03/16/2015 12:03PM

Bergman: Perseverance the key for Sapphire City

Sean Hamrock
Sapphire City is expected to start in Saturday's Levy Memorial series at Yonkers Raceway.

Speed means nothing in this sport if it can’t be combined with stamina. When trainer Paul Blumenfeld first sat behind the three-year-old Sapphire City after his owners had purchased the Pennsylvania-bred gelding in 2011, he knew he had a fast horse.

“He could leave out of there really fast but then he wouldn’t finish,” said Blumenfeld, recalling the early days when Sapphire City was set to move into the aged ranks after a two-year stint for trainer Todd Schadel. He was racing primarily in the B-league of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and often venturing to the fair circuit to gain his victories.

“I know he had plenty of starts,” said Blumenfeld, “but when I got him he was really kind of green. We had to educate him, taking him off the pace and getting him to relax and follow.”

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Fortunately for Blumenfeld, expectations were not sky high and the horse was eligible to the lucrative non-winners conditions at Yonkers.

Since the purchase by Centaur Racing (Carol & George Barounes) and Jordon Sklut in 2011, Sapphire City has turned into the complete racehorse, moving up the class ladder and planting himself firmly in the Open ranks on a full time basis. The stats are incredibly consistent and pretty incredible considering his sire Metropolitan, a son of The Panderosa, has had marginal success. Metropolitan has but two foals that have earned in excess of $200,000 lifetime with Sapphire City’s career earnings nearly four times that of the second richest foal from the stallion.

What Sapphire City may have lacked in the pedigree of his sire’s side he has more than made up with a dam that has been a consistent producer, at least of male talent. Spectre Almahurst, a mare that earned more than a quarter-million dollars on the racetrack, hit with her first foal, the No Nukes-sired colt Jeremys Gambit, the 1996 Woodrow Wilson winner that banked $1.15 million during his two-year racing career.

Spectre Almahurst’s next four male foals have all earned in excess of a quarter-million dollars lifetime with Sapphire City edging ever closer to the $1 million mark, something that seems very well in reach considering his start to the 2015 season.

Since 2012 Sapphire City has started 121 times with a scorecard of 28-22-11 and earnings of $821,755, not a bad return on an under six-figure investment.

Blumenfeld is looking forward to the George Morton Levy series that kicks off this Saturday night at Yonkers with $50,000 preliminary legs and concludes on April 25 with a final that could approach $500,000, though nominations were down some this year thanks to some new rules put into place.

“I certainly like the change in the rules,” said Blumenfeld, who had to send out Sapphire City in the last two years of the Levy against multiple Ron Burke-trained entries. “Hey, I think what Ron Burke is doing is great and I would do the same thing if I was in his shoes,” said Blumenfeld of Burke’s bombardment of the entry box in the Levy over the last few years. “But from my side with just one horse, I like what they did with the rules.”

The revised Levy rules will prohibit Burke or any other trainer from starting more than one horse in any division or leg of the series. That means if three divisions are drawn a trainer can only start three horses even if he enters more.

Blumenfeld believes that Sapphire City, now a seven-year-old, may have the seasoning to be more than an also-ran in this year’s premier event for aged pacers at his home track.

“I thought we should have done a little better last year,” said Blumenfeld. “I thought he just didn’t get the luck he needed.”

But this year the trainer believes that the lack of a double-team as well as the gifts his gelding has could make the difference throughout the series and perhaps even in the final. “There’s no horse that can snap off the wings as fast as he can,” said Blumenfeld of Sapphire City’s electric gate speed. “The good thing about him now is that you can leave hard and take him back and he’ll come back to you.”

All horsemen know that when it comes to half-mile track racing early position is key and Sapphire City can make his own early position no matter what level of field he’ll face.

Though fewer horses may have nominated to the Levy in 2015, it still figures to be a very interesting event with defending champion P H Supercam returning to secure his title. The nominees also include two-time champion Foiled Again (2009-10) and the 2013 winner Razzle Dazzle, now on the comeback trail after extended time away from the races.

Blumenfeld credits the Pine Bush Training Center, a facility where his stable is based, for doing an incredible job keeping the track in great shape over the winter and helping him to maintain the edge a horse needs to compete on a week-to-week basis. As for Sapphire City, Blumenfeld recognizes he has a sound horse but doesn’t take anything for granted. “If you’re going to race as often on a half-mile track you have to be on top of everything and that includes vet work,” said Blumenfeld, who considers the monthly keep on Sapphire City to be quite manageable. An original New Yorker (Long Island), Blumenfeld followed in his father’s footsteps from a young age and went to California to race and train standardbreds. His stable moved from California to Illinois seasonally and eventually Blumenfeld found his way back to the East Coast where the 54-year-old has had a consistent impact on racing at the Westchester County half-mile track.

In a sport that deservedly shines the spotlight on the hard-hitting and courageous Foiled Again’s accomplishments, there are others a level below that have been able to reach extraordinary levels in their own right. Sapphire City’s exploits over the last three years and perhaps over the next five weeks is yet another tale that shows the value of perseverance in reaching the top for both equine and human competitors. It’s not always about those who start out on top.

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