by Doug McCoy
Gamay Noir is 10-to-1 on the morning line for Saturday’s Grade I $750,000 Delaware Handicap. But the stretch running daughter of Harlan’s Holiday is trained by Marty Wolfson, and smart horseplayers have learned over the years never to take a horse trained by Wolfson lightly in high profile stakes and handicaps.
Wolfson, now in the midst of his 30th season, has seen his runners earn at least $1,000,000 a year every year since 1992; and the stable racked up $4.2 million in purses in 2009. Wolfson horses are high quality and they compete against top flight competition. The veteran is among the best in the business at knowing where to place his stakes runners and isn’t the least bit reluctant to ship a horse cross-country if he thinks they fit in a certain race.
He’s also not afraid to drop a claim slip on a horse, and such was the case with Gamay Noir, whom he claimed for $100,000 in January of this year at Gulfstream. To that point, the daughter of Harlan’s Holiday out of the winning Unbridled mare Uncorked had a win from three starts on the main track and two more wins, out of seven starts, on the lawn.
“We took a look at her (Gamay Noir’s) record and saw she’d not really had much of a chance to show what she could do on the main track before we took her,” the trainer pointed out, “I’ve had some good luck taking horses like that, horses I felt would be better suited on one surface as opposed to another and this is another case in point.”
In her first start for her new connections, Gamay Noir ran third at Gulfstream in a very tough open allowance going a one-turn mile over a sloppy track. Then she was fifth in the Grade 2 Sabin. She followed that with what seemed to be another middling effort, a fourth in the Wayward Lass at Tampa Bay Downs. But that day she had what the trainer said was a “terrible trip” while finishing fourth.
That led to the Grade 3 Rampart — and yet another example of a lightly regarded Wolfson runner blowing up the tote board. Racing last in the six-horse field, Gamay Noir unleashed a powerful late run down the stretch and ran down the leaders near the wire to capture the nine furlong test by three parts of a length at odds of 49-to-1.
Following a third in the Grade 3 Sixty Sails at Hawthorne, Wolfson gave Gamay Noir a seven-week break. The four-year-old came off that vacation in sharp form, rallying outside in the second turn of Delaware’s Grade 3 Obeah to challenge into the stretch and then outduel Montana Native and Ambusher for her second graded stakes win since being claimed.
Not coincidentally, Gamay Noir’s recent run of success — two wins and a third in three consecutive graded events — came in the three longest races of her career; all were at 1 1/8 miles.
“She’s a much better horse on the dirt, and I think she’s also a better horse at a mile and an eighth and farther,” Wolfson explained. “Unfortunately the opportunities to run longer distances are limited, and that’s one of the reasons we pointed for the Delaware Handicap. I’m confident she’ll like the mile-and-a-quarter.”
There’s not a lot of early speed in the DelCap, and for a late running type like Gamay Noir that may pose a problem. But her trainer said it’s just something they’ll have to deal with.
“When you run at these longer distances there’s always the danger of there being a slow pace, but we’re not going to change our style,” Wolfson said. “Danny [Centeno, rider of Gamay Noir] had to move a little earlier than he would have wanted in the Obeah when they went :49 for the half, but we still prevailed, so we’ll just do what we have to do.”
This is a step up for Gamay Noir, who has five wins from 17 career starts and earnings of over $300,000. She’s seen some good horses in her races but none the caliber of Princess of Sylmar, the even-money favorite who has four Grade 1 wins to her credit.
But Wolfson has confidence in Gamay Noir.
“She’s good right now and dead honest, so we’ll just hope for the best,” the veteran conditioner said. “Of course we’ve got to beat [Todd] Pletcher [trainer of Princess of Sylmar], but that’s a problem that faces trainers in just about any top race in the country. We ran second to him (Pletcher) twice in the Del ‘Cap, once to Fleet Indian and once to Life at Ten when she was at the top of her game. So maybe this year it’s our turn.”