12/28/2016 7:52PM

Bergman: Ooh Rah is finally ready to display his talents

Tom Berg
Ooh Rah picked up a win at Yonkers raceway on December 13.

Timing means everything in the breeding business. Take for example Don La Montagne back in the fall of 2014. La Montagne, a small commercial breeder by any analysis, was set to send a profoundly sharp-looking son of Credit Winner to the Harrisburg sale.

“He was hip number 38,” La Montagne said, suggesting that the pedigree and the physical appearance of his yearling was exceptional and ranked among the cream of the crop scheduled to go on the auction block.

“About a week before the sale he got loose and ran into a bush and cut up his eye pretty badly,” said La Montagne, recalling the situation that changed the course for him. “We had to take him out of the sale.”

[DRF BETS OFFER: Get $100 Sign-Up Bonus + $100 of FREE Bets.]

The colt was out of La Montagne’s Muscles Yankee-sired Motivational, a brilliant stakes winner in New Jersey as a 2- and 3-year-old in 2004-5 earning above $300K with 15 victories in 31 lifetime tries.

But Motivational has proven to be an equal if not better producer of trotting stock. That has been to the benefit of Montagne and his wife Kathleen, who trains, and some others along the way that have managed to share in the process.

The success of Motivational’s first foal in 2009, Carnegie, a son of Conway Hall, allowed the La Montagne’s to market her second foal, a filly named In Good Faith that sold later that year for $67,000 in Lexington.

Motivational’s third foal was Fico, a Credit Winner-sired colt that brought $155,000 at auction in the fall of 2011 and went on to earn over $200K on the racetrack.

In 2014 La Montagne was going to bring Ooh Rah, a full brother to Fico, to Harrisburg and no matter how biased his expectations were, it’s reasonable to conclude the colt could have brought high six-figures as a product of a 100-percent producing dam.

But the injury put those notions aside for La Montagne and instead he put Ooh Rah into training that fall and prepared him for a 2-year-old campaign in 2015.

“He was a very big colt and he trained down very well at 2,” said La Montagne, “When we got down to 2:07 he started to get sore in his knees so we quit with him.”

One season lost was a minor setback but La Montagne felt from his experience that it was never good to rush a young and still developing horse. Most notably the suggestion that a big trotter needs more time to have his bones mature otherwise soundness issues will always prevail.

Early in 2016, Ooh Rah was training down for his sophomore campaign when La Montagne had his knees x-rayed again and found that the growth timetable for Ooh Rah had not in fact aligned with the stakes season ahead. “It was disappointing,” said La Montagne. “He felt so good training down and showed the ability but he wasn’t ready.”

The stakes season had come and gone and more than two years from what could have been an impressive payday in Harrisburg, La Montagne was finally ready to let the rest of the world get a glimpse of the gorgeous Credit Winner gelding. The first go-round was on November 18 at Yonkers where George Brennan, a longtime regular pilot for the La Montagnes, raced him from behind in a qualifier against pacers and managed a third-place finish timed in 1:58 3/5.

“I wanted to race him from behind,” said La Montagne. “Every foal from Motivational has been a bit warm and I didn’t want to get him into any bad habits going forward.”

Options for racing a young and inexperienced trotter dry up as winter approaches but Ooh Rah was ready to race and his first start would come at Yonkers from post nine in the second tier of a mile and a quarter race for non-winners of two.

“There really wasn’t much you could do. It was an off track and he was starting from the second tier, so George had to try to weave through traffic,” said La Montagne.

Indeed it was a very impressive first start as Ooh Rah made up ten lengths, closing to be second going the added distance in 2:30 3/5, a half-length off the winner.

A week later on December 6, Ooh Rah again had drawn poorly, this time post seven, and driver Matt Kakaley followed the trainer’s instructions to keep the horse off the gate and race him from behind. Unfortunately the early pace was pedestrian and Ooh Rah had no chance of advancing in the final half, finishing a well beaten fourth.

Post positions and race distances didn’t improve for the connections as Ooh Rah landed post eight in his next start at Yonkers with Brennan back in the bike for the added distance contest.

“I was a little concerned,” said La Montagne of that race. “There was a recall. Andy’s (Miller) horse made a break in the two-hole and interfered with the trailing horses.”

Indeed a recall was the last thing the trainer was looking for because it could get a hot horse a little more fired up.

Ooh Rah looked as fired up as a horse could be leaving the gate that afternoon and jetting to the top well before the opening quarter. Yet, Brennan had the sophomore rating comfortably on the lead and free from the competition. On the last turn Ooh Rah simply pulled away from his rivals, winning by more than nine lengths in 2:29 2/5.

It may have been just a non-winners of two event but it was clear that Ooh Rah has the ability and could have some major earning power going forward when the calendar makes him a 4-year-old.

“He gets around Yonkers very well and the money is good,” said La Montagne. “He’ll be able to race in this class (non-winners of 2) for a few more starts.”

La Montagne has broken and already likes what he sees in Peggy Sue, a full sister to Carnegie and half-sister to Ooh Rah.

“She’s got speed but is a little bit on the warm side. All of Motiviational’s foals were that way. We’ll try to bring her along slowly,” said La Montagne.

Ooh Rah, named for the battle cry of the Marines, has battled soreness along the way. He now appears stronger and ready for the racing wars in 2017.