by Doug McCoy
Coming of age. In the world of thoroughbred racing it’s that point in a race horse’s career when potential transforms into performance, when a horse’s mental attitude and physical abilities come together to enable it to compete successfully against top company in the sport’s premier races.
There are any number of factors that can go into a horse’s transformation from good to great. Sometimes it’s just the passage of time, and the maturation process. Sometimes it can be a change in training patterns. And sometimes it can just be a case of recognizing what it takes get a horse to perform up to its potential.
Five-year-old Sheer Drama, the morning line favorite for Saturday’s Grade I $750,000 Delaware Handicap, is a case in point. Sheer Drama had been a decent mid-level allowance and optional claiming runner in spring of 2014 when David Fawkes took over training the half-sister to 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Big Drama, but her record was spotty and inconsistent. The Harold Queen-owned runner would turn in a decent race but then come back with a sub par effort next out.
Then Fawkes took over for trainer Charlie Forrest. Sheer Drama has since been the model of consistency, finishing first or second in six stakes, five consecutive, and four in graded company.
“It was basically just figuring out what made her happy and what upset her,” said Fawkes this week. “The folks that had her before me thought shipping her in off the farm for races was the way to go, but just like a lot of us, this mare likes a set routine and when that routine is changed or altered she’s not happy.”
With that realization came Sheer Drama’s transformation.
Fawkes ran her for the first time at Saratoga where Sheer Drama finished a solid second in an optional allowance route going nine furlongs. She won the Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes at Laurel in her next try to kick off her stakes run. In her last seven starts, Sheer Drama has finished worse than second only once — and that was a failed experiment over the Tapeta all weather surface at Presque Isle.
She came out for her 2015 debut in the Sunshine Million Sprint and overcame being bumped at the start to close from next-to-last at 37-1 odds and wind up second, behind highly regarded Dame Dorothy. Next out, she was probably best when impeded in the stretch by eventual winner House Rules while rallying inside in the Grade 3 Rampart. Fawkes and rider Joe Bravo both objected, claiming House Rules had fouled their horse. But the stewards ruled no change, saying that “the outcome would not have been altered,” according to the chart of the race. Fawkes, who appealed the stewards’ no-change ruling to the state agency overseeing horse racing, is still irked by the non-disqualification.
It didn’t seem to affect Sheer Drama at all, however. She avenged that loss with a flourish next out in the Grade 2 Royal Delta, posting a handy 6 1/2 length victory at the direct expense of House Rules. And in each of her last two, she ran well to be second against graded rivals.
Now, she arrives in Delaware — well ahead of the race — as the 2-1 favorite to earn the first Grade 1 win of her career.
“I realized early on she’s not keen about shipping, and if we do ship her we try to get to the track where we’re going to race well ahead of race day so she can settle in and get used to her surroundings,” the trainer explained. “We got here (Delaware Park) Monday and that gave her plenty of time to get comfortable. And the backstretch here is very horse-friendly, the barns are laid out nice and it’s a good atmosphere.”
Fawkes believes his mare has the perfect running style for races like the 1 1/4 mile Delaware Handicap. “She’s got a high cruising speed, and at a mile and a quarter I’m sure Joe (Bravo, her regular rider) will have her close to the lead from the start,” he said.
When it was pointed out that a unusually high number of DelCap winners have won by leading wire-to-wire, Fawkes said that didn’t concern him. “I’m pretty sure the horse of (Victoria) Oliver’s (second favorite Frivolous) will try for the lead from the rail like she did against us last time, but that was over a surface that was very favorable to speed horses that day,” Fawkes explained. “While Sheer Drama’s never won on the front end since I’ve had her, if the race turns into one of those where everybody takes a hold, I have no doubt she could win on the front end.”
Fawkes said he and Queen had been pointing for the DelCap for some time. The trainer said his mare’s performance Saturday will play an important role in their plans regarding the Breeders’ Cup.
“I think she’s as good as any mare in the country and she’s just now coming into her own,” the horseman observed. “I think she’s going to continue to prove she belongs with the best.”[su_box title=”GRADE 1 DELAWARE HANDICAP ENTRIES” style=”glass”]
- Fortune Pearl/10-1
- Flashy American/4-1
- Sheer Drama/2-1
- Joint Return/8-1