Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Second Career for CVF Horses -- Right at the Race Track

Castle Village Farm takes its responsibility as a thoroughbred owner very seriously. In particular, we try to make sure that all our race horses have a comfortable and productive second career once they're no longer racing. Some of our former horses have become broodmares (Seneca Falls' first foal, Sweetsouthernman, just won a maiden at Calder). Some, including Pinecall and Through Thicknthin, have moved on to become ribbon-winning hunter-jumpers. Some, such as Cinnamon Light, are working in therapeutic riding programs, and some, like Candooz and Key on Richie, are just hanging out with caring, responsible owners.

And three of our former racers are right back where they enjoyed success -- at the race track, working as stable ponies or outrider ponies. We hope, and I believe, that they are delighted to have found a way to keep active in a place that they love.

Diligent Gambler & Leah Gyarmati on the Belmont training track

We claimed Diligent Gambler, a big gray gelding by Diligence, in 2004, and he went on to win 8 races for us from 28 starts, missing an in-the-money finish only five times. Including his efforts for other trainers, his lifetime record was 44-12-8-10, with earnings of over $365,000. And in 2004 he won a total of 9 races, including those before we claimed him, and was named Florida-bred Claimer of the Year.

By 2007, DG had long since been claimed away, and his racing career was winding down. Our partners generously contributed enough money to buy him back from his last owner. We gave him some time for rest and recuperation, and then Leah Gyarmati, who had trained DG for us for all of those 28 starts, was able to bring him back to the track as her stable pony. Every morning DG takes Leah to the track to watch her horses work out. DG also loves to teach the new two-year-olds how to act like professionals. Right now, DG is with Leah at Saratoga, enjoying the clean, fresh upstate air and looking forward, at age 9, to many more years of useful work at the track.

Brave Sir Robin (r) working on the Belmont pony track

We bought Brave Sir Robin (Runaway Groom-Brave Hearted; if you know Monty Python, you’ll know how he got his name) as a yearling in 2003, and he raced for us until his retirement, some 39 races later, in 2008. Although he only won three of those races, Brave Sir Robin tried hard all the time, finished in the money in nearly half his races, and earned over $150,000. Jimmy Ferraro trained Brave Sir Robin for us.

When we retired Robin, complete with a retirement party at a Long Island restaurant, we were fortunate enough to be able to send him to the late John Hettinger’s Akindale Farm in upstate New York. It took him a year or so before he was ready to go to work again. And then trainer Bobbi Rossi, who had been one of Jimmy Ferraro's assistants, decided that he would make an ideal pony. So Bobbi, now training on her own, brought him back to Belmont, where, as the above picture shows, he takes his job of teaching babies very seriously.

Charlie, trainer Keith & groom Curtis head for the Hialeah track

And finally, the first horse ever to run in Castle Village Farm’s colors, Warwhatisitgoodfor, is still, a dozen years later, on the race track, working as an outrider pony at Gulfstream and Calder.

Charlie, as we knew him, for his Charlie-Chaplin-like walk, was claimed by a group of friends who all lived at the Castle Village apartment development in upper Manhattan. Hence the stable name. Along with trainer Keith Sirota and co-owners sportswriter Paul Moran and ace handicapper Stuie Rubin, we raced Charlie in New Jersey and Florida, getting win pictures at Hialeah and the Meadowlands and enjoying the thrill of being in the races.

Charlie kept running until he was 10 years old, then seamlessly transitioned into his role as a pony, leading the young ‘uns to the starting gate. We wish him many more years of productive work at the track.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bishop of Nola's Etymology

Castle Village Farm's newest horse is Bishop of Nola, a three-year-old New York-bred gelding by Devil His Due. We claimed Bishop of Nola on July 30th at Saratoga, and just 15 days later, on August 14th, he won a NY-bred allowance for us, leading all the way and drawing off by five lengths at the wire.

Intrigued by our new horse's name, Steve did a little research. Here's what he found:

Bishop of Nola (the equine version) was bred by well-known New York breeder Joe McMahon and, until we claimed him, was owned by the Brooklyn Boyz Stable, a group of friends from, naturally, Brooklyn. The horse was named in honor of the most important feast day at the Brooklyn Boyz' Catholic parish in Brooklyn, the feast of Saint Paulinus, who was the Bishop of Nola, Italy, in the early 5th century. That feast day is celebrated on June 22nd, during the Feast of the Lilies, during which statues of Saint Paulinus are carried on the shoulders of the faithful.
The Brooklyn Boyz also had a filly named Lily of Paradise, referring to the same celebration.

Nola is a small town a few miles outside Naples. It is probably best known now as the home of the philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Giordano Bruno, who was burnt at the stake as a heretic in 1600, in part at least because of his premature belief in the infinite size and nature of the universe, and his conviction that the sun was just one among billions of similar heavenly bodies, not to mention his pantheistic tendencies, all of which caused considerable discomfort to the rigid theological guardians of the Inquisition

Bruno, although a Dominican friar, was never Bishop of Nola. The best known Bishop is Saint Paulinus, who lived from 354 to 431 A.D and was Bishop from around 410 until his death.

Paulinus came from a wealthy Roman aristocratic family, served as Governor of Campagna, the Roman province that included Naples and Nola, and then doubled the family fortune by marrying well, to Therasia, a "virtuous Spanish noblewoman." But when their child died in infancy, he became a highly observant Christian and retreated into an almost monastic life, eventually being ordained and then, in 410, appointed as Bishop of Nola.

By all accounts, Paulinus was a model of Christian piety, giving away his fortune to help the less privileged, doing good works, and at one point even offering himself as a slave to a barbarian ruler in exchange for the release of one of his parishioners. He was widely regarded as a living saint even before his death, and was swiftly canonized after he died.

Paulinus was also a prolific writer, both of theological letters to other figures in the Church, including St. Augustine, and of erotic poetry, one example of which is included in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse. Most of his love poems were addressed to his longtime friend Ausonius. It's not clear that anything happened, but the poems definitely display a gay sensibility.

(The equine Bishop of Nola, by the way, is a gelding, which pretty much settles any issues he might have about sexuality.)

Although our horse was apparently named for Paulinus, there have been other notable Bishops of Nola as well. The tomb of first Bishop, St. Felix (around 200 A.D.) was reputedly the most-visited sacred site in Italy in the 5th century apart from the tomb of the Apostles Peter and Paul. And many of the early Bishops have been canonized; for details, see here.

Lots of theological and historical baggage for a horse to carry, but, as Bishop of Nola showed when he won for us last Saturday at Saratoga, he can definitely carry the weight.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Barn Report - Sunday August 1

Steve and Jean had an adventuresome trip up to Saratoga last Friday, to check out a possible claim for the Castle Village Farm 2010 Claiming Partnership. That partnership had lost its previous horse, Good Law, to a claim back in June, and we’d been looking for a replacement for nearly two months. With Castle Village Farm’s very rigorous criteria for making claims, and with the dearth of good claims available at the Belmont meet – compared to the claiming frenzy going on at Monmouth – Bruce and Steve were beginning to wonder if they’d ever find the right horse. Here’s Steve’s report:

Jean and I drove up to Saratoga for the race, since I don't like to make a claim without seeing the horse myself, no matter how many replays I've watched and how thoroughly I've studied the past performances. I trust Bruce's contacts -- and his judgment -- but there's just no substitute for that last look before dropping the claim. And besides, who can resist a trip to the Spa?

Of course, when the trip is there and back from New York City all in the same day, it’s not quite the relaxing vacation it would be if one went up for, say, a week. Three and a half hours each way does eat up a chunk of the day. And, if you’re planning on lunch or dinner along the way, without losing a huge chunk of time, the options are, to say the least, somewhat limited.

The horse we’d spotted in the past performances was Bishop of Nola, a New York-bred three-year-old by Devil His Due, running in a $25,000 claimer for horses that had never won two races. I don’t usually like to claim out of those N2L events, since the reason that a lot of horses are in them is that they have an aversion to winning, but the quality of the races at Saratoga has been well above what it was at Belmont, and Bishop of Nola was relatively lightly raced and had looked eager and competitive in the video replays that we’d watched.

Bruce and I were on the rail when the horses were coming into the paddock, and we both decided that Bishop of Nola looked just fine, although he had bell boots on his front feet (those little protective rubber thingies). That's sometimes a sign of a weak hoof, but he was wearing regular shoes with nails, and not the glue-ons that trainers sometimes use when a horse has hoof problems. And Bruce noted that Bishop of Nola’s trainer, Dominick Schettino, often used the bell boots, even when there were no foot problems.

So, Bruce dropped the claim slip, and then we watched while Bishop of Nola decided to misbehave in the paddock, bucking and rearing up, and showing a distinct unwillingness to let jockey Jose Espinoza get aboard. I was worried that the colt might get scratched then and there -- or that he was leaving his race right there. But Bruce didn't break a sweat. He just murmured something about how he’d have to give the horse a little more education. Eventually, Espinoza managed to stay on, and Bishop of Nola came out, well behind the rest of the horses in the post parade.

The Bishop tracked the early leader, Lion Under Oath, through the first three-quarters of a mile in a relatively easy 1:13.2, then took over the lead at the top of the stretch and picked up the pace, finishing in 23.5 seconds for the final full quarter and a very healthy 6 flat for the last 16th of a mile. He kept Lion Under Oath at bay, and was too quick for the late charges by Cullinan (also claimed out of the race) and Exclusive Strike. I don't have the Beyer figure yet, but Equibase, which produces speed figures for the track program, gave Bishop of Nola a 95, the best he's ever done. Looks like we claimed him just as he's getting to be a very good horse.

And we did claim him. To my surprise, we were the only ones to drop a claim on him, so there wasn’t even a shake to see who’d get him.

With yesterday's win, Bishop of Nola's record goes to 11-2-3-1, with earnings of just over $70,000.

Bishop of Nola came out of the race in good shape. Understandably, he was a little tired after that effort, but he was completely sound and walked the shedrow by the morning after the race.

Bruce plans to keep Bishop of Nola up at Saratoga, so they can get to know each other. Also, horses can be trained on the turf at Saratoga. Bruce expects that, if all goes well, we'll run Bishop of Nola back in a NY-bred N1X allowance before the end of the Saratoga meet.

It's definitely nice to have a horse again, and especially one we can have so much fun with. It almost made that long drive back to New York worth it -- even though, after the drive up and an exciting and exhausting, albeit successful day, it felt longer than ever.

And, to make the trip feel even longer to Steve, he had to drive the whole way home. Usually, Jean shares at least some of the driving, but they weren’t even to Malta when she fell asleep. To give her credit, she’d wake up every now and then, just enough to say, “I’ll drive if you get too tired,” and then she’d fall asleep again.