11/02/2012 9:49AM

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf: I’m Boundtoscore gives Rankin, Rook a taste of the big time

Barbara D. Livingston
Troy Rankin walks I'm Boundtoscore at Santa Anita. I'm Boundtoscore earned a fees-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf by winning the Summer Stakes at Woodbine.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Troy Rankin will come to the paddock at Santa Anita and try to let it all sink in. Regardless of how his stable star, an Indiana-bred longshot named I’m Boundtoscore, fares Saturday in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, it should be the thrill of a lifetime for a farmer and self-proclaimed “good ol’ boy” from the outskirts of Lexington, Ky.

I’m Boundtoscore earned his way to the Breeders’ Cup for Rankin, who trains and co-owns the colt, and for jockey Sarah Rook by capturing a Win and You’re In event, the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine on Sept. 15. The ensuing weeks have been exciting ones indeed for Rankin and his small crew inside Barn D at their home facility, the Thoroughbred Training Center, which is located on the north side of Lexington and is a world away from the bright spotlights experienced on a regular basis by some trainers with starters in the Juvenile Turf, such as Aidan O’Brien, Doug O’Neill, and Chad Brown.

“I think a lot of folks around here are talking about it. It’s pretty cool,” Rankin said well before dawn on a recent cool morning at his Lexington base.

In the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile Turf, I’m Boundtoscore will face well-bred 2-year-olds from the major racing centers of New York, California, and the United Kingdom for the first time, marking a substantial jump in class. Before upsetting the Summer at 10-1, I’m Boundtoscore had raced four times, all of them sprints at different tracks: Keeneland, Presque Isle Downs, Colonial Downs, and Monmouth Park. His running style has been as a stalker, with equal parts tactical speed and late kick.

Rankin, 49, is amiable and accommodating, and it is quickly evident that he is not all that accustomed to talking about himself. He estimates he has been dabbling in breeding, breaking, and pinhooking Thoroughbreds for about a dozen years, but only since 2009 has he been a licensed trainer. The grand total of Rankin’s career wins as a trainer has yet to reach double digits: he has nine, with three of those coming from I’m Boundtoscore. His day job remains farming some 1,500 acres in and around rural Scott County, Ky., specializing in tobacco, grain, and beef cattle. Unlike the Asmussens or Pletchers of the racing world, he was out of town for a couple of days in mid-October – not to oversee a string of his horses at another track, but in his duties as a member of the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board.

On this particular recent morning, Rankin and the oldest of his two sons, Cody, were preparing to take I’m Boundtoscore by van to an equine swimming pool at a nearby farm called Mill Iron.

“Two or three days a week, we swim him six laps, takes maybe 10 minutes,” said Rankin. “I think it helps the muscles that don’t get worked in a jog or galloping. It keeps the concussion off him. He swims like he runs, like he really wants it.”

Cody Rankin, a 21-year-old student at Morehead State University, is his dad’s right hand in many ways and perhaps knows the colt as well as anyone besides his dad and Ben Delong, the colt’s 26-year-old exercise rider. On road trips to Virginia, where I’m Boundtoscore won the Chenery at Colonial Downs, and to Canada for the Summer, the younger Rankin did most of the driving. “I’m the therapist and the chauffer,” he said with a grin.

Likewise, other so-called “positions” in the stable hierarchy belong to neighboring trainer Howard “Rusty” Rice as “racing manager,” and to Townsend Sparks, a Missouri accountant who gives plentiful advice, “even if it’s not needed,” joked Troy Rankin, a divorce’ whose other son, Jacob, is an 18-year-old high-school senior. “Townsend is the number one fan.”

Having Rook on the team evolved merely by chance, as many things in racing do. When Rankin wasn’t able to get Sheldon Russell to ride I’m Boundtoscore at Colonial, Russell’s agent, Marty Leonard, suggested him hiring Rook. She has been the only jockey for I’m Boundtoscore ever since. Rook, 26, has a background similar to Rankin’s in that she has always loved horses but has been an active professional only since winning with her first-ever mount on April 29, 2011, at Pimlico.

Being in a Breeders’ Cup race already “is pretty crazy, pretty awesome,” said Rook, who was at Santa Anita early Monday after arriving in California from Baltimore on Sunday, the same day I’m Boundtoscore and Rankin arrived together from Louisville via equine charter. “This colt, he puts out 110 percent, 120 percent every time. He gets smarter, too, and improves every time I ride him. He’s very intelligent and very talented.”

“Sarah just has a way with the colt,” said Rankin. “She fits him perfectly. I’ve gotten calls from other agents, but we’re sticking with her. We’re a team.”

At least relative to Rankin’s racing record, Rook has accumulated quite a bit of experience in her 18 months in the sport while competing primarily in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. Through last weekend, she had won with 135 of 935 mounts. She has five career stakes wins, with the only graded one being the Summer aboard I’m Boundtoscore.

Rook, who grew up in Connecticut, graduated from the equine science program at Morrisville State, part of the State University of New York network. Afterward she worked as an exercise rider for several years for such highly respected trainers as Jonathan Sheppard, Michael Matz, and Richard Small. She is extremely well-spoken and an ardent student of her craft, as evidenced by the fact that she reviewed the tapes of “every race of every horse” that opposed I’m Boundtoscore in the Summer.

“I’m going to do it again for this race,” she said. “This is the biggest race of my life. I want to make sure I’m as well-prepared as possible.”

With I’m Boundtoscore getting post 12 for the Juvenile Turf, Rook said she will have some flexibility from an outside position. “I wouldn’t want to be in the one-hole, put it that way,” she said.

I’m Boundtoscore was sired by Even the Score, whose breeding-industry Q-rating got a big boost this year with the success of Dullahan. The mare, Unaltered, is an 11-year-old daughter of Pulpit with just one prior foal to race. I’m Boundtoscore is typical of a Rankin homebred: although the colt spent about 60 days in Indiana after being foaled to qualify for that state’s incentive-laden breeding program, it was Rankin who arranged the mating, broke the colt himself, and raised him on his Tollgate Farm in Georgetown, Ky. Rankin has a close partner in Tollgate, his longtime friend and neighbor, 81-year-old Joe W. Davis, who is traveling with his daughter to attend the Breeders’ Cup. Tollgate, even with their limited output, also is the breeder of Sustained, a starter Friday in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Rankin said the Win and You’re In bonuses that include an entry-fee exemption and $10,000 travel stipend “made it a lot easier” for he and Davis to afford a trip to the Breeders’ Cup.

“I’m like anybody else, I need to pay the bills,” said Rankin. “I mean, farming is profitable, but I’m not a wealthy man by any means.” After I’m Boundtoscore won a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race at first asking at Keeneland in April, Rankin said he got “quite a few phone calls” asking him to sell the colt. “But the only serious offers weren’t near what I was thinking he was worth. Since then, nobody’s really called, so we’re riding it out.”

Rankin said he occasionally reads about or sees television coverage of big-time trainers but that he has no particular idols and that his own training methods are essentially what he has picked up on his own, “with maybe a little something here or there” from a fellow trainer or veterinarian.  So when I’m Boundtoscore goes postward Saturday, it will be as a homemade, home-schooled, down-home product of one Troy Rankin.

“I feel like he’ll be very competitive,” said Rankin. “We might not win, or maybe we will. Either way, I feel like they’ll know we were in the race.”