Controversial De Francis entrant Chublicious scores upset
by Frank Vespe
A year ago, at the close of the 2016 Monmouth Park meeting, owner David Gruskos sent Chublicious, a then-five-year-old, New Jersey-bred Hey Chub gelding, from departing trainer Jorge Navarro’s operation to the Laurel Park barn of Claudio Gonzalez.
Gruskos, who said he lives “a mile from” Monmouth Park and thus likes to have his runners there during the season and nearby when it closes, had no idea then how important that decision would turn out to be — this year.
Saturday, just two days after Gruskos’ charge had arrived in his barn for his 2017 Maryland sojourn, Gonzalez saddled him to an upset victory in the Grade 3, $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel.
It was a surprising outcome for a couple of reasons, the biggest of which was this: a few days ago it had seemed likely that Chublicious would not be permitted to enter the De Francis.
“This horse last year came down to Claudio Gonzalez,” Gruskos said after the win this afternoon. “This horse this year was coming down to Claudio Gonzalez. There’s no mystery there.”
Perhaps not. But there was plenty of drama.
That’s because the big mouths of Navarro, who for the second straight year trained Chublicious during the Monmouth season, and Randal Gindi, another owner of Navarro’s, had spurred stewards at Indiana Grand and management at the Maryland Jockey Club to deny entry to Navarro-trained horses.
Gindi and Navarro were caught on camera claiming they (expletive) everyone, “juice” horses, and wager illegally with bookies. That led the Monmouth Park stewards, eventually, to slap Navarro with a $5,000 fine and Gindi with a $10,000 fine and to recommend the state Racing Commission double those levies.
And it led to the decision to disallow Navarro-trained entries at Laurel.
“I have no opinion on it (the video) because I don’t know the situation” Gruskos said. “It’s not me. It’s somebody else.”
Fortunately for him, his decision to send Chublicious here last year, and his intention to do the same this year, convinced the Maryland Jockey Club to allow the horse’s entry into the De Francis.
“I didn’t feel I should penalize that owner given the situation of the other owner and Navarro being imbeciles,” MJC president Sal Sinatra said.
Even so, there was the question of whether Gonzalez would want to saddle the horse. As the trainer of record, anything bad that could happen — whether it be a drug positive or worse — would stick to him, even though he might have had nothing to do with it.
“That thing (taking such a risk) I’m not going to do for nobody,” Gonzalez said. “It’s too dangerous for me. This exception is because I’ve known the owner and the vet, Bernie Dowd, for 20 years from Jersey. That’s the only reason.”
Once Dowd gave him the high sign, Gonzalez said he was confident the horse would run well and not put him in a difficult position.
The De Francis, Laurel’s signature fall event, drew a field of seven that scratched down to just four. That left multiple Grade 3 winner Whitmore the overwhelming 1-2 favorite.
When the gates popped in the De Francis, Blu Moon Ace, winner of last month’s Coalition Stakes at Timonium, zipped to the lead under Gerald Almodovar. Blu Moon Ace had a four-length lead after a half-mile in 45.31 seconds.
Chublicious was third then, circling the field three wide, while Whitmore was trying to mount an inside rally. In the lane, Chublicious made a determined rally to win by a neck, Whitmore ending up another length-and-a-half farther back in third.
“I told the jockey, look at the form, the horse breaks clean, it lays off the speed, it makes a big move thru the turn and keeps on going,” said Gruskos. “That’s exactly what it did.”
Gonzalez said he could not take credit for the win. “I cannot take all the credit,” he said. “I have to say the truth. Jorge sent him ready.”
Chublicious paid $22.40 to win as the longest shot on the board. The exacta with Blu Moon Ace — the second-longest shot — was good for $69.20.
“When we straightened up at the quarter pole, the pace quickened and he didn’t,” lamented Feargal Lynch, who rode the favorite. “He likes to stalk the pace and in a four-horse race, there’s not a whole lot you can do.”
With the win, Chublicious now has 10 wins, and more than $530,000 in earnings, from 23 career starts. His immediate future involves an extended stay at Laurel Park. A year ago his winter stay at Laurel included a trip to Penn National for the Fabulous Strike on Thanksgiving eve.
Gruskos would not specify what will happen beyond the Laurel Park meet or whether he would keep horses with Navarro.
“The decisions that are going to be made by racing commissions, stewards and tracks are going to make everybody’s decisions for them. The industry’s going to dictate,” he said. “My horses in the winter time come to Claudio. In the summertime I try to stay at Monmouth. I live a mile from the track. I walk there.”