01/08/2013 7:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: The Lumber Guy

photo by: Tom Keyser

“The Lumber Guy” is a nickname given to Oregon lumberman Aaron U. Jones by Barry Schwartz. When Schwartz was looking for a name for a homebred son of Grand Slam, out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Boltono, he chose to name the colt after Jones, who had previously owned some horses in partnership with Schwartz.

Trainer Mike Hushion liked The Lumber Guy from the beginning, so expectations were high on Jan. 28 when he debuted as a 3-year-old at Aqueduct going six furlongs on the inner track against New York-bred maiden specials.

“He’s a very good-looking horse, and we liked his works,” Hushion said. “We felt very good about him going into his first race. We went there expecting a win.”

Hushion was right. The Lumber Guy, with jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. aboard, showed early speed and was clear throughout in an easy 9 1/4-length win.

“Valdivia called me an hour after the race and told me, ‘This is the best horse I’ve sat on in a while, this is a special horse,’ ” Hushion said.

The decision was made to run him back at Laurel on Feb. 25 in the seven-furlong Miracle Wood, a $76,000 open stakes.

The Lumber Guy bobbled at the start, then checked, and found himself about three lengths behind the leader. He showed his talent when he made a quick, eye-catching spurt that carried him to a five-length lead at the end of the opening quarter-mile. He won comfortably, by 4 1/4 lengths.
Hushion and Schwartz decided to see if The Lumber Guy might be a Kentucky Derby contender by stretching him out to 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.

He was rank early and set the pace for six furlongs before finishing fifth, beaten by 6 1/4 lengths.

Two weeks later, The Lumber Guy cut back to a one-turn mile in the Grade 2 Jerome. He was pressed on a half-length lead through a fast pace but still finished well when he drew off to win by 2 3/4 lengths.

Encouraged by that performance, Hushion and Schwartz tried 1 1/8 miles again three weeks later in the Grade 2 Peter Pan. The Lumber Guy pressed the pace, then tired and finished sixth of 10.

“He was a little revved up that day in the paddock and the gate,” Hushion said. “That’s why we decided to give him some time, we thought maybe he had done enough, just give him some time to grow up and unwind.”

He was off for 4 1/2 months, and the vacation made a big difference.

“He trained very well. It was pretty obvious when he came back from the farm that he had grown up a lot in every way,” Hushion said. “I think I shocked Barry a little bit when I told him the Vosburgh” – a Grade 1 race, also his first race against older horses – “was the race I wanted to come back in.”

The Lumber Guy rated patiently just behind the leaders, wore them down in midstretch to take the lead, and won the Vosburgh by 1 1/4 lengths, with a career-best 110 Beyer Speed Figure.

The Lumber Guy was highly regarded as the close 7-2 second choice in the Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He rated in fourth, rallied into second, and made gradual late progress but couldn’t catch Trinniberg and finished second, beaten by three-quarters of a length.

Schwartz is spending time in California this winter and wants to see The Lumber Guy race there, so he is being trained by Neil Drysdale during his West Coast campaign. He finished seventh in the seven-furlong, Grade 1 Malibu on Dec. 26. The intermediate-term plan is for The Lumber Guy to return to Hushion’s barn in time to run in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile in May at Belmont.

Beyond that race, there is a year-long plan for The Lumber Guy, and the goal is the 2013 Breeders’ Cup.