04/26/2011 9:59PM

Horse tales from Churchill Downs 4-26-11



The bay filly with the unusually large ears and bright eyes followed Ronald Clark like a puppy. She’d have done anything he asked right then, knowing that - nestled in his Green Bay Packers’ jacket – were peppermints. Peppermints, those silly little things that can reduce a horse to groveling…

Daisy Devine was happy to grovel and couldn’t wait for the reward. As Ronald slipped his hand into a pocket, she pushed her head into his chest.

“Eek! Peppermint! Please!” And, as the man worked the wrapper off, Daisy could barely contain herself. “Yes! Yes! Thank you, thank you…” Crunch, crunch.  Happy filly.

Ronald dipped his hand back into his pocket as he returned to walking her. She tagged along obediently, the shank relaxed, her focus fixed on his hand.

“She’d go ten miles for a peppermint,” Ronald smiled.

Ronald has seen his share of equine sweet tooths, and nice fillies, over the decades. He's been working with horses for fifty years.  A half-century.

“When I started off with Willard Proctor, I was just a dumb kid,” he said. “I rubbed Convenience, and Gallant Romeo, Gabby Abby…. I didn’t know what I was doing then.”

He must have done something right, as Willard, a renowned old-time trainer, made him foreman.

These days, Ronald helps Andrew McKeever with the best horse he’s ever trained, Daisy Devine. The peppermint-begging daughter of Kafwain has done them proud. Just five starts into her career, the blazed-faced lass has three wins and has earned nearly $360,000. She won the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) in her last outing – and she’s now aiming for the lilies in the Kentucky Oaks.

If she gets to the wire first, her owner, James Miller, will reap the winner’s share of the million-dollar purse. Andrew McKeever will substantially up the ante on his resume. Ronald Clark will earn bragging rights. And Daisy Devine? Something tells me she’ll be happy with a pocketful of peppermints.


WATCH ME GO - the new kid in town

Watch Me Go may have been tired on Tuesday, after a 16-hour van ride from Tampa Bay, but he wasn’t ready to go to sleep. He stared yearningly out his stall toward the yard where several horses were grazing.

Lucy Pompell, who accompanied the colt to Churchill for the Derby, led him outside.

“I couldn't leave him in his stall when everyone else was out there and he was watching them,” she explained. Watch Me Go looked none the worse for the ride but, then again, 16 hours…that’s nothing.

“It was 22 hours when he went to Chicago,” Lucy said. She stroked his neck and he glanced around with interest before diving back into the bountiful grass.

Watch Me Go’s record is solid – four wins in ten starts, including the G2 Tampa Bay Derby (43.70-1). His sire is the unheralded West Acre. His trainer is Kathleen O’Connell, his rider Luis Garcia and his owner/breeder is Gilbert Campbell.

None of them are quite household names yet…but it could take just two minutes or so, on the first Saturday in May, for that to change.


DECISIVE MOMENT - Red ribbon for the boy

What’s the story behind the bright red ribbons on Decisive Moment’s bridle and halter?  Were they placed there in someone’s memory, perhaps, or do they symbolize someone’s favorite charity, like Save the Baby Seals? 

The answer, trainer Juan Arias says, is much more straightforward. 

“Back home we have all lady horses, so we put a red ribbon (on his tack), so that way we know it's his,” Arias chuckles.  He trains about 15 horses at his home base, Calder.

According to superstition, red ribbons ward off the evil eye or bad vibes -  so perhaps that plays a small part, as well. But whatever the purpose, they are a lovely accessory to this beautiful horse's wardrobe. 

Decisive Moment is owned by his breeder/owner Ruben Sierra’s Just for Fun Stable.  He’s ridden by Kermit Clark and trained by Juan Arias, a charming man with a quick smile.  Decisive Moment’s biggest win was the Jean Laffitte at Delta Downs, and he has been second in both the Delta Jackpot (G3) and the Spiral Stakes (G3).

The son of With Distinction is registered dark bay or brown, but he looks black.  The Derby contender has no markings, a broad face, an unusually thick mane and tail, eyes filled with curiosity, an appealingly eager way of going…and red ribbons.

Above: Decisive Moment, Juan Arias up.  Below: Juan Arias.