10/25/2007 11:00PM

Claim of Heros Reward pays off

EmailAnnual balloting for Maryland-bred champions doesn't include a claimer of the year category. But if it did, the 5-year-old gelding Heros Reward would have clinched all the votes with his performance last Sunday at Woodbine.

Claimed by owners Bob Haynes and Jayne Marie Slysz for $20,000 in April 2006 at Laurel Park, Heros Reward earned $310,620 for his three-quarter-length victory in Woodbine's Grade 2 Nearctic Stakes.

Dueling through early fractions of 22.23 seconds and 44.98, he drew clear in the stretch and crossed the wire in a six-furlong time of 1:08.04 over firm turf, missing the course record by .40 of a second.

"I don't think I can top this one," said Haynes, who has been active in racing for 30 years as an owner, breeder, and avid fan.

Campaigning as Rob Ry Farm (named for his sons, Robert and Ryan), Haynes maintains an active claiming stable in partnership with Slysz, who is the office manager of Haynes's company East Coast Productions, a Silver Spring, Md.-based business that serves as a professional fundraiser for police and firefighter organizations.

Slysz has a strong background in racing, as a longtime stable foreman for the late John Lenzini Sr.

Until the Nearctic, the biggest racing thrill for Haynes and Slysz had been the 2006 Maryland Classic upset staged by Due, a $25,000 claim.

Heros Reward (by Partner's Hero) was making his fifth start for his breeder, Gretchen Mobberley, when trainer Dale Capuano haltered him on behalf of Haynes and Slysz.

At first, it looked like they'd claimed a dud. Heros Reward failed to win for a $5,000 tag at Delaware Park in August 2006.

"We were running out of options," Haynes said. "Dale wanted to give him a shot on the turf."

Haynes noted that Heros Reward has turf breeding as a grandson of Caveat, one of Maryland's all-time best turf sires.

"The rest is history - and I give 100 percent of the credit to Dale," he said.

In a dozen consecutive turf starts, beginning in October 2006, Heros Reward has registered 6 wins and 5 seconds, only once finishing off the board. He won his stakes debut, the Baltimore City Turf Sprint, on the Preakness Day undercard at Pimlico, and came back to finish second, beaten only a half-length, in the Grade 3 Scotts Highlander Stakes on June 24 at Woodbine.

In his next-to-last outing before the Nearctic, Heros Reward finished second in the Turf Monster Handicap on Sept. 3 at Philadelphia Park.

Each stakes second was good enough to earn him a 102 Beyer Speed Figure and his Beyer in the Nearctic was 103.

From 21 starts, Heros Reward boasts earnings of $543,616.

His success is welcomed by Mobberley, who still has his dam, Lifes Passage (by Caveat), at her Summer Hill Farm in West Friendship, Md.

A lifelong horsewoman who owned, bred, and trained horses for many years in concert with her husband, Jack Mobberley, who died in 1995, Mobberley acquired Lifes Passage privately from noted Maryland breeder Jim Ryan.

Ryan purchased Lifes Passage's dam, Likely Passage (by John Alden), for $50,000 at the 1989 Keeneland January sale. A stakes winner herself, Likely Passage came from a noted Maryland family as a full sister to multiple stakes winner Sparrowvon, the champion Maryland-bred older male of 1986, and Florida Oaks winner Star Jolie.

Lifes Passage raced for Ryan, with the Mobberleys' daughter Bird as her trainer throughout most of her career. Although she was a modest performer, winning or placing in 3 of 11 starts and earning $6,930, Lifes Passage showed enough to encourage Gretchen Mobberley to buy her as a broodmare prospect.

The 15-year-old mare has produced four winners from as many foals to race, but Heros Reward is her first stakes performer.

Mobberley has Lifes Passage's 2-year-old Appealing Skier gelding, named Skidoodle, in training at Laurel. Still waiting to make his first start, he "looks just like" Heros Reward, Mobberley said.

Lifes Passage has a weanling colt by Dance With Ravens and was not bred back because of a late foaling.