10/16/2012 1:27PM

Keeneland: Rahystrada connections have fan club

Four-Footed Fotos
Rahystrada, with Joel Rosario aboard, wins the Arlington Handicap.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Owner Robert Courtney Jr. has been attending the races at Keeneland since he was a boy. So, too, has trainer Scooter Hughes. For all the relative fame and fortune that their stable star, Rahystrada, has amassed outside these city limits, it sure would be a crowning moment if the 8-year-old gelding could win a stakes at his home track.

A prime opportunity has arisen Thursday, when Rahystrada will face six other older horses in the Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland. Courtney, 60, and Hughes, 59, will be joined by several dozen friends and family members in anticipation of what they hope is one of the most memorable occasions in their lives in racing.

“Rahystrada has been the kind of horse that people come up to you and say, ‘We’re pulling for you,’ ” said Hughes, who trains a mid-sized stable at the nearby Thoroughbred training center on Paris Pike. “You barely even know them, and you can tell they’re being sincere. It really makes you feel good.”

Rahystrada has won five stakes, four of them graded, while amassing a career bankroll of more than $1.2 million. And he has won 13 times from 40 career starts, including two wins at Keeneland, but neither of those came in a stakes.

“One of the reasons we picked this race is because Robert is from here and I’m from here,” said Hughes. “The two times he’s won here, we’ve probably had at least 50 people in the winner’s circle.”

Rahystrada will break from post 1 in the 1 1/2-mile Sycamore with Corey Lanerie aboard. Victimized somewhat by a slow pace when he was second to Ioya Bigtime in their last meeting, the Kentucky Turf Cup, Rahystrada may require some crafty handling and another big effort to prevail.

“Hopefully we can turn the tables on Ioya Bigtime and maybe stay a little closer,” said Hughes. “Corey knows what to do, so we’ll probably just leave it up to him.

“Whatever happens, we’re just going to ride this as long as we can. As long as the horse is happy doing his job, we’re good. This is race number six on the year, so this might be his last race, although if he comes out of this froggy, we may look at the River City next month” at Churchill Downs. “We’ve already got plans for coming back next year if he still has the desire to do it. Knock on wood, we’d love to have more fun wi th him if we can.”