by Ted Black
In Saturday night’s Tri-State Futurity, Amherst Street kept his perfect record intact when he led throughout to capture the latest renewal of the $100,000 Tri-State Futurity for two-year-olds foaled in Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia.
The Luftikus gelding, out of the winning Wild Rush mare Romantic Twist, has now won all four of his starts, three in stakes company, and banked over $152,000. He could make one more start this year, the November 30 West Virginia Futurity.
Two of the better West Virginia-breds in training — two year-old Amherst Street and three year-old Hidden Canyon — race out of the barn of trainer Javier Contreras in the colors of owner Phyllis M. Susini. Interestingly, both arrived there the same way: as private purchases that Contreras spotted himself.
One year ago Contreras, working for owner Phyllis Susini, went shopping to Taylor Mountain Farm, owned by longtime local fixture James W. Casey. He arrived looking for one Casey homebred and departed in possession of another — Amherst Street.
“I went to the farm looking to buy another horse that Mr. Casey liked,” Contreras said. “But when I saw this colt in the field, I really liked him. He was just so easy going. He had a great way of moving. When we started with him, I could tell he was going to be good. He caught my eye right away.”
Casey had always liked Amherst Street, but he was not expecting Contreras to spot him and select him.
“When Javier came over I thought he was going to buy one or two colts, but I didn’t think [Amherst Street] was the best one at the time,” Casey said. “I let him look at all of them and he didn’t take the one that I thought he was going to take, a colt that I still have and hasn’t raced yet. He must have liked what he saw in [Amherst Street]. I breed a lot of them and you can’t keep all of them. I liked to see them all run well. I guess he bought the right one.”
Indeed, he has.
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And it wasn’t the first time that Contreras and Susini had turned a private purchase into gold.
Two years ago Contreras went to view several yearlings at breeder John McKee’s farm and immediately took a liking to Hidden Canyon, a son of one of McKee’s stallions, Fiber Sonde, and out of the stakes-placed Indian Charlie mare Ghost Canyon. McKee had told Contreras before arriving that Hidden Canyon was the best yearling on the farm; Contreras took an immediately liking to the free-spirited colt.
“The first time I saw him on the farm, I knew he could be something special,” Contreras said last month after Hidden Canyon easily prevailed in the seven-furlong WV Lottery Breeders Classic, pushing his lifetime earnings toward $135,000. “John told me he was the best one he had on the farm and he was right. He’s been excellent. He has so much natural ability. He’s a lot more mature this year than he was last year.”
“I didn’t mind selling him,” McKee agreed. “I told Javier he was the best one on the farm and he came out and looked at him and he liked him. Sometimes you get to keep the good ones, but I sell a lot of mine and then run what’s left. I knew he was going to be a good one, but Javier paid good money for him.”
Yet Hidden Canyon’s free-spirited nature has gotten him — and Contreras — into trouble.
In his lone defeat this year, in May, he actually crossed the wire first but was disqualified after testing positive for fluphenazine, commonly known as Prolixin, an anti-psychotic drug often used in horses as a sedative. That positive, a Class 2
violation, earned Contreras a 30-day suspension. It was his second suspension in the last two years, according to thoroughbredrulings.com.
“That horse has always been a little high strung,” Contreras said. “I wanted the vet to give him something that would get him to relax. He gave him a 30-day medication, but told me it would be out of his system in 21 days and would be clear before that [May 30] race. Unfortunately it did not clear. In most jurisdictions there is no fine for that medication, but in West Virginia it is listed as a Class 2 and we had to give back the purse. I was just hoping the rules would be all the same.”
Hidden Canyon’s season is complete, and Contreras indicated that the horse would likely return to the races in the spring. If all goes according to plan, Contreras said, the West Virginia Breeders Classic is next year’s goal.
Meanwhile, Amherst Street seems to be improving with every race. “What I liked about his race on Saturday night was that he seemed to find another gear when he got challenged,” said Contreras, referring to Amherst Street’s ability to edge away from Comeonletsplay, duplicating their one-two finish in the Vincent Moscarelli Memorial on West Virginia Breeders Classics night.
“He got challenged a couple of times, but he seemed to have another gear each time. We might run him back in the West Virginia Futurity, but we also might put him away for the winter. He’ll start back in March and then we’ll look for some races for him in the spring.”