10/30/2011 5:19PM

Churchill Downs: Hartlage fan club roars when On Fire Baby upsets Pocahontas

Barbara D. Livingston
Motor City, under Calvin Borel, comes up the rail to capture the Iroquois Stakes on opening day at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – On a normal racing day at Churchill Downs, few occurrences can make the stands shake more than when a horse trained by locally based Gary Hartlage wins at a price. And the shaking was fearsome Sunday, when On Fire Baby posted a 9-1 upset in the Grade 2, $173,400 Pocahontas Stakes, the highlight of the 11-race opening-day Stars of Tomorrow program at Churchill.

Hartlage has a large and loyal following of fans and clients who live in the nearby enclave of Shively, and they rejoiced with tears and screams when On Fire Baby took the lead leaving the eighth pole before moving along to prevail by three-quarters of a length. Joe Johnson, Hartlage’s longtime go-to jockey, was aboard.

“This is the greatest thing to ever happen to Shively,” said Hartlage’s tearful brother, Tim. “A Grade 2, opening day. Awesome.”

The stakes victory was the first at Churchill for Hartlage and Johnson since Judge T C won the 1995 Clark Handicap.

On Fire Baby, bred and owned by Anita Cauley, got a good inside stalking trip in the Pocahontas, the second of twin one-mile stakes that anchored the opener. As the leader Aubby K, began to tire inside the eighth pole, Johnson maneuvered his mount off the rail and into the clear, and On Fire Baby finished safe of a belated run by And Why Not. Glinda the Good was another 1 3/4 lengths back in the field of 12 fillies, with Aubby K salvaging fourth. Heart of Destiny, the lukewarm 3-1 favorite, failed to fire when ninth.

On Fire Baby, a gray daughter of Smoke Glacken, returned $20.20 after finishing in 1:37.17 over a fast track.

About an hour earlier, jockey Calvin Borel employed the same crafty move he has used to win hundreds of races at Churchill when he slipped up the rail on Motor City to win the Grade 3, $110,700 Iroquois Stakes.

Motor City, last of seven for most of the journey, began passing horses late in the final turn while steadily gaining along the fence. Seven Lively Sins, the race-long leader and 9-5 second choice, was the last one he picked off, as Motor City went on to prevail by three-quarters of a length in 1:37.18. Mr. Bowling, the 7-5 favorite, was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third.

Ian Wilkes trains Motor City for the Lantern Hill Farm of Suzi Shoemaker.

“The race set up like we wanted,” said Wilkes.

Motor City is a homebred by Street Sense, the colt Borel rode for Wilkes’ s longtime business associate, Carl Nafzger, in his first of three Kentucky Derby victories. Motor City was the only gelding in the field.

“He ran like his daddy,” said Borel.

Wilkes won the 2008 Iroquois with another gelding, Capt. Candyman Can, who went on to be a multiple graded winner of more than $760,000.

The Pocahontas and Iroquois anchored a program that also included three allowances and six maiden special-weight events, all for 2-year-olds. Another Stars card will be run Nov. 26, surely with some of the same horses from the Sunday stakes returning for the Golden Rod for fillies and the Kentucky Jockey Club for colts and geldings.