07/05/2017 4:40PM

Hovdey: Dickinson goes once more unto the breach


Michael Dickinson is forgiven if he did not enjoy last Sunday’s Queen’s Plate program from Woodbine quite as much as the rest of the audience, thrilled as they were by the performance of the filly Holy Helena against the boys.

Earlier on the card, Dickinson had to watch helplessly from his Tapeta Farm command post in Maryland as Giovanna Blues, a daughter of Gio Ponti, went through the motions in the Grade 2 Dance Smartly Stakes to finish last of the eight going 1 1/4 miles on the grass.

“She never picked up her feet,” said a baffled Dickinson a few days later when forced to revisit the unsatisfying result. “She’s running again on Saturday.”

That’ll teach her.

Giovanna Blues was well meant for the Dance Smartly, if perhaps a bit outclassed, and at 12-1 with local hero Patrick Husbands on board, a placing was not out of the question. To her credit, she was no farther behind the leaders at the last call than she was at the first. But that usually gets you nothing.

So, she’s running again on Saturday in the Grade 3 Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park, at 1 3/8 miles on the grass, a race that has drawn the usual collection of Mid-Atlantic talent from the stables of Michael Matz, Graham Motion, Jason Servis, and Michael Stidham. The race is named for the former chairman of the Delaware Racing Commission.

Running a stakes horse back in six days is a move straight out of the Dickinson playbook. This is the same guy who filled the first five places at the end of the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup during his steeplechase days, who won a pair of Breeders’ Cup Miles with two different versions of Da Hoss, and who trained a critter named Tapit to do fine things on the racetrack before going off to stud. How did that work out?

After a successful midlife diversion into the research, development, marketing, and installation of his patented Tapeta synthetic racetrack product, Dickinson returned to training last year. His expectations were modest, and his stable was small, and still he managed to win at 20 percent from only 65 starters.

This season has yet to follow suit, with just three winners from 24 starters through last weekend. Since he trains year-round at his farm, Dickinson does not press hard in the early months, which allows him to leaven his frustration with a reasonable amount of optimism.

“We have had some bad luck with the weather, raining some races off the grass that we were looking forward to,” Dickinson said. “But we’re just ticking over now. We’ve got some very nice 2-year-olds to look forward to, so we’re hoping they can step up.”

Dickinson’s horses train in a paradise carved out of wooded land on a peninsula jutting southward from the northeastern corner of Maryland into Chesapeake Bay. In addition to the latest version of Tapeta, there are several turf gallops available, grown and maintained for specific conditions.

“When it’s wet, we train on the Noah’s Ark course,” Dickinson said. “When we get a string of warm days, we’re on the summer course and out at 5:30 in the morning to avoid the heat.”

At 66, Dickinson is hardly an old lion of the game, but his profession is fickle. He is not alone among veteran trainers whose talents are being squandered on horses of a lesser caliber. Dickinson sent out the 3-year-old filly Spring Folly to win a smart maiden race at Belmont Park in June, which takes a talented horse. And as dramatic as some of Dickinson’s accomplishments have been, he prefers never to ask a horse for more than it can do. The Dance Smartly was the first stakes the stable tried this year.

“It can be a bit depressing,” Dickinson said. “It’s just a matter of getting better horses.

“But everything will be all right,” he added. “We still know how to train.”

And a rose by any other name ...

The stakes highlight of the short Los Alamitos season comes up Saturday with the Grade 2 Great Lady M., offering a $200,000 purse for fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs. Finest City, who won the race last year on her way to an Eclipse Award, will defend her title against a field that should include La Brea Stakes winner Constellation.

The Great Lady M. is named for the gray daughter of Icecapade who ran 58 times and won 14 races running like a scalded rabbit for Wayne Lukas. Among her victories were the La Brea, the A Gleam, and the Rancho Bernardo, as well as the Mission Viejo and the Orange Coast Handicap at Los Alamitos when the track offered a county fair meet in the late 1970s.

As a broodmare, Great Lady M. had 14 reported foals but needed only one to be assured of everlasting fame. Lady’s Secret, Great Lady M.’s daughter by Secretariat, was the 1986 Horse of the Year when she won everything worth winning in New York and California, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park.

The A Gleam was renamed in honor of Great Lady M. when it was relocated from Hollywood Park. There used to be a Grade 1 stakes race in California named for Lady’s Secret as well, but no more. It was changed three years ago to the Zenyatta. Too bad, but at least mom still gets a call.