Disputed Claim provides “one for the little guys”
Sometime in late October, seven-year-old Troy Watts told his class for show-and-tell that his family’s horse had won a million dollars.
Troy didn’t have it quite right that morning, but even a million-dollar purse couldn’t have made the Metrenas Watts family any happier than they were on Oct. 14, when Disputed Claim won a starter handicap on Maryland Million Day at Laurel Park.
The three-year-old gelding had in fact won $22,000, his share of the $40,800 purse, a not-insignificant amount of money, but the purse mattered to Troy’s family far less than the win itself.
Troy’s parents, Beth Metrenas Watts and Tim Watts, had claimed Disputed Claim for $16,000 a race prior, a winning effort by 5 1/2 lengths as the favorite.
Disputed Claim is trained by Metrenas Watts’s cousin Emanuel Geralis, who goes by Mike, and he’d actually planned to claim another horse for the couple on September 10 at Pimlico.
“My husband had been wanting a Maryland-bred forever,” said Metrenas Watts, a lifelong Marylander.
“I had been planning to claim a horse for them from an earlier race,” said Geralis, “and claim this one for another owner. Then the night before the race, that gentleman called and canceled, so I called Beth and Tim and said, ‘What about this one instead?’”
“We said, ‘Whatever you want to do, Mike. You’re the boss,’” recalled Metrenas Watts.
Disputed Claim is out of the multiple stakes placed Pennsylvania-bred mare Weeper, who is by multiple graded stakes winner Domestic Dispute, and by the multiple graded stakes winner Golden Lad, who stands at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City, MD. He was campaigned by his owner Charles McGill through seven maiden claimers before finally breaking his maiden, and McGill lost him that day to Anthony Farrior. In his first race against winners, Geralis won a three-way shake to grab him.
Metrenas Watts grew up in a home that focused on horse racing. Her father Ted owned standardbreds throughout her childhood, then began racing Thoroughbreds. He owned a liquor store not far from Bowie, and horsemen were some of his customers. Among those was trainer Donovan Haughton.
“My father and Donovan became friendly, and my dad started working for him on the backside,” Metrenas Watts related. “They showed me the ropes, and I helped groom and hotwalk. Those years working on the backside were probably the best years of our lives. We met so many wonderful people that we’re still friends with.”
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Geralis’ road to the backstretch was similarly serendipitous. His father owned a restaurant near a shoe store owned by a man named Harvey Linden, who had horses with trainer Dale Capuano, and one day Linden took Geralis and his buddy Damon Dilodovico to the track.
“He introduced us to Dale,” said Geralis. “Then one Friday night, Damon and I were hanging out at the Laurel Mall and Dale called and said, ‘What are you doing in the morning? I need help.’ We had no idea what we were doing, but I’ve been on the track ever since.”
Dilodovico went out on his own in 1991, and Geralis shortly joined the stable as his assistant, a position he held for more than two decades until he opened his own stable in 2014.
Tim Watts, Beth’s husband, grew up in Laurel and attended the track; the couple went to Charles Town for their second date, on a night when Dilodovico’s Immortal Eyes set a track record for 4 1/2 furlongs in the 2011 Webb Snyder Stakes. That record still stands.
“He was hooked,” said Beth of her husband.
After Troy was born in 2015, the couple decided to become racehorse owners. They raced mostly claimers with Geralis, and before long, Tim began to dream of running a horse on Maryland Million Day.
Though Disputed Claim was Million-eligible, neither the Wattses nor Geralis had their sights set on the big day at first.
Not even sure that they would get into the starter allowance based on earnings, they nominated nonetheless. At first they thought that just getting into the race “would be cool”; when Geralis saw the entries, he told Beth and Tim, “We have a chance. We might win this race.”
The bay gelding broke from post 8 under jockey Jevian Toledo, who sported the owners’ light-blue silks adorned with a lightning bolt, a nod to the voltage connotations of their family name and their stable name, Thousand Watts Racing Stable.
Toledo and Disputed Claim went right to the front, and the front is where they stayed, notching a gate-to-wire win by 3 1/4 lengths, leaving the Watts family plenty of time to celebrate as they watched a horse racing dream come true.
“We had so many friends there,” said Metrenas Watts. “Friends that had worked at Bowie, jockeys, trainers–they were all so happy to see us win that day. We’ve been around for so long, and it’s tough for the small guy to even think about being in a race on Million day, let alone winning one.”
The man who started it all, Metrenas Watts’s father, was there, too.
“He’s a very quiet guy,” she said, “and the night before he told me that he couldn’t sleep because he was so excited. Seeing the smile on his face was probably the best part of the day for me. If it wasn’t for him, we’d never have been there. I’m so happy that he was there to be a part of it all.”
“And to have my cousin involved…I give Mike and his team all the credit. I love him so much– his daughter is my goddaughter, he takes his time and is very patient with horses, and he treats his horses so well. He always finds homes for them, and we retire horses quickly because he knows so much about each one. I don’t think that he gets the accolades that he deserves.”
Disputed Claim has lost his last two starts. He’s got a record of 11-3-1-2 and earnings of $82,240. He definitely didn’t win a million dollars; technically, he didn’t even get a stakes win.
But Troy got to bring a trophy to school to show his classmates what his horse won, and Beth got to stand in the winner’s circle on Million Day with her husband and her cousin and her father and her son and her daughter and with friends she’s had for decades.
“I’ll never forget it,” she said. “I keep telling Tim that this might not ever happen for us again, and we have to live it up and enjoy it. This is a tough game for people like us to be in, this sport of kings, and so even to be involved with a horse like this is pretty neat.”