Patience the key for Craig and his small, successful stable
by Ted Black
In the weeks leading up to the 31st running of the West Virginia Breeders Classics at Charles Town on Saturday, October 14, local racing fans expect to see horses trained by James W. Casey, John McKee, Ollie Figgins, III and Jeff Runco prepping for the main event.
They may also see two runners trained by Lewis Craig, Jr. traveling along a similar path to reach the coveted WVBC card.
One of those, Prince of the Road, is entered in Saturday’s $50,000 Robert G. Leavitt Stakes for West Virginia-bred three-year-olds over the strip.
Two years ago, Craig proudly led his talented homebred Help a Brother into the winner’s circle after the Windsor Castle gelding prevailed in the $80,000 Onion Juice Breeders Classic, and August 5 Help a Brother led throughout to capture a six-furlong state-bred allowance on the opening race of the West Virginia Derby card at Mountaineer Park in the northern panhandle of the state. That victory occurred just two days after Prince of the Road rallied from midpack to capture a two-turn allowance event at Charles Town for his owner-trainer.
“Both of my horses ran well,” said Craig, who has saddled four winners this year and owns more than 110 wins with career earnings over $2.2 million. “Help a Brother finally put it all together. It had been a while since he won a race, but he’s eight years old now, so I really like to space his races out now. He might get one more start before the stakes race on Breeders Classics night. But that’s his main target. He won the race a couple of years ago and he’s been second one time and fourth one time in there.”
Help a Brother recorded his first win in four starts this year when he prevailed in that six-furlong allowance at Mountaineer Park last weekend and he now owns a solid 12-11-7 slate and just over $307,000 banked in 39 races overall, including three wins in eight starts at Mountaineer. The eight-year-old Windsor Castle gelding has done his best work in the two-turn allowance and stakes races at Charles Town over the years, and his record in the Onion Juice validates that ability. He finished second in his title defense last fall, while the Onion Juice score was one of three wins in 2015 when he earned nearly $76,000.
“He didn’t race at age two, but he was good at three,” Craig said of Help a Brother, who posted a 3-4-1 slate and nearly $77,500 banked from 10 starts his sophomore season.
For all that, Craig has campaigned his star carefully. Help a Brother has made only five starts in stakes company.
“I like taking my time with them. I have a couple of nice two-year-olds now, but I don’t mind waiting a little bit on them,” the trainer said. “Help a Brother didn’t make any starts at two, but he was really good his whole three-year-old season. He’s had his ups and downs since then and he’s getting older now, but he’s still got a few more good races left in him.”
Likewise, Prince of the Road did not make any starts as a juvenile. The Three Chopt Road gelding took five tries to break his maiden, and August 3 he rallied from midpack to edge James W. Casey trainees Charitable Hero by a neck 1:26.10 for the seven furlongs for his second win in nine starts this year.
“Until last week he had been mainly a speed horse,” Craig said. “So, we wanted to try something a little different with him and I asked Carlos [Castro] to take him back off the pace. He settled nicely and rallied to get the win against those two horses that Mr. Casey had in there.”
Craig was pleased enough with Prince of the Road to nominate him to and then enter him in the Leavitt, even though, as he said, “I usually like to wait until they get three wins before I go in a stakes.”
Prince of the Road is 12-1 on the morning line, and if Craig decides he doesn’t like his chances in there, Craig has the option of pointing instead to a September 1 allowance for state-breds.
Either way, he’ll take his time.