05/03/2011 6:37PM

Horse Tales from Churchill Downs 5-3-11


Above:  Daisy Devine and Carillero at Churchill Downs, May 2011

When Kentucky Oaks contenders Bouquet Booth and Daisy Devine take to the track, pink saddle towels signal their status. Beside them, unnoticed by most, are ponies to keep the stakes fillies in line.

Not long ago, these ponies earned the spotlight too, if only for a moment. Stakes winner Neverbeendancin’ dutifully provides Bouquet Booth company, and stakes-placed Carillero accompanies Daisy.

Carillero, a dark bay by Royal Academy, has the look of a track pony – strong face, relaxed attitude, good way of going… He’s the type of horse you don’t usually notice but, once you do, you like what you see.

Carillero was bred in Argentina and broke his maiden there in his first try. It was then off to the U.S., where he ran in allowances, stakes, optional claimers and eventually claiming races from 2007 – 2010. He competed in several stakes, his best finish being a solid second in the 2007 Malibu (G1), in which he was beaten just a length by Johnny Eves. Carillero was 42-1 that day, the highest odds of his 20-race career (record 20-4-2-1, $164,428). His final start came last year on May 26.

Andrew McKeever, the trainer of Daisy Devine, trained Carillero at the end of his career. And how did Carillero, the racehorse, become Carillero, the pony?

It was due, in part, to the horse’s Argentine heritage. Horses down there, McKeever says, know how to neck-rein. But there was more. Carillero was just a really nice horse.

“I trained him for Gary Tanaka, and they had to disburse their horses,” says McKeever. “Everyone at the barn loved Carillero so I asked (Tanaka’s racing manager) Lincoln Collins if I could have him, and I bought him for a dollar.

“Everybody in the barn wanted to have him. And at Roger Attfield’s barn – they had him before – everyone in their barn wanted him, too.”

Above:  Carillero and Andrew McKeever (right) escorting Daisy Devine at Churchill Downs.  Below:  Neverbeendancin' and Mary Jo Robke (right) escort Bouquet Banquet at Churchill Downs.

Neverbeendancin’….now, he’s a different story.

“He’s not cuddly at all,” says Sue Margolis, the wife of trainer Steve Margolis. “He’s sort of a.... (use your imagination to finish that sentence). But there’s just something about him.”

Neverbeendancin’, by Pine Bluff and out of a Full Out mare, is undoubtedly a familiar name to many. He went postward 46 times in a six-year career - in all kinds of races, ranging from claimers to stakes. He raced at 15 tracks, by my count, and won, or placed second or third, 26 times. He earned $239,247, his biggest victory coming in a Claiming Crown stakes at Ellis Park called the Rapid Transit.

Steve Margolis trained him when he won the Rapid Transit and for 15 other starts between April 2007 and August 2009, when the horse was claimed from them for $25,000. Despite the horse's lack of sweetness, Neverbeendancin' had earned his way into their hearts, and Steve and Sue kept a concerned eye on him as he slipped down through the ranks. When he reached $5,000 level, they claimed him. Neverbeendancin’ ran his last race on May 15, 2010 - just 11 days before Carillero’s final start.

The Margolises were happy to give their old friend a new job.

“We sent him to Amy and Charlie Lopresti in Lexington for a month. They took him and taught him to be a pony - and they never sent us a bill,” Sue says gratefully. She and Amy went to school together.

When talking about Neverbeendancin', Steve uses the same phrase his wife used: not cuddly.  

"He’s real territorial, and when you go in his stall he’ll pin his ears.  You give him a peppermint, and he’ll take it and then he’ll back up.  He’s like a shark."  

Then he smiles.  "But he won't bite you."

I first met Neverbeendancin’ last autumn when he was still a novice, and his regular morning routine consisted of a ‘cocktail’ (tranquilizer) to keep him calm. What a difference six months makes! The still racy-looking gelding is growing up.

“I’m still on cocktails, but he’s off them,” Sue laughs. “He’s my other man.  He’s my mid-life crisis sports car. Steve thinks that I love the pony more than him…but it’s a tie.”

Above:  Mary Jo Robke and Neverbeendancin' at work at Churchill Downs.  Below:  Sue Margolis sharing time with their stable's old stakes winner and handsome, un-cuddly new pony.



Arienza – famous from the get-go

Danny Peitz was out in a stable yard grazing a chestnut filly, a white rub rag in his hand to shoosh away flies. A woman hopped from her car and walked up to them.

Was the horse famous?, she inquired. No, Danny replied politely with a smile, but her mother is.

Yet to some die-hard racing fans, the filly was famous from the moment she was born. She is Arienza, the second foal of the immensely popular 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri. Her sire, Giant’s Causeway, is no slouch, either.

Arienza sure looks like her mother, and she’s shown great promise. Arienza didn’t race till she was three (ditto Azeri). Arienza won her first two races and, in her third out, ran second to Joyful Victory in the Fantasy (Azeri won three races before running second to Summer Colony).

But it’s a long way from winning two straight races to being a three-season champion and Horse of the Year, and Danny’s been around long enough to know the difference. He’s taking his time with Arienza, avoiding the temptation to run her in the Oaks and, instead, entering her in the Eight Belles on the Oaks undercard.

Danny was born in 1957.  He began sneaking into Oaklawn Park with his father, a racing fan, when he was 14 (teens under 16 weren’t allowed). And you know that intangible thing that compels some people to work with horses?  Well, Danny caught it.

He began at the track in 1977, a year when Seattle Slew provided inspiration. Danny first worked for Paul Adwell and then shifted to Joe Cantey’s stable. There, he worked his way up to foreman while working with horses like Cox’s Ridge, Temperence Hill and Majesty’s Prince.

Danny became a trainer nearly a quarter-century ago now, and he’s never lost his Southern accent and pleasant, quiet ways. I first hounded him in the mid-’90s when he trained the blazingly fast Grade I winner Capote Belle for Lawana and Robert Low. Many people hounded him when he trained Steppenwolfer, another Low runner, who ran third in the 2006 Kentucky Derby.

Now I’m happy to be hounding him again, this time because of the long-faced chestnut filly with the style so reminiscent of her famous mother.