by Ted Black

It’s been nearly 30 years since Bowie Race Course ceased to be, and if all goes according to plan, it won’t be much longer before the Bowie Training Center also closes.

But — as has been the case often since the track became a training center — a couple of Bowie-based racers are doing their part to keep the Bowie name front and center.

During a 24-hour span last Sunday and Monday, Bowie-based runners Immortal Eyes and Dance to Bristol ventured north to prominent racing venues and captured lucrative stakes. Both are currently riding win streaks, and both appear poised to continue their winning ways in future outings.  Indeed, Dance to Bristol could eventually be a serious candidate for an Eclipse Award.

Dance to Bristol wins the Skipat at Pimlico as rider Xavier Perez exults.  Photo by Laurie Asseo.

Dance to Bristol wins the Skipat at Pimlico as rider Xavier Perez exults. Photo by Laurie Asseo.

Last Sunday afternoon at Monmouth Park, ageless Immortal Eyes, an eight-year-old gelding trained by Damon Dilodovico for owner Robert Abbo, narrowly prevailed in the $100,000 Teddy Drone Stakes; and the very next day at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York, Dance to Bristol continued her bid for a potential division crown by rallying to capture the Grade II, $200,000 Honorable Miss Handicap for fillies and mares.

Riding a five-race winning streak and coming off a scintillating score in the Grade 3 Bed o’ Roses, Dance to Bristol, with Xavier Perez up, left the post as the 4-5 choice in the Honorable Miss.  Dance to Bristol broke well but was reserved well off the pace as Classic Point and Burban battled down the backside and by the opener in 22 seconds flat. But not everything would go according to plan for the favorite in the last half-mile. In tight down the backside, Dance to Bristol was checked and steadied between horses and taken back to last briefly, then found her best stride entering the far turn.

But as Classic Point, Burban and Munnings Sister raced side-by-side for command nearing the quarter pole, Dance to Bristol was still behind a wall of horses as her rider sought any sort of an opening. He found one nearing the furlong pole, got after her right-handed and then vigorously rode her through the final 100 yards as Dance to Bristol wore down Classic Point for a neck tally in 1:09.73.

“When I saw her get in trouble down the backside, I thought, ‘We’re done,'” said trainer Ollie Figgins, III, who has now guided Dance to Bristol to two straight graded stakes tallies, four straight stakes scores and six straight victories overall for owner Susan Wantz. “Anytime you see a horse get in trouble in a Grade 2, you figure it’s all over. But she just refused to get beat. It looked like the inside horse was leaning on her the whole way and then she finally got away from her and found another gear. That was the first time after a race that I had to pick dirt out of her eyes.”

Figgins noted that he expected Dance to Bristol to make the return trip to the Bowie Training Center on Wednesday evening and then resume training next week in preparation for a return venture to Saratoga for the Grade 1 Ballerina. The daughter of Speightstown out of the Louis Quatorze mare Dance to Dawn is slated to have her final workout for that event one week earlier on Friday, August 16. It will be her first attempt at Grade 1 company.

“She’ll tell us when and where she’ll go next,” Figgins said of Dance to Bristol, who has won 6 of 7 starts this year and sports a 9-7-0 slate and $620,000 bankroll from 17 lifetime tries. “But that race on the 23rd up there fits right into her schedule. You can map out a schedule for any horse and usually it doesn’t go according to plan, but so far she’s been right on schedule. Then we’ll see how she does in the Ballerina before we go to Belmont [for the Gallant Bloom in late September] and then maybe from there to the Breeders Cup [Filly-Mare Sprint]. That’s the plan right now anyway.”

While Figgins has lofty goals for Dance to Bristol, trainer Damon Dilodovico has mapped out a much less ambitious tentative schedule for his talented, durable sprinter Immortal Eyes. Although much of his success the last three years has come at Charles Town, where he has won 9 of 11 races and owns the 4 1/2 furlong track record of 50.09 seconds, Immortal Eyes has recently been able to transition that form to Monmouth Park with three straight victories, two in stakes company.

The eight-year-old gelding by Greatness out of the winning Private Terms mare Private Eyes began his skein at the shore with an allowance victory in June, then came right back to easily capture the $100,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes by five lengths in 1:09.4. Last Sunday afternoon on the undercard of the Grade I, $1 million Haskell Invitational for three-year-olds, Immortal Eyes, with Paco Lopez in the irons, continued his winning ways when he held safe the late bid of General George winner Javerre to capture the $100,000 Teddy Drone Stakes by a head in 1:10.4 over a track that, though labeled fast, played slow.

Dance to Bristol.  Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

Dance to Bristol. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

“He really seems to like that track,” Dilodovico said. “He had to get to the quarter in 21.4 under pressure and then went the half in 44.4. The last quarter was a little slow, but [jockey] Paco [Lopez] had a lot of confidence in him. He’s done well with him up there. This horses is such a professional. He’s like the athlete who gets to the park three hours early to take extra batting practice. He just loves going to the races.”

Immortal Eyes, who edged past the $850,000 mark in career earnings for owner Robert Abbo with his latest triumph, could head back to Monmouth Park for the $75,000 Icecapade Stakes on September 2 or stay closer to home and run next in the $350,000 Frank DeFrancis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park on September 21. Dilodovico noted the three-week span between those races would probably prohibit the aged runner from attempting both stakes.

“At this point, it’s tempting to go back to Monmouth for that next stakes,” Dilodovico said. “He really loves that track. But I also like running at home and supporting the Maryland races as much as possible. The DeFrancis was one of his best races last year and he rallied to get third despite a bad start. I would like to try him in there again, but going in both is probably not going to work. The races are just a little too close together for him at this point in his career.”

Meanwhile, back at Bowie, business continues; the horses go through their paces.  The track that became famous for introducing winter racing to the East and home to the so-called “Bowie breed” became a training center.

The training center gained notoriety as the home of such stalwarts as Captain Bodgit, Little Bold John, Northern Wolf and Ten Keys.  Those and others shipped from Bowie to race tracks across the country and performed admirably in some of the sport’s most prestigious events.  Though they didn’t always win — Captain Bodgit, for example, finished second in the 1997 Kentucky Derby and third in that year’s Preakness, both times missing by just a head — they used the old facility as a springboard to greater fame.

Now, in what seems likely to be the gloaming of Bowie’s days as a part of Maryland racing, Dance to Bristol and Immortal Eyes spend their mornings galloping over its mile dirt oval and their nights in its barns.  And then, in continuation of the tradition, they travel to tracks around the country to tackle, and often beat, top competition.

Bowie may be short on time, but these two horses are making every second count.

Meet Immortal Eyes