Rob O’Connor has been training horses at Churchill Downs for more than two decades, but he never has had a meet such as the current one.
When Sneak a Drink scored a 5-1 odds in Friday’s second race, she gave O’Connor his seventh victory from just 17 starters. That is a 41 percent win rate with an average payoff of $16.50.
Prior to this year, O’Connor’s best meet had been in the Spring of 1993 when he saddled five winners from 27 starters. The breakout campaign could not have come at a better time for O’Connor.
“I was a private trainer for 15 years for Jim Bohannon,” O’Connor said. “He raced just allowance horses. If they were not allowance horses, they weren’t in the barn.
“He became ill five years ago and I lost 33 percent of my stable. When he died three years ago, I had to liquidate the barn and basically start all over. I am trying to put together new clients and I don’t mind having a claiming stable because you get to run a lot of races and you need clients.”
O’Connor ran in the winters at Fair Grounds “before (Hurricane) Katrina and then Turfway but I found that was not a viable option. The last two years I have been at Tampa Bay and the horses have come out there running good.”
O’Connor has fewer than a dozen horses stabled at Churchill Downs, a number he would seriously like to see increase.
“I consider myself a pretty much hands-on trainer,” O’Connor said. “But I am only as good as my help and my horses.”
EARLIE’S LAST RIDE COMING SOON, BUT WHEN A MYSTERY – Hall of Fame rider Earlie Fires, now ninth on the all-time wins list in North America with 6,452 through June 13, plans to retire sometime during the current Arlington Park meet.
The exact date is not known and even Fires’ older brother Jinks has no inside information on when that final ride will be.
“He hasn’t told me, but I know he is definitely going to retire during the meet,” said Jinks Fires, whose stable is based at Churchill Downs. “I knew that passing Sandy Hawley was a personal goal of his.”
Earlie Fires collected his 6,450th win on June 7 to pass Hawley for ninth all-time. Jorge Velasquez ranks eighth in total career wins with 6,795. Russell Baze leads all North American riders with 10,179 victories.
Of Fires’ 6,452 wins, 403 came at Churchill Downs, 15 in stakes. The 61-year-old rider won or shared riding titles in the 1973 and 1974 Spring Meets as well as titles in the 1965 and 1973 Fall Meets.
KNEE INJURY SIDELINES BOREL – Calvin Borel, winner of the 2007 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) aboard Street Sense and currently fourth among riders at the Churchill Downs Spring Meet with 34 winners, will be off all his mounts until next Friday because of a knee injury.
“He came off a horse Friday morning, but he rode yesterday and thought everything was fine,” Borel’s agent Jerry Hissam said. “When he woke up this morning, it was swollen ligament in his knee. The doctor recommended he not ride for four or five days.”
Borel had been scheduled to ride in five stakes on the “Stephen Foster Super Saturday” card, including Brass Hat in the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (GI).
A two-time leading rider in the Churchill Downs Fall Meet, Borel had a record of 34-33-34 in 225 mounts through Friday’s Spring Meet racing at Churchill Downs.
SEVEN HORSES SCRATCH FROM “SUPER SATURDAY” STAKES – There were seven defections Saturday morning from the six stakes on the “Stephen Foster Super Saturday” card.
Jeff Singer’s Cowgirls Don’t Cry remained in New York for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin to run in Saturday’s Ogden Phipps (GI) at Belmont Park instead of the Fleur de Lis (GII); new owners Overbrook Farm opted not to run Clearly Foxy and owner-trainer Keith Kinmon withdrew Absolutely Cindy from the Regret (GIII); Zabeel Racing International’s Tiz Now Tiz Then was declared from the Northern Dancer (GIII) and in the Early Times Mint Julep (GIII), Rustic Flame (Ire), Tears I Cry and Elisabeth Alexander’s Sousaphone were withdrawn.
Kinmon opted not to bring Absolutely Cindy down from Turfway Park because “she just didn’t seem to have that bounce in her step. We had been pointing to this race since the Kentucky Oaks, but for the past three days my heart was telling me to bring her down but my mind was telling me not to do that. I didn’t want to bring her down and have her throw in a clunker on what is her best surface."
Mrs. Paul Shanahan’s Rustic Flame, trained by Niall O’Callaghan was to run instead in Saturday’s Minnesota H.B.P.A. Mile at Canterbury Park. Peter Bradley III’s Tears I Cry will be pointed to the July 6 Locust Grove Handicap (GIII) at a mile on the turf according to trainer Cody Autrey. “We worked her the other day on the turf (:53.80 for a half-mile on June 12),” Autrey said. “She is kind of a light filly, and this gives her more time.”
BARN TALK – Tom Amoss saddled two more winners Friday to extend his lead in the race for leading trainer at the Spring Meet. Nereus ($4.60) scored in the sixth race and Lighthouse Jim ($4.80) took the seventh to give Amoss 24 winners from 54 starters, a 44 percent clip. Amoss increased his lead in the trainer standings to three over Ken McPeek. … Three jockeys posted riding doubles Friday: Shaun Bridgmohan, Julien Leparoux and apprentice Diego Rodriguez. Leading rider Robby Albarado claimed his 46th victory of the meet to retain a four-win lead over Miguel Mena. … Nominations close today for the $100,000-added Debutante Stakes (GIII) at six furlongs for 2-year-old fillies. The Debutante will be run June 28. Information is available by calling Churchill Downs Racing at (502) 636-4470 or nominations may be made via fax at (502) 636-4479.
WORK TAB (Track: MUDDY) – Alien Farm’s graded stakes-placed Nistle’s Crunch worked five furlongs over a “muddy” track in 1:01.20 for trainer Ken McPeek, the fastest work of the morning of 17 at the distance. Also working for McPeek was Lawrence Carroll’s multi-graded stakes-placed Bold Start, who worked a half-mile in :49.40. The move was the ninth fastest of 34 at the distance. … Patricia Blass’ Prom Shoes, runner-up in the 2007 Peter Pan (GII), worked five furlongs in 1:02.40 for trainer Jinks Fires. The time was the 10th fastest of the morning. …Biggerbadderbetter, third in the Louisville Handicap (GIII), breezed five furlongs in 1:01.60.
Through Thursday, June 13
Jockeys Starts 1-2-3
Robby Albarado 173 46-23-24
Miguel Mena 233 42-30-30
Julien Leparoux 216 39-39-40
Calvin Borel 225 34-33-34
Shaun Bridgmohan 149 31-27-19
Jamie Theriot 167 28-26-15
Jesus Castanon 179 21-15-20
Brian Hernandez Jr. 129 12-20-14
Elvis Trujillo 75 10-10-18
Corey Lanerie 1413 9-21-16
Larry Sterling Jr. 74 9-8-9
Tom Amoss 54 24-7-9
Ken McPeek 54 21-10-4
Steve Asmussen 80 17-14-12
Dale Romans 97 11-22-17
Mike Maker 40 11-7-4
Ian Wilkes 35 10-6-5
Eddie Kenneally 43 8-8-8
Nick Zito 20 8-5-1
Greg Foley 53 7-9-8
Cody Autrey 43 7-8-8
Steve Margolis 33 7-6-6
Paul McGee 35 7-6-2
Wesley Ward 27 7-5-5
Robert O’Connorr II 17 7-2-4
Ken and Sarah Ramsey 40 12-6-8
Maggi Moss 21 11-3-3
Zayat Stables, LLC 38 7-8-7
Richard, Elaine & Bert Klein 28 6-7-3
Heiligbrodt Racing Stable 11 5-1-0
Padua Stables 7 4-1-0
Eliah and Lisa Kahn 4 4-0-0
Eight (8) owners tied with three (3) wins