by Frank Vespe
Everybody loves an old, hard-knocking horse.
But even that sentence raises a couple of questions: just how old is old, anyway? And how hard-knocking?
In 2014, the oldest horses to win races at the major mid-Atlantic tracks were 11 years old; there were five of those, and they accounted for wins at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Delaware Park, Laurel Park, Monmouth Park, and Penn National.
At Pimlico, the oldest horse to win was 10-year-old Real Estate, while at Parx Racing, a handful of relatively spry nine-year-olds were the oldest winners.
Elsewhere, the answer was 11.
Yet even among the senior set, differences persist. Some are what in a crueler day we might have called has-beens, horses whose best racing days are clearly in the rearview mirror; others are more like never-wases, toiling as they always have at the lower levels.
From the latter category, for example, we have West Virginia-bred Long Shadow, all of whose six career wins have come in claiming company, most recently, on December 12, at the $5,000 level. The property of owner/trainer/breeder Deborah K. Blankenship, this aged gelding won two of his first three career starts before enduring a four-year losing streak. He posted one win last year and has earned just over $143,000 in his career, mostly running at Charles Town.
Long Shadow has a similarly aged colleague at Charles Town in Swift Strike, trained now by Ernest Haynes. He’s won five of 52 career starts with earnings of a shade more than $144,000. The Smart Strike gelding began his career with promise — trying his hand in maiden special weight company — but, like Long Shadow, has never won a race outside of the claiming ranks. On the other hand — and unlike homebody Long Shadow — Swift Strike is something of a traveler, having made starts at a dozen different racetracks.
On the other side of the ledger, we have horses like Ok Nothanksforaskn and Skeleton Crew.
Both might these days be toiling with the cheaper sorts, but they have some admirable back class. Ok Nothanksforaskn may have registered his last victory for the princely claiming price of $4,000, but the son of Thunder Gulch twice placed in graded stakes as a three-year-old. He’s won 15 times and earned over $473,000.
Similarly, Skeleton Crew — who was the oldest horse to win at three different tracks this year in Laurel Park, Penn National, and Timonium — is a 22-time winner who’s earned more than $457,000. His most recent win came at the $6,250 claiming level, but as a three-year-old, he was a force to be reckoned with, winning the Hansel Stakes at Turfway and running in six other added-money events. The Elusive Quality gelding these days plies his trade for trainer J.B. Secor.
So far in 2015, the oldest horse to win a race nationally is another 11-year-old, Turf Paradise-based Canard. Regionally, a trio of 10-year-olds — Awakino Cat, Pluracity, and It’s Never to Late — has visited the winners’ circle — but no 11-year-old. Yet.
Then again, that gets to another question: Is this the year for a 12-year-old to win in the mid-Atlantic?
The Aged Five
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- b. 5/27/03
- Polish Numbers-Clayton’s Nobility, by Mark of Nobility
- Record: 68-12-7-9, $422,692
- Trained by Rory Huston for Richard Malouf
- Bred in New Jersey by Richard Malouf
- b. 3/30/03
- Standing on Edge-Story and Song, by Norquestor
- Record: 81-6-10-12, $143,444
- Trained and owned by Deborah Blankenship
- Bred in West Virginia by Deborah Blankenship
- b. 4/22/02
- Thunder Gulch-Tivli, by Mt. Livermore
- Record: 91-15-16-20, $473,103
- Trained and owned by Pedro Rodriguez
- Bred in Kentucky by W.S. Farish
- b. 3/11/03
- Elusive Quality-Hail Ho Silver, by Silver Deputy
- Record: 70-22-13-12, $457,889
- Trained by J.B. Secor for No Palla Stables
- Bred in Kentucky by Gary Finder
- b. 4/11/03
- Smart Strike-Malt, by Zilzal
- Record: 52-5-8-6, $144,048
- Trained by Ernest Haynes for John Matson
- Bred in Kentucky by Dr. Jim Hill