by Nick Hahn

Trainer Michael Pino and owner Tim O’Donohue have developed a simple equation on when to claim horses, one that’s led to no small amount of success.

preaknessweekendwrapIf, separately, each comes up with the same horse when watching races in the claiming ranks, they drop the slip.  With that exercise, a few poor post draws and a little help from Mother Nature, Wallyanna delivered their latest prize by winning the $100,000 James Murphy Stakes for three year olds going one mile on the turf on the Preakness undercard.

“When we end up on the same horse, that validates my thought process and his thought process,” explained O’Donohue.  “When I put my eyes on him, I said, ‘My god, I’ve never seen such a gorgeous animal.’  Right then I said I’m dropping the slip.  We had to win a 4-way shake to get him. I’m lucky we got him.”

The duo teamed up in March to claim Wallyanna for $35,000 out of the maiden ranks.  He won that day, in a one-mile turf race at Gulfstream.  Both men thought that Wallyanna, who’s by Langfuhr out of the Tale of the Cat mare Magibel, would thrive on turf, although the first start in O’Donohue’s colors came on the synthetic at Keeneland, a starter allowance win.

“He had an OK race at Churchill (on the dirt in his debut) so we decided to go take a look at him,” recalled Pino.  “He had some turf pedigree.  If he was an impressive looking horse we decided that we would take a gamble shot with him.  Obviously, he’s an awesome looking horse, so we took a shot and got lucky. “

If not for drawing a poor post in two races where he was entered earlier this week — including one pulled off the turf versus older horses — the Murphy win may not have happened.  Pino thought the turf, soaked in Friday’s rain storm, was just good enough.

Wallyanna rolls to victory in the James Murphy Stakes Saturday at Pimlico.  Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

Wallyanna rolls to victory in the James Murphy Stakes Saturday at Pimlico. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

“I don’t know if it helped me or hurt me,”  he said, about the turf course listed as good.  “I just think he handled it.  There may have been some somebody in there that didn’t.  I wasn’t concerned.  We took him to the poly (at Keeneland), and he ran well.  Even in his dirt race he didn’t run bad.  He trains awesome on the dirt.”

Pino, the leading trainer by wins at Colonial Downs in 2011, might have had a Virginia Derby candidate this year in Wallyanna, who’s won three straight.  But with no Colonial meet formalized, he is considering his options before deciding where to go next.

Pino also trains Mr. Online for O’Donohue.  They claimed Mr. Online last March for $30,000 at Gulfstream.  Since then, the Silent Name gelding has won six times — including in the El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream — and has finished second in three separate graded stakes.  Mr. Online now has 29 starts, far more than Wallyanna, who in the Murphy made only his fourth start.

“I said, ‘Mike let’s run in the stake, get a better post and run against three year-olds’” explained Donohue. “Let’s give him a shot.  He’s been acting like a good horse, he just doesn’t have the experience of some of these other horses.”

Now with the Murphy win, Wallyanna is adding to his resume and opening up his future options.  That seems to be something else on which O’Donohue and Pino agree.

(Featured image by Laurie Asseo.)