04/18/2011 12:13PM

Keeneland: Former Barclay Tagg employee brings fast filly to sprint


LEXINGTON, Ky. – A horse might look really good on paper, but before a horseplayer is willing to step in with confidence, he usually wants to know a thing or two about the trainer.

Enter Ronan Cunningham, the trainer of a fast 4-year-old filly named Well Deserved, who figures as the horse to catch when the featured eighth race is run Wednesday at Keeneland at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf. Cunningham, a 45-year-old native of Ireland, has won a grand total of one race in his training career, and that was in 1997 at Hollywood Park.

But that bare statistic doesn’t tell anything close to the real story. Having lived in the United States since the mid-1980s, Cunningham knows his way around a good horse, having worked off and on for more than 10 years for Barclay Tagg, the prominent East Coast trainer who won the 2003 Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide. Cunningham said he also “ran the plane” for the Tex Sutton equine air charter for eight years and worked for a couple of years under trainer Dan Hendricks in California.

“I’ve seen and done quite a bit through the years,” said Cunningham, who is married with four children. “We’ve settled in Kentucky, and I’ve got 10 head here at Keeneland right now. We should have 16 to 20 under the shed once the meet ends.”

Cunningham has had one starter so far at the Keeneland spring meet, a filly named Can’t Rezist, who outran her 13-1 odds when reporting home a good second last Thursday. Well Deserved, previously based in California with David Hofmans, has shown big speed in prior efforts.

“She’s a real small filly with a big package of talent in there,” said Cunningham. “She’s doing very well, and this seems like a good stepping-stone for an overnight stakes we’ve got picked out for her on May 14 at Churchill Downs.”

Well Deserved, with Alan Garcia to ride, will break from post 6 in the $58,000 second-level allowance, which also has Quake Lake, Elusive Temper, and Leopard Rock as logical contenders among a field of eight.

One other allowance (race 4) and a 1 1/4-mile starter allowance (race 3) also are carded for Wednesday. There are no carryovers in the 50-cent pick five (races 5-9) or the $1 super high five (race 9). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

The three programs that remain this week all will be anchored with a Grade 3 stakes: the Appalachian on Thursday, the Doubledogdare on Friday, and the Lexington Saturday. There will no racing here Sunday because of the Easter holiday.

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