06/04/2013 12:51PM

Dick Jerardi: Hello Lover gearing up for another productive year

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Barbara D. Livingston
Hello Lover, who earned $304,495 from 17 starts last year, is targeting the $100,000 Don LeVine Memorial at Parx Racing on June 22.

When Butch Reid dropped in a claim slip for $7,500 on Jan. 3, 2012, he was hoping Hello Lover “could win the next condition.” Three weeks later, the then-6-year-old gelding did win that condition, and over the next 11 months, he won seven more races for a $300,000 year.

Hello Lover was a pretty solid horse on the New Jersey circuit in 2008 and 2009, racing well in a first-level allowance condition. Then he did not race from Sept. 6, 2009, until July 10, 2011, when he returned in a $5,000 claimer. He raced five times in claimers, winning twice and finishing second three times. Reid claimed the horse from trainer Kevin Sleeter on a day he would win again.

“Any time you make a claim like that with a horse that’s got a couple of big gaps in his form, it’s always a little bit of a chance you take because he obviously has some issues,” Reid said.

The horse had an injury to a suspensory in his leg, a problem that could heal with time, Reid said.

“I have to give some credit to the people who had him, the Sleeters, because they gave him all the time he needed,” Reid said. “Once those things heal up, they’re just a blemish.”

The horse has done the rest.

“We took it one step at a time,” Reid said. “With each race, the talent came out. There were a couple of really special races.”

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On May 26, 2012, Hello Lover was in against Spin Zone, a horse whom trainer John Servis really liked. Hello Lover ran him down and got a career-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure.

This year, Hello Lover won’t match the 17 starts he made in 2012, but he will be running steadily. After Hello Lover made his final start of 2012 on Dec. 31, Reid gave him 4 1/2 months off. The horse returned to crush an overmatched starter-handicap field at Pimlico on Preakness Day, May 18. Next up is the seven-furlong, $100,000 Don LeVine Memorial at Parx Racing on June 22.

“He’s an incredible horse to be around,” Reid said. “He just loves to train. Everybody on the track knows him because he’s almost pure white now . . . He takes a half-hour to get up on the track and a half-hour to get back because he just loves it out there so much. He’d stand there all day if you’d let him.”

Huge night at Penn National

When Penn National’s director of racing operations, Dan Silver, established the $500,000 Penn Mile as the centerpiece of a major stakes night, he hoped it would be a hit. He probably could not have envisioned how big a hit it would become. There definitely was a big-race atmosphere at the track last Saturday as fans lined the rail to see the horses and get autographs from the jockeys.

The 10-race card attracted $3,658,996 in bets, beating the track record by an incredible $1.5 million. The Penn Mile, won impressively by Rydilluc, attracted $1,139,478 in wagering, crushing the previous best single-race handle, $377,365 on the 2009 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup.

The quality of the card was so strong, the average winning Beyer Speed Figure was 83.8, higher than any other racetrack in the country that ran on Saturday.

“On every possible level, tonight was a huge success,” Silver said. “The racing department here, including racing secretary Dave Bailey, stakes coordinator Craig Lytel, and assistant racing secretary Jenny Bowman, put together the best card in the history of Penn National Race Course, and it was great to see people on track and around the country respond so enthusiastically.”

Win Willy becomes a millionaire

Win Willy, a 7-year-old son of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, won his first race in summer 2008 at Canterbury Park. He got win No. 11 last Saturday at Delaware Park in the $50,000 Joseph French Memorial. The $30,000 payday pushed the horse’s earnings to $1,015,437.

Win Willy loves Delaware Park, with 5 wins, 2 seconds, and a third in 8 starts.

“I have never had a horse go over a million dollars in earnings,” trainer McLean Robertson said. “I have had some nice horses, but it is hard to keep them around. It is hard to do.”

Win Willy won a Kentucky Derby prep in 2009, the Rebel Stakes, and the Oaklawn Handicap in 2011.

Mettee, Phelps share connection

Trainer Rick Mettee and swimming legend Michael Phelps shared a high school a few years apart. Now, they share a horse.

Mettee trains Cerro for Team Valor. The partnership includes Phelps and his longtime coach, Bob Bowman. Cerro won last Saturday’s Canonero II Stakes at Pimlico.

Mettee’s grandmother lived in the shadow of Pimlico and took him to his first races there. Mettee used to ride his bike a few blocks from his home to Timonium.

Mettee lived a few miles north of Towson High, with Phelps a few miles south of the same high school.

Montano atop Charles Town standings

Jockey Jose Montano won 225 races in 2012, and his mounts had $3.6 million in earnings. Through Saturday, he was far in front of the Charles Town rider standings with 98 wins, putting him on track to duplicate his terrific 2012. Nationally, Montano finished in the top 10 in wins last year and is headed for a similar finish this year.