Over the next couple of weeks, The Racing Biz will celebrate the holiday season by sharing a few of our (and your) favorite pictures, articles, and videos from 2013. Our folks have been on the spot for many of the most important racing days of the mid-Atlantic season and have come up with compelling words and images to tell the tales they’ve heard and seen. We hope you’ll enjoy them…
Dance to Bristol’s run to the Breeders’ Cup, built on a seven-race winning streak, was one of the mid-Atlantic region’s best stories of 2013. From the time of her victory in the Grade 1 Ballerina up to the Breeders’ Cup itself, The Racing Biz ran a weekly series about the horse, her training, and her connections. The story below is from that series.
by Ted Black
During his much younger days, trainer Ollie Figgins, III, remembers watching his father, jockey Ollie Figgins, Jr., compete in races at Charles Town and Bowie. He vowed then someday to follow in dad’s footsteps.
Not exactly. The younger Figgins failed to win a race from 29 mounts in a brief riding career.
But as a trainer, his career has certainly taken flight in recent years. Through the end of September, he had saddled 51 winners from 333 starters who have earned over $1.7 million this year. Overall, Figgins had saddled 432 winners from
2441 starters who have earned over $8.8 million since starting his career in 2005.
And just as he’d once envisioned, his career is a family affair. As Figgins prepares his talented four-year-old filly, Dance to Bristol, for her next and likely final start in the Grade I, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint on November 1 at Santa Anita, the trainer, whose operation is now divided among Bowie and Charles Town, commended his entire family for both the filly’s success and the success of the barn overall.
“Ever since I got involved in training, I think my whole family has been involved,” Figgins said on Tuesday on his way to Charles Town to saddle several horses that night, including Allegheny Jack, a potential starter in the $500,000 West Virginia Classic. “My brother, Jason, is my assistant trainer and he runs the Charles Town operation for me. He’s always been around the horses and he’s younger and smaller than me so we always thought he would become a jockey. But he likes training horses, and he does a tremendous job for me at Charles Town. We both basically grew up at the track and learned a lot together, and now we’re on the same page when it comes to training.”
While Ollie spends much of his time at the Bowie Training Center with Dance to Bristol and the 12 others in his barn there, Jason Figgins runs the shedrow at his older brother’s Charles Town barn. The brothers have 35 horses stabled at Charles Town, many of which are West Virginia-breds. One, Red Hot Diva, won a minor stakes over the track on the Charles Town Oaks undercard, and several others in the barn are pointing for the Oct. 19 West Virginia Breeders Classics Card at Charles Town.[boxify cols_use =”2″ cols =”5″ position =”left” order =”none” box_spacing =”5″ padding =”5″ border_width =”2″ border_color =”blue” border_style =”solid” height =”85″ width =”50″ ]To hear a 45-second clip of Ollie discussing his dad, and his own abortive riding career…[sc_embed_player fileurl=”https://www.theracingbiz.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/figginsdad1.mp3″][/boxify]Their father, Ollie, Jr., still trains a few and lives right nearby. Though the two men don’t work together, Ollie, III, said they often “burn up the phone lines” seeking advice and guidance from each other.
The family connections to racing don’t just include the men. Like Ollie, his wife, Clarissa, had a brief riding career. Her dad Richard McDowell was a rider at Charles Town, and her uncle, Stanley Small, was a longtime fixture in the riding colony at Charles Town and neighboring Shenandoah Downs, winning more than 2,100 races.
Their daughters, Kelsie, a senior at Washington High School in Jefferson County, and Emilie, a freshman at Washington, are both avid horse lovers. Kelsie competes in equestrian shows on a regular basis and has expressed an interest in riding race horses professionally, something her father has tried to discourage. She’s also the family archivist, Ollie reports, keeping articles about their horses and posting them on Facebook.
All of them have followed Dance to Bristol’s career closely, and they were all on hand when the Speightstown filly won the Grade II, $300,000 Honorable Miss at Saratoga despite a rough journey.
“It was not only great that she won that day despite all the trouble, but it was such a thrill having the whole family in the winner’s circle,” Figgins said. “It’s not always easy to have the whole family at the track on a given night, but having them all at Saratoga for the Honorable Miss was something special.”
When Figgins sent Dance to Bristol to New York for her last four starts, three of them victorious and all in graded stakes, the trips simply required a truck & trailer ride north on I-95. But when Dance to Bristol heads to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita next month she will travel there by plane and have several of Figgins’ best assistants along to accompany her.
Those plans aren’t simple.
“Ideally, I’d like to get her out there three weeks before the Breeders’ Cup and get her acclimated to the surroundings,” Figgins said. “I’d like to see her get in two workouts over the track and just really feel comfortable being out there. I’ll need to have someone stay with her and I’ll need to get out there and make sure Xavier [Perez] can go out there to work her both times. Then I know we’ll have a bunch in on West Virginia Breeders Classics night, and then I’ll head to get right back out there to work her.”
Figgins notes that the preparation for the Breeders’ Cup will be much different from that for her last race, the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom. Her win the Grade 1 Ballerina prior to the Gallant Bloom meant that she’d already punched her ticket to the big dance. “She really had two light workouts before the Gallant Bloom, but she’ll get some serious workouts for the Breeders’ Cup,” he explained. “It’s likely going to be her last start and she’s going to be tightened for that one.”
Still, Figgins said that ironing out the logistics for Dance to Bristol will be less troublesome than attempting to get the entire family out west for the Breeders’ Cup, especially since the Filly and Mare Sprint is on Friday.
“During the summer it’s easy to get everyone together, even on a road trip because the girls don’t have school,” Figgins said. “I know they want to go out to California for the Breeders’ Cup because it’s obviously her biggest race and it’s probably her last race and there’s a lot at stake. But right now I’m still ironing out the details with the flight company to make sure she gets out there at a reasonable date. If the wife and kids go, they could always leave in the morning and get there in plenty of time for the race.
“It will make for a long day, but they would be there for the Breeders’ Cup.”[boxify cols_use =”4″ cols =”4″ position =”none” order =”none” box_spacing =”5″ padding =”3″ border_width =”1″ border_color =”blue” border_style =”solid” height =”60″ ]