11/02/2010 12:33PM

Arkansas couple hoping to get big thrill from Telling in BC Turf


Alex and JoAnn Lieblong jumped into the racing game 15 years ago to help erase the memory of a bizarre and trying ordeal, and on Saturday they will participate at the sports highest level when Telling attempts to give the couple a Breeders’ Cup win in the $3 million Turf.

Back in 1993, the Lieblongs were the target of a kidnapping plot that rocked Arkansas. JoAnn was taken from the couple’s home, and Alex, a prominent investor, paid a $1 million ransom for her freedom. The couple was reunited one day later, with JoAnn unharmed. The kidnapper, meanwhile, abandoned the ransom money when the police closed in on him, and he is now in prison. After the case, the Lieblongs, who had horse backgrounds after participating in the rodeo as young adults, started to spend time at Oaklawn Park with their friends Buddy and Patricia Blass, who were horse owners.

“When all that was going on – I can’t remember who brought it up, Buddy or myself, but we thought maybe we’d do something to change everything,” Alex Lieblong said. “We liked how Mr. and Mrs. Blass always stayed so interested in the horses together. The kids grow up and the grandkids group up and you’ve still got the horses, so to speak. That bell went off for us.”

The Lieblongs partnered with the Blasses on a few runners to learn the ropes, then went out on their own. They currently have about 15 horses of racing age, with Telling having been a private purchase from Darley in 2007. He is trained by Steve Hobby, who has a number of horses for the Lieblongs. David Fawkes also trains for the couple and has a top dirt horse that the Lieblongs race in partnership, Duke of Mischief.

“JoAnn enjoys the races, and it’s turned into a full-time job for her to do the bookkeeping,” Alex Lieblong said. “I guess we could have found a cheaper thing to get engaged in, but we both enjoy it.”

And the couple’s participation in racing is not limited to ownership and breeding a few mares each season. Alex serves on the Arkansas Racing Commission, while JoAnn works extensively with the racetrack chaplaincy program. Both are excited about Telling, who won his second straight Grade 1 Sword Dancer this past August. He comes into the Breeders’ Cup off a fifth-place finish in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic run over yielding ground Oct. 2.

“I hope we get a fast and firm course instead of a bog,” Alex Lieblong said. “We don’t do well with bogs.”

Telling’s wins in the Sword Dancer both came on firm turf. As for Duke of Mischief, he will be targeting a Grade 1 win of his own later this month at Churchill. Alex Lieblong said the horse will likely make his next start in the Clark Handicap on Nov. 26. Earlier this year, Duke of Mischief shipped from Florida to win Arkansas’s most prestigious race for older horses.

“I loved winning the Oaklawn Handicap with Duke of Mischief because it was here at home,” said Alex Lieblong, who turned 60 on Tuesday.

The Grade 2, $500,000 score in Arkansas, coupled with the success of Telling, has made this year the best yet in racing for the Lieblongs. It’s a year that could get even sweeter on Saturday.

Euphony retired

Euphony, a Pin Oak homebred who won seven stakes, including the Grade 3 Arlington Matron in 2009, has been retired, said her trainer, Donnie Von Hemel. A 5-year-old mare by Forest Wildcat, Euphony is now based at Pin Oak in Kentucky.

Euphony won stakes on dirt, turf, and Polytrack. At one point, she won six of them in a row in a streak that culminated with the Arlington Matron and the $125,000 Iowa Distaff. In all, Euphony won 9 of 20 starts and $589,636.

* Lady Giacamo, a Lone Star Park stakes winner who is 3 for 3, is being considered for a start in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet at Hollywood Park on Dec. 11, said her trainer, Allen Milligan.