Sanguinity),” Richardson said. “She has taken care of this stable. She broke her maiden on the turf, and Tizdejavu (Tiz Too’s sire) was a graded stakes winner going two turns on grass, so hopefully with the speed and route influences, we can find a happy medium with Tiz Too.”
Chasin Charlie, a son of Mutadda out of the mare Generalcbandsallie, is a full brother to Seeking Sallie, a Ripplewood Farm homebred which died last year after hemorrhaging on the track.
“Seeking Sallie was our stable pet from the time she walked in the door,” Richardson said. “We’ll never get over losing her, but every time we see (Chasin Charlie) we see her, because they look the same and he acts just like her. We’ve scoped him, and he doesn’t seem to have the bleeding issues she had.
“With the pedigrees being what they are, both colts are very dear to our hearts. They are like our own children.”
The Richardsons refuse to rush the training process, even as the expenses of keeping two unraced horses in the barn mount.
Working with their horses on a daily basis has helped them deal with major health issues Renee first encountered last April after she suffered a shoulder fracture when the couple’s Ford F350 was sideswiped on the backstretch at Keeneland. Subsequent examinations revealed a life-threatening illness, and she was forced to spend two months at home recuperating while Tim took care of the horses.
In late August, after beginning treatment with an experimental type of medication that had only recently become FDA-approved, Renee got her doctor’s OK to return to the track. “The doctor told me, ‘I don’t want you walking hots, I don’t want you grooming, I don’t want you tacking,’ ” she recalled with a mischievous grin. “I said, ‘So you want me to do laundry and rake the shedrow?’
“He said that would be fine, so I went back to my normal routine,” said Renee, a lifelong horsewoman. “Both my sisters were Quarter Horse jockeys, and my brother was a trainer, and one thing our mother instilled in us was that whether you feel good or bad, you do the same thing every single day because these horses depend on us. They’re like kids, and if you pay attention, they will talk to you.
“Illness or no illness, I’ve seen how many times being around the horses uplifts people,” she added. “They are always happy to see you. If you come here with stress and start doing a stall or walking a horse, or getting one ready to go to the track, it takes your mind off everything else.”
Tim keeps a close eye on Renee, but agrees being at the barn is the best course of action. “She’s out here every day, really doing more than she should,” Tim said. “Her mental attitude and her love for the horses are what keep her on top of the game.”
Tim has a condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus, which can make it difficult to breathe and increases his odds of getting esophageal cancer. “I’ve been biopsied, and everything has come back good so far,” he said. “The bottom line is, we stay strong working with the horses and try to think about the good things.” The couple is grateful for the quality help they get every day from their groom, Edwin Hernandez.
Their four-legged companions take up the majority of their day, from the pre-dawn stillness to an hour or two after the races. “One of the things I most admire about Tim is he doesn’t make up a training schedule the day before,” Renee said. “He comes to the barn every morning, and after he goes down and looks at every horse, he’ll decide what they need to do.
“When you find someone who cares that much, it makes it all worth it.”
DAY BY DAY, HORSE BY HORSE
The couple currently has seven horses in training. Richardson, a Lexington, Ky., native who has operated his own stable since 2009, wants to keep his numbers low. “We built up to 20-something a few years ago, but I couldn’t find enough good help to run a stable that size. I felt we were stressed out all the time, like we were working every day, all day long,” he said.
Richardson – previously an assistant trainer to Stanley Haynes, Jeff Thornbury, John T. Ward, Jr., and Herb Jones, Sr., and a former Calumet Farm employee – estimates it costs a minimum of $2,000 a month for hay, grain, bedding, a groom, hotwalker, exercise rider, blacksmith and vet bills. With only one victory at the meeting from 10 starts, income hasn’t kept up with expenses, but Richardson stays true to his beliefs.
After spending time with Chasin Charlie and Tiz Too last spring upon leaving Tampa Bay Downs, Richardson sent them to Kentucky horseman Dale Scroggins for more lessons. “We wanted to get them both to where we could start getting them to the gate and getting to breeze, and Dale has an indoor arena, a racetrack and a little starting gate and teaches them what they need to know when they get to the track,” Richardson explained.
Richardson got both horses back last August at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Although they were eligible for the track’s 2-year-old program, he was determined to take a slow and steady approach with both.
“We don’t push a horse for 2-year-old races,” Richardson said. “Mellow Fellow broke his maiden at Keeneland when he was a 2-year-old, but he was an exceptional animal who matured mentally and physically very early. Most 2-year-olds are not ready for that kind of regimen.”
Richardson seeks to establish a strong foundation for success by putting his young horses through a series of 2-minute licks and good, strong gallops before final preparations for a race. “There are so many things that can go wrong if you make a wrong move with a horse; it doesn’t seem to penalize you as bad if you’ve got a good bottom in him. Then he can handle a little adversity.
“If you’re asking a horse to do a little more than he wants every week, it increases the chances you’re going to make a mistake. These horses are kept well within themselves, so when they breeze it’s no problem,” he said. “At this point, we’re just trying to make them like what they’re doing.”
Richardson has been using veteran jockeys David Amiss and Scott Spieth to help prepare the colts for their racing debuts. When it comes to teaching a horse to switch leads, accelerate on demand and gallop out strong, it is reassuring to have a rider who has been there.
“When David gets on them in the mornings, he keeps his hands low and lets the horse relax and stretch out. He’s got a smart head on his shoulders and gets along with them very well,” Richardson said.
“It’s all in the fingers and the hands when you want to get a horse to change leads, and David doesn’t pick his hands up and try to sling them over. When you’ve got somebody doing it proper like that, the horse is relaxing and listening to him, and before too long it gets to be a habit.”
The couple’s financial concerns rose a notch recently when Mellow Fellow kicked a stall wall and bruised his hock, an injury that could keep him sidelined several months. Another member of the stable, the couple’s 4-year-old homebred gelding Trockette – son of the mare La Rockette, which Richardson trained – is a couple of weeks away from his next start.
“This game can get to be very trying sometimes, and those are the times when you have to walk away and collect your thoughts and remember why you are in it,” Richardson said.
“You realize you can hit a grand slam, or you can be left in the dust. There are no guarantees. When you get up every morning, you don’t know what you’re facing. The highs are so high that you can be looking down on the clouds, and the lows are so low you can be swinging your feet off a dime.”
Ideally, they hope to recoup some of those expenses on the back end of the careers of Chasin Charlie and Tiz Too, when other 2013 foals that raced as 2-year-olds have tailed off or been forced into early retirement. Both are 2-3 weeks from their first start, but there are no guarantees.
The circumstances that are driving their main client, Duff, from the sport are always in the back of the couple’s minds. But they haven’t formulated plans for life away from the racetrack, knowing this is where they belong for now.
The next step is finding a race that will enable Richardson to grade their progress. Victory would be sweet, but those don’t come easily at Tampa Bay Downs or most tracks.
“The workouts Chasin Charlie has been putting in are very impressive, and he’s doing it on his own,” Richardson said. “I think he is racehorse enough that he can win out his conditions and possible run in some stakes races.”
Tiz Too’s most recent work consisted of a two-mile gallop, ending with a vigorous quarter-mile breeze down the lane. He might require more time than Chasin Charlie to find his level, but the thrill of the quest is really what it’s about.
When Tampa Bay Downs starts to wind down in April, the Richardsons might take their string to the Midwest after stabling in south Florida two years ago and Monmouth last summer. “Like everything else, it depends how the horses are doing,” Tim said.
“Renee’s health issues are going to determine how long we are actively in horse racing. If she can’t get out to the barn to do what she enjoys, we may not be buying any new horses. We’re not going to keep buying 2-year-olds or yearlings unless we are sure we’re going to be able to see them through.”