Not so happy returns

Sometimes, the DRF watch list notifications do no more than give me e-mails to delete. The horses are active, I know they’re working out, I know where they’re racing. It’s not such a big deal for me to learn what’s going on with Evening Attire or Saratoga Russell or Atoned. I will occasionally go through the list, deleting horses who have been retired (though Discreet Cat is still on there) or about whom I haven’t heard anything in a while.

This week, though, I discovered that there are sometimes good, if unsettling, reasons to leave one’s DRF watch list cluttered, full of names of horses one doesn’t really expect to see again.

Last fall, Scrappy T began making regular appearances in my inbox, working out at Bowie. I was at his penultimate race of 2005, on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Belmont, and he was one of my hero horses earlier that year. He took the Aqueduct route that winter, and something about him appealed to me–hmmm…Scrappy T = Scrappy Teresa? I loved the Scrappy T/Naughty New Yorker exacta, which came in in the Count Fleet, and in the Whirlaway the two horses finished second and third.

Scrappy T was a mighty competitive horse, racing eight times in 2005 and hitting the board in seven, winning the Withers and Count Fleet while finishing third in the Whirlaway and Bellamy Road’s Wood Memorial. He was second in both the Indiana Derby and the Discovery Handicap (to Magna Graduate in the latter), and of course there’s the epic Preakness/Afleet Alex incident. On that day, I was at my favorite Brooklyn bar celebrating my birthday, and I bet that exacta, along with win and place money on both horses. Scrappy T went off at 13 – 1, and the result was one more reason to do much celebrating.

Scrappy T raced once after that October start at Belmont, finishing sixth in the Cigar Mile, and then he disappeared. Injury, of course, but what? I missed the stories, if they were out there.

Amazingly, two and a half years later, he started working out again, and on January 2nd, Mario Pino rode him to a sixth place finish in an OC at Laurel, in which he went off the odds-on favorite.

I found out Wednesday that he’s racing this Saturday at Penn National, in a $20,000 optional claimer. It is only small consolation that he’s not entered for a tag.

Like Scrappy T, Tie Break, about whom I wrote last month, had last raced in the fall of 2005.
Unlike Scrappy T, Tie Break won that last race, at Philadelphia Park, and it looks like he was claimed out of that spot by Scott Lake.

And then he disappeared. For two and a half years, nothing, until he started working out in Florida a little more than a month ago. I at first didn’t believe it was the same horse; I checked to see if another Tie Break had appeared on the scene, but it was indeed he. Off two public works in the last thirty months (the last one March 15th), he was entered at Gulfstream on Monday in a $25,000 claimer. He finished last of seven, and the chart from the race reads: “Tie Break lunged at the start and was done early.”

(Salacious metaphor alert: Well, what do you expect? He was out of action for two and a half years…OF COURSE he lunged and was done early!)

Not content with that facile explanation, I went to the tape. He did indeed jump up and lunge at the break; rank and fighting the jockey, he stayed near the lead as the first quarter went in 22.71, and then he was indeed done. Stuck on the outside, he went way out in the middle of the track while coming around the turn and was off the screen thereafter, eventually crossing the wire forty lengths back.

Tie Break is seven, with an 11-4-1-2 record. He’s nicely bred (Storm Boot – Java Blue (Java Gold)), but if you’re his owner, what do you do with him? Where’s he been for the last two and a half years? And what happens next?

This is the part I hate: where the horses I loved at some point creep lower and lower, when owners try desperately to find spots, when I can’t help but wonder how hurt the horses are, or why they were away for so long.

And I get so frustrated that I can’t find out, that’s there’s nowhere for me to look, and that contact information is so hard to track down. Internet searches for Tie Break’s trainer and owners yield some information, but nothing direct, and nothing that this non-credentialed writer would feel comfortable using. “Hi, I write a blog in Brooklyn, and I’ve followed your horse for years, and would you mind giving me Pablo Andrade’s phone number, please?”

Then again…it couldn’t hurt…

7 thoughts on “Not so happy returns

  1. Barbican is also running at Penn National in a 25K claimer (today, in fact). He seemed promising as well and similarly dropped off the radar.

  2. It is, in fact, Barbican VS. Scrappy T. for a purse of $24k+, which is huge for Penn National (thank you, slots). This is pretty much the same money these horses would run for at Laurel or Pimlico, more “respectable” tracks, but, without knowing, my sense is that the two-turn mile probably fits the objectives well for another try at a Scrappy T comeback, and as far as I know, there haven’t been a lot of complaints about an unsafe surface at Penn National, which you sometimes get at, say, Delaware. As handicappers in the Form like to say, “Watching one.” – J.S.

  3. Interesting post, Teresa, and you raise some good points. I think continuing to follow old favorites is a great idea. They are, after all, the true stars of our game.A couple other reactions:I think it is worth keeping in mind that many horses love what they’re doing. We tend to think that owners who run horses past the horse’s prime are trying to suck the last dollar out of them, but very often, it’s where the horses themselves are happiest. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that horses, like humans, slow down as they age, but if the horse is happy and sound and likely to remain in the hands of someone who’ll take care of him (which $20,000 horses tend to do), then I don’t see any problems with running them. As for this race, the purse is actually significantly less (about 10k) than the same race would run in Maryland, and it’s run with a different optional claiming price ($20k vs. $32k), so you should see a fairly different type of horse than he saw in Maryland, which will work to his advantage. Maybe this’ll be the spot that gets Scrappy back on track. (I was at his Preakness, and I can still hear Dave Rodman calling “And, oh! Scrappy T” in my head when he veered out in front of Afleet Alex).Finally – let’s go Rangers!

  4. I didn’t mean to suggest that I’m one of those people who thinks horses should only race at high levels, or that nefarious intentions are at work…the situations of both of these horses, particularly the long, long layoffs, just raised for questions for me for which I wished it were easier to get answers. Nothing would make me happier than to see these two be successful and resume their careers. Certainly, I think Scrappy T has a better shot at being well taken care, given his high profile past. But what about poor Tie Break?Oh, Frank, I am trying so hard to remind myself that it’s just one game…but damn, last night was great!

  5. Scrappy T came in 4th, Barbican 2nd…thanks for this update…i too had him in the Preakness exacta with AA ($75 if i remember correctly)…great post.

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