by Teresa Genaro
On Saturday afternoon at Charles Town, an odds-on favorite with a big fan base went to the gate. She was expected to be an easy winner; after all, she’d won eight in a row, and 14 of her last 15. Her lone loss in that stretch came at Mountaineer, one of only four starts in a 41-race career away from her home track, at which she was making her first start of 2015.
Instead, just a few furlongs into the race, at the track at which she’d seen her greatest triumphs—all but one of her 25 wins, two in the West Virginia Cavada Breeders’ Classic; three straight wins in the Sadie Hawkins; back-to-back victories against males at two in the Tri State Futurity and the West Virginia Futurity—jockey Erik Ramirez pulled Down Town Allen up, not without some difficulty, the 8-year-old mare trying to run on even as he tried to slow her down, the dreams of a third consecutive win in the Original Gold stopped dead on the Charles Town backstretch.
The national racing news from Charles Town on Saturday involved another horse, another favorite, another superstar expected to win, another horse getting pulled up, but on-track, disbelief and dismay were in ample supply as Down Town Allen walked onto the van to be driven, injured, off the track. Bred, owned, and trained by John Casey, she was a horse for the course, a West Virginia-bred daughter of Windsor Castle-Like Down Town, by Roy that had finished out of the top three only eight times before last Saturday.
The news was initially hopeful: a partial dislocation of her left ankle that could maybe be repaired by surgery. Her racing career was over, but she could, perhaps, be saved and begin a second career as a broodmare.
The racing world didn’t receive updates about her this week, tweeted by a celebrity owner, as they did about the other injured superstar, Shared Belief; racing publications didn’t run stories about her prognosis. Her trainer wasn’t answering phone calls, but at week’s end, the news was still guardedly hopeful: at a clinic in Maryland, Down Town Allen was spending a few days in a hyperbaric chamber before undergoing surgery…not out of the woods, but doing OK.
One race after the Original Gold, nine-year-old Russell Road and six-year-old Lucy’s Bob Boy renewed their rivalry; in their last four races, they’d finished one-two, splitting the victories down the middle. The tradition continued in the Confucius Say, with Russell Road notching his third win in the race in his first start this year, Lucy’s Bob Boy once again completing the exacta.
“He’s been special from the start,” said owner Mark Russell earlier this week. “And each year, he becomes even more special to me, doing it at the level he does. We’re not graded stakes or anything like that, but it just really kind of boggles the mind to see him come back year after year and perform the way he does.”
Like Down Town Allen, Russell Road has done most of his racing at Charles Town, though he’s ventured further afield more often than she did. Like her, he’s consistent: 54 starts, 29 wins, 46 finishes in the money. Like her, he’s a millionaire.
Unlike her, he got to finish his race; he got to the winner’s circle one more time, an experience that, common though it’s become, Mark Russell doesn’t take for granted.
“You never want to see it,” he said of Down Town Allen’s injury. “It makes any horse lover think about vulnerability. And as he gets older, you think about it even a little more.”
So he keeps his eye on his horse, named not for him but for the road on which his breeder Robert Lloyd lives, watching for the signal that will tell him that Russell Road is ready for retirement.
“The soundness is there,” he said. “His want is there, the ability to compete. But anytime I get any sign from him, that will be it.”
Russell Road gets a few months off every winter; he gets turned out in a paddock, but, said Russell, after about half an hour, the horse is bored and wants to come back in.
“He’s going to need a purpose,” said Russell of his horse’s retirement. “I’ve had some inquiries about him, so maybe he can do a little dressage or something. He loves being around people, so he’s going to need another job.”
Not quite yet, though. Russell Road’s legions of fans will get to see him back at his favorite track, likely renewing that rivalry with Lucy’s Bob Boy, who seems poised to pick up the mantle that Russell Road will at some point put down.
Down Town Allen’s fans won’t get that chance. They won’t get to see her run again, but maybe they’ll get to see her babies, and maybe John Casey will get to train them, as he trained Down Town Allen’s mother, too, and maybe another generation of Charles Town favorites, of horses for the little course, will come along, not to replace, but to add to, the legacies of Down Town Allen and Russell Road.