JC / Railbird

Trainers

Managing Expectations

Trainer Linda Rice on defending her 2009 Saratoga title:

“A lot of people are expecting an awful lot, but realistically I just hope we go there and have a good meet, the horses run well and we win our share of races, have good racing luck and try not to embarrass myself.”

Since her history-making win last summer, Rice has picked up a few new clients, but she’s still seeking owners offering the sort of financial backing that would allow up her to acquire and train top-class horses. Somewhat ironically, her current stock, largely comprising turf horses and NY-breds, may actually better position her for a repeat title than would a barn full of champions, as 2009 runner-up trainer Todd Pletcher tacitly acknowledged:

“What we need to be successful at Saratoga is to be able to participate in open allowance races. If the cards are weighed heavily with a lot of New York-bred races and sprint races on the turf, we just don’t have the horses to participate in those categories.”

The trends of the past decade aren’t in Pletcher’s favor.

The headline says it all: “Rachel towers over Lady’s Secret field.” Monmouth anticipates the reigning HOTY will go to post “at the absolute minimum price” of 1-20. “I think we are running for second,” said trainer Patrick Biancone, who will saddle Queen Martha on Saturday. “But second would be good.”

Miss Mary, Licensed Trainer

Noted in today’s TDN:

July 7, 1934 … Mary Hirsch became the first female to be licensed as a Thoroughbred trainer, in Illinois. Hirsch subsequently was licensed in Michigan that year and two years later, on April 9, she was licensed by The Jockey Club to train in New York.

Hirsch, known as “Miss Mary” and described as a “frail-looking, sad-eyed” young woman with modest hopes by Time Magazine in April 1935, was the daughter of Hall of Fame trainer Max Hirsch, who conditioned Sarazen, 1924-25 Horse of the Year, and Assault, the 1946 Triple Crown winner. He’s also known for losing Stymie, eventual champion and winner of almost $1 million in earnings, as a juvenile in a $1500 claiming race.

Nothing so dramatic, won or lost, would mark Miss Mary’s career, but she did have the distinction of being the first female trainer to saddle a horse in the Kentucky Derby. No Sir, a well-bred stakes-winning gelding owned by Hirsch, finished 13th in the 1937 run for the roses, which was won that year by War Admiral. She also became the first female trainer to win the Travers, with a horse named Thanksgiving, in 1938, a year in which she won 18 races and $26,210, “a record not equaled by scores of men trainers,” wrote Charles B. Parmer in “For Gold and Glory,” a history of American thoroughbred racing published in 1939. The author not only admired Hirsch as a trainer, but for what a good sport she could be, as exemplified by this story:

A standing alibi on the race track, when a good horse loses, is for the owner to announce: the jockey didn’t give my horse a good ride. Mary Hirsch endeared herself to the jockey colony one day, when she climbed the stairs into the press box. One of her horses had lost a race the day before: the newspapers said the jockey had given him a poor ride. Mary said: “You chaps are all wrong. The boy rode to my orders — the horse just couldn’t make it.”

In 1936, Hirsch helped her father win his first Kentucky Derby by sending 18-year-old Ira Hanford, her apprentice jockey, to ride Bold Venture. The colt paid $43 to upset; Hanford was suspended 15 days for rough riding.

Done With Synths

Trainer Bruce Headley is mad as hell:

“They're making me be a guinea pig and I'm tired of it. For me, the experiment is over. I'm tired of hearing how great these [synthetics] are."

Via @superterrific.

Another Saratoga First

Congratulations to Linda Rice on securing the 2009 Saratoga training title with 20 winners, one more than runner-up and six-time title holder Todd Pletcher, with one race remaining in the meet. The honor is a first for the conditioner, who started her stable in 1987 and currently has 50 horses, and for racing history — Rice is the first woman to win a training title at Saratoga or, it’s believed, at any major thoroughbred track.

Final numbers below:

A couple things to note about the stats, not least how well Rice did with a smaller barn largely filled with NY-bred turf horses. She sent out slightly more than half as many starters as Pletcher and yet still scored a win percentage almost twice as high, and did so with all of her wins coming in races carded for the grass. And while Pletcher placed and showed 28 and 20 times, Rice did so four and eight times — her stock was well spotted and ready, for the most part. As for money, Pletcher earned considerably more, racking up purses totaling $1,403,043 (through September 6) compared to $784,779 for Rice, but on average, each Rice starter earned $11,053 compared to $10,961 for each Pletcher starter. Rice was also good to bettors, with an ROI of $2.84 and a median price of $7.20; Pletcher delivered a mere $1.39 and $6.70.

“Maybe if some people notice that I can make my horses effective with what I have, maybe I’ll get the opportunity to train better horses,” said Rice last week. Here’s hoping that after what she’s achieved this summer, and more than proving her abilities, the trainer gets the opportunity she seeks.

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