10-YEAR-OLD FAN FAVORITE ALLIE’S EVENT KEEPS SCALING NEW HEIGHTS

by Mike Henry





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Lori Smock, the breeder, owner and trainer of 10-year-old gelding Allie’s Event, was in negotiations to sell him to Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel early in his 3-year-old campaign when he was injured in a freak training accident at Tampa Bay Downs.

“It was going to be a pretty good deal,” Smock recalled at her barn recently. “He just ended up having to earn (the six-figure sale price) the hard way.”

The career of Allie’s Event is proof that the best deals are often the ones you don’t make. The Florida-bred has won three consecutive races during the current meeting at the $32,000 claiming level, boosting his career earnings to $480,062.

Smock’s parents, Harry and Joan, are visiting from Ohio and got to watch him win here for the 14th time in 58 lifetime starts on Feb. 20 in an allowance/optional claiming race at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf. Delivering his trademark closing rush from the back of the pack, Allie’s Event won in a four-horse photo finish under jockey Fernando De La Cruz.

“He doesn’t always win, but he gives a complete effort every time,” said 81-year-old Harry Smock. “He must have a big heart, because he puts it on the line every time he runs.”

In that respect, the robust chestnut is similar to his caretaker. “Lori does a lot of the work around her barn herself,” said Joan Smock. “She always puts her horses first, and she has a determination about her to do things the right way.”

There isn’t a soul in the business of Thoroughbred racing who expects a horse to keep competing, let alone winning, at 10. Some observers probably wondered if Smock should retire Allie’s Event during a 13-race losing streak from December of 2014 until Jan. 9, but Smock believes some of those results were deceiving.

“He had a tough year at Presque Isle Downs (in Erie, Pa.), with some bad racing luck, and he ended up not winning, but to me he ran a lot of winning races. He just never got to the finish line first,” she said. “I knew he still had the ability, and he always gave 110 percent when he ran.

“You don’t see a whole lot of 10-year-old horses still running at a level above bottom claimers and having the success he does. That’s just about as rewarding as it gets, especially when you bred him.”

Eight of Allie’s Event’s victories have come on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course, with another here on Jan. 30 in a race that was switched to the main dirt track. He has won three races on the all-weather surface at Presque Isle Downs and once each at Turfway Park and Keeneland, both on all-weather surfaces.

About the only achievement lacking is a stakes victory. He finished second in the Grade III River City Handicap at Churchill Downs in 2011 and second by a head in the Presque Isle Mile in 2014 at odds of 23-1.

Smock hopes to have the opportunity to run him in the $75,000 Tampa Turf Classic at a mile-and-an-eighth on the April 9 Florida Cup Day card at Tampa Bay Downs. He finished third in the race last year.

“I don’t base everything on winning a stakes,” said Smock, who has won a handful of stakes for state-bred horses in Indiana. “If it comes, fine, but at this point I’m pretty content with him winning allowance races. I’m fine with what’s happening right now. Really, I’m still waiting for him to tell me what’s the next thing.”

AN EASY GOER FROM THE START

Smock, who has trained more than 700 winners since getting her license 30 years ago, took over the conditioning of Crewsin’ Allie in 1999 when the filly was sent to Rockingham Park by her owner, James Barrick. She won six of 31 starts at the allowance and claiming level before her retirement in 2002.

Smock took over ownership of the 6-year-old mare, breeding her the following year to the Bridlewood Farm-based sire, Skip Trial. That mating produced a colt named Sawgrass Allie, which failed to win in 17 lifetime starts.

Two years later, Smock sent Crewsin’ Allie to Wild Event, which also stood at the late Arthur Appleton’s Bridlewood in Ocala. Himself a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Wild Again out of past Florida Broodmare of the Year North of Eden, Wild Event was an outstanding turf runner with a pair of Grade I victories and almost $1-million in career earnings.

“I had been breeding quite a few of my mares at Bridlewood Farm, so that kind of seemed like the only decision,” Smock said.

Allie’s Event was born on Jan. 31, 2006 at Chad Stewart’s Grace Full Oaks in Ocala. “The mare was really big, and he was a little bigger than average,” recalled Stewart, who sends Smock a congratulatory text after each of Allie’s Event’s victories. “He was a neat little horse, and we cared for the mare and the baby until he was 6 months old.”

As she does with most of her male horses, Smock elected to have Allie’s Event gelded as a yearling. “I’m generally not looking to breed or sell them, and I think down the road they will be a better horse,” she explained.

After being broken at New Haven Farm in Ocala, Allie’s Event arrived at Smock’s barn in the summer of 2008 at Ellis Park in Kentucky. It wasn’t long before she knew she might have an above-average runner. “It was just how easy it all came to him,” she said. “You wouldn’t have to ask him for much, but time-wise he would really put out a good breeze, and with his big old stride, he just did it so easily.”

Smock made plans to start Allie’s Event in a maiden special weight race at Turfway Park in Kentucky to give him experience and prepare him for being ready to win that fall at Keeneland. But the 2-year-old laid waste to his trainer’s plans by winning the six-furlong dash by a nose under a 22-year-old jockey from Peru, Fernando De La Cruz. “The way he responded when I put him between horses in the stretch, I knew right away he had a big heart,” De La Cruz recalls.

Bettors who backed him were delighted with his $30.60 mutuel payoff, but Smock almost wished he had waited to break his maiden. Since he was a Florida-bred and not eligible for the Kentucky-bred funds offered, Allie’s Event earned only $6,600 from the $22,150 available purse money.

In addition to his liking for the synthetic surface, Allie’s Event also showed a preference for the grass. In his third start as a 2-year-old in November of 2008, he finished second in a one-mile turf allowance at Churchill, finishing ahead of General Quarters, which would capture the next year’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at the Oldsmar oval and two subsequent Grade I stakes.

Allie’s Event scored his second career victory on Dec. 30 of his 2-year-old season on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course before the injury that derailed the possible sale to Frankel. But he was in the right hands, as Smock vowed to give him all the time he needed to return to top form.

“He had some tough luck early in his career, but Lori was willing to give him the time he needed,” Stewart said. “She takes very good care of her horses.”

After being off almost 10 months, Allie’s Event responded to his trainer’s devotion by winning an allowance at Keeneland under jockey Jeremy Rose in his return to action. He paid $20 to win while racing seven furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.83.

Although he has been bothered by persistent foot troubles through his career, Smock has kept Allie’s Event happy in the ensuing years. “She deserves everything she accomplishes with that horse, because nobody I’ve been around works as hard as Lori physically and mentally,” said Mandy Green, her assistant and Allie’s Event’s regular exercise rider until she broke her leg last summer when a horse flipped on her in the starting gate.

“Lori is different from any trainer I’ve been around,” Green said from her Henderson, Ky., home. “She is a hands-on trainer who jumps in and does everything that is needed – doing stalls, feeding and grooming. She’s just a good person to work for and to be around.

“Allie’s Event is a really classy horse that was a pleasure to be around,” Green added. “Being on him was like driving a nice car. He has a presence about him; he is one of the smartest horses I’ve ever been around.”

In addition to Allie’s Event and Sawgrass Allie, Crewsin’ Allie produced a pair of fillies, Storming Allie and Crewsin At High Tide, and a now 6-year-old gelding named Ocean Front View, which Smock is training for a comeback after a variety of setbacks. He has one victory from six starts.

Crewsin’ Allie died three years ago because of complications following a C-section birth. The foal, a colt by top sprint sire Put It Back, was stillborn.

“A SPECIAL CONNECTION”

It doesn’t take much to keep Allie’s Event happy. In addition to his regular feedings and work schedule, he loves peppermint candy, crunching it like a moviegoer eats popcorn, and apples. Smock, who has about 14 horses in her barn, also gives him extra time to graze outside his stall. “I know what he likes, and you like to keep your horses happy,” she said.

She also gives him plenty of latitude during his gallops and workouts. Smock says her current exercise rider, jockey Whitney Valls, knows to let Allie’s Event dictate his own schedule. “A lot of times, he’ll go to the track and stand and watch the other horses go by, and after 20 minutes I’ll bring him home,” Smock said.

“I don’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do, and I don’t over-train him while he is still running consistently. I’ve never been one to push him, and when he’s needed time, I’ve given it to him.

“He tells me how he wants to train, and that is how he’s always been. Whatever makes him happy is what we do, and that is probably why he’s still at the racetrack.”

About three years ago, Smock lost about 40 horses when one of her major clients, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman Mari Hulman George, elected to get out of the Thoroughbred business.

It would be inaccurate to say Allie’s Event’s success has kept Smock afloat; she describes the past few years as an “adjustment.” Still, it didn’t hurt that he stayed his reliable self. Eight of his victories have come since the start of his 6-year-old campaign.

“It took some time to build the stable back up, but it also gave me a chance to put more time into my homebreds,” said Smock, who has seven yearlings receiving early lessons in Ocala. “(Training for George) was a big responsibility, and I enjoy having smaller numbers where I can put a little more focus on the other ones.”

It’s doubtful she’ll ever get to know a horse as well as Allie’s Event. “I can’t get in a horse’s head, but when you’ve been around one long enough, you get to know them like the back of your hand,” she said.

“We have a special connection. After being around him for so long, he tells you everything you need to know, whether it’s at his feed tub or by the way he’s acting. I can tell his mood just by watching him.”

Jockey De La Cruz, who helped him break his maiden, has been aboard Allie’s Event for six of his victories, including all three this season. Now 29, he laughs uproariously when someone suggests he might retire before the horse.

Since their return to Tampa Bay Downs this season, De La Cruz and Allie’s Event have formed a perfect union. The rider handles him in his races the same way Smock does in the morning – by letting him do his own thing.

“He knows what he’s doing,” De La Cruz said. “I might ask him a little at the three-eighths pole, but really, he tells me when he wants to start moving.

“I just try to keep him out of trouble and get him to the outside, and he just picks it up on his own. Then I make him switch leads in the stretch and go home. If you get him outside and he’s free, he’s coming straight to the winner’s circle.”

It’s horse racing, of course, and there is never a guarantee that is going to happen. Like many come-from-behind runners, Allie’s Event’s style is best suited to picking up paychecks; his record includes 16 runner-up finishes and six thirds.

That does not stop the public from rooting him on. Whether they sit behind a desk all day, or teach school, or work as a waitress, they know one day they’ll be declared too old to continue, and by cheering for this special horse, they can temporarily delay that inevitable occurrence.

“It seems like everybody at Tampa Bay Downs knows Allie,” said Joan Smock. “We’re so happy Lori didn’t sell him, because he’s been so fun to watch.”