05/03/2011 7:37PM

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.

Nancy Petrillo More than 1 year ago
Hi Barbara, I loved the picture of Daisy Devine and Carillero, it's as though he was in love with her and would protect her from any harm. It is a priceless picture! Track Ponies, no matter which track you see them at, are a great comfort to the horses in their care. It is easy to see that many of them were competitors in their earlier life. They are the unsung heroes at the tracks. In sweltering heat, rain, snow and freezing cold temperatures they are out their doing their job and don't complain! I know which pony Elizabeth Blythe is referring to, as I went to the races every Saturday at Belmont and also Aqueduct and Saratoga. I believe he had blue eyes. He was striking looking and always well groomed. I petted him a few times between races and he was a sweetheart. Unfortunately, I don't remember his name. For two yrs. now I live in NC and there is no racing here - this was a dumb move on my part. But, I make it to the Belmont Stakes every year come hell or high water! I didn't see him at Belmont last year. His owner/handler was a very nice young man, he appeared to be African American. I'll look for him this year and see what news he has about the Pony. In spite of his 'un-cuddly' nature, your pictures have captured the 'cuddly' aspect of Neverbeendancin, he appears to be in love with Sue Margolis. Thank God they saved him when they did. He is a handsome fellow and lucky to have a safe home with people who love him. I loved the updated story and pictures of Arienza. I too was disappointed when Azeri went to Japan. I always think of Ferdinand when I hear that one of our horses have been sold there. Arienza is gorgeous. How many hands is she? She didn't do well in the Eight Belles, but she was a late May foal and probably needs more time to mature and come into her own. Well, I have rattled on long here and have been known to do so whenever I'm talking about horses. Best, NancyP
Elizabeth Blythe More than 1 year ago
Hi Barbara, Love your coverage of racehorses turned ponies. Would you happen to have any pics or info about a bay & white pinto pony horse that used to work the NY tracks a few years ago? He was very unique, had a perfect mask on his face over forehead & eyes. Seem to remember his person was African/American. Would love to know more about them. Looking forward to more great stuff and many thanks!
Elizabeth Blythe More than 1 year ago
Hi Barbara, Love your coverage of racehorses turned ponies. Would you happen to have any pics or info about a bay & white pinto pony horse that used to work the NY tracks a few years ago? He was very unique, had a perfect mask on his face over forehead & eyes. Seem to remember his person was African/American. Would love to know more about them. Looking forward to more great stuff and many thanks!
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hey, (I) couldn't agree with Sherpa more. Out of a gallery of great shots (that are viewed multiple times), the last of the middle section is a stand-out. The eyes have it! (lucky both). Thanks.
sherpa More than 1 year ago
Barbara, it's a funny thing how in every one of your blogs - all of which I view many, many times - there are some certain pictures that my eyes want to linger upon, that I want to immerse myself in every detail of, and that ultimately speak to the soul of the human/horse relationship. The ones here of Sue Margolis and Neverbeendancin' are that kind. The bond between them is palpable, even in photographs. How lucky they both are to be together! You have a priceless gift for capturing these moments when the eyes of your subjects reflect their hearts.
Celeste More than 1 year ago
Thank you once again, Barbara, for another beautiful blog! It seems so seldom that these hardworking ponies get the recognition they deserve and I'm always so happy to learn more about their backgrounds. Adding in the update on the beautiful Arienza is a wonderful treat also, so I am very grateful I found this new entry tonight. Thank you!
Abigail (Terlingua lady) More than 1 year ago
Hi Barbara. What a great article and I agree with Andy: you're doing a GREAT job (as you've always done) in giving the thoroughbred community stories of the characters and personalities that make it so special for many of us who really were "bitten by the bug" and want to get to know more about thoroughbreds, their lives on & off the track and the little anecdotes that make them come alive. I loved hearing about the ponies too -- they need to be talked about more often. And the stories of the sweet Carillero and the feisty Neverbeendancin' were perfect, together with the wonderful photos. (One of which illustrates that "the shark" is indeed softening up a bit!!!!) But seeing Arienza was GREAT! I belong to that gang that still wants Azeri to come back home to us. But if that's not possible, I would like to at least hear about her offspring. No-one seems to be interested. But thanks to you, I got sunshine on the 10th consecutive day of rain in Montreal!!!!! Question(s): Are most ponies also their charges "best buddies," as per for example Barbaro & Messaging? What kind basic retraining for a thoroughbred is needed to morph into a good pony?
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi Barbara, If I may be so bold as to field Abigail's question as to: Are most ponies also their charges "best buddies"? I'd cite Bill Nack in his classic book, "Secretariat", where he well documents the one-way street that Billy Silver - the Appaloosa marked lead-pony that was often mentioned on the TV telecasts of the time - had his affections go down while directing Big Red. I believe the groom Eddie Sweat said, "Secretariat don't pay him no mind." Before the famous Belmont, it looked like Billy wanted to get right in the gate with the ultimate winner, before turning off left while Secretariat loaded. So I guess the answer is: not always. Love both blogs (et Montréal). As always, thanks, on this busiest of weeks. >
Larry Ruskaup More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the wonderful article. For more years than I care to count, I have watched the ponies almost as closely as the runners they escort, and I have always loved the sight of them. There are many stories hidden in their past. Thanks again for an insightful and moving look at this aspect of our great sport.
Andy Adinolfi More than 1 year ago
There just isn't enough Derby (horse racing in general, really) coverage of this sort. Barbara, great work by you and Claire Novak the past few weeks and kudos to DRF as we get to see the human interest side of this great sport. We certainly get our share of "wiseguy horses" and dosage ratings... it's terrific to get a glimpse ot back, too.