Our “Rooting Interests” series will flag some of the horses with connections to the mid-Atlantic running over Preakness weekend.

by Doug McCoy


Joint Return wins the Busher. Photo courtesy of NYRA.

This week 10 years ago John Servis was the man in demand in Baltimore. His cell phone was blowing up with calls, and when he went to the barn in the morning a horde of media types awaited him.

Of course, 10 years ago the horse Servis had brought to town was undefeated Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones, and on the third Saturday in May, Smarty Jones captured the second leg of the Triple Crown with a record-setting victory in the Preakness.

Fast forward 10 years…Servis is back in town for Preakness week and while he may not be surrounded by media when he heads to the barn, the object of his attention this week is a relatively unheralded filly named Joint Return who Servis thinks just might make some people take notice when she runs Friday in the Grade 2 $500,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for three year-old fillies.

Joint Return comes into the Black-Eyed Susan off a popular win in the Calder Oaks, and that victory gave the daughter of Include, out of the winning Brunswick mare Brunswick Star, her fourth win from six career starts.  Much like her sire Include and his sire Broad Brush, Joint Return does her running late and in fact has come from last in every one of her races.rootinginterests

In the speed-obsessed culture of American racing, Joint Return is a rarity, a successful deep closing type. Except for a third place finish in her debut over a muddy Parx racing strip and a fifth over a hard and extremely speed favoring Gulfstream surface in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, Joint Return is undefeated.

Can Joint Return handle graded company? Her trainer feels if she can, this is the time.

“She’s improved steadily as we’ve gone along,” Servis said.  “I’ve looked at the Beyers on the rest of the field and I don’t think anybody’s that far away from us, and she’s doing great right now so she deserves this chance.  I think she’s going to give a good account of herself.”

While Joint Return has closed from last in all of her victories, she hasn’t had much help from the pace in front of her.  She won the Busher over the inner track at Aqueduct after a pedestrian half mile of 50 1/5 seconds and closed to the lead at Calder after a half of 49 seconds.  That’s dawdling even on a Calder surface that is deep and markedly slow.

There are 11 sophomore fillies entered in the Black-Eyed Susan and at first glance it looks as though there are several runners in the field who have the speed to insure there will be a realistic early pace.  Image of Anna, who breaks from the outside post, has won her last two at Aqueduct using strong early speed; and Sloane Square, from the Todd Pletcher barn, was head and head for the lead in her last when second in a stake at Turfway Park.

John Servis celebrates Smarty Jones's 2004 Preakness win.  Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

John Servis celebrates Smarty Jones’s 2004 Preakness win. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

“It looks like there’s enough speed in there to insure they won’t crawl early which is good,” Servis said.  “While my filly lags early, when she kicks it in it is really impressive. I’m hoping she’s good enough, she has certainly earned the chance to show what she can do at this level.”

Joint Return is owned by Main Line Racing Stable, and Servis said another of the nice things about Joint Return is her ownership group.

“These are a group of guys who just love life, they love racing, they’re sports fanatics who follow all the Philadelphia teams and they just love having a good time,” Servis points out.  “They understand the business, they take the losses well and win or lose, they’ll have a good time Friday.”

Heads N Tales: Joint Return won’t be the only Parx-based entrant in the Black-Eyed Susan. Robert Reid has Vero Amore in the race and the runner up in both the Busher (behind Joint Return) and the Ruthless at Aqueduct figures to be in a striking position early. Vero Amore is a two time winner and was fourth in the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct in her last start.

Doug McCoy has been a racing writer and chartcaller since 1972. He retired in late 2013 after 23 years with Equibase and continues to write for the Daily Racing Form and The Racing Biz.