05/19/2009 11:00PM

Longtime owners finally hit jackpot


AUBURN, Wash. - Gordy Jarnig bought his first racehorse in 1972; his friend Eric Schweiger has been in the game almost as long. They've shared countless laughs and won a few races since joining forces about 10 years ago, but they've never had a runner as good as the one they have now.

Her name is Reba Is Tops, a 5-year-old Washington-bred mare with a quick turn of foot and a strong affinity for the turf. In her latest race, last Friday, Reba Is Tops sped to a track-record victory on the grass in the $62,460 Lawndale Stakes at Hollywood Park.

Ridden by Joe Talamo for trainer Mark Glatt, Reba Is Tops zipped five furlongs over Hollywood's turf in 55.10 seconds, beating runner-up Queen Ofthe Catsle by a length. A hard-luck loser in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap on Santa Anita's hillside turf course in her previous start, Reba Is Tops won for the ninth time in 16 starts and increased her earnings to $224,945 - almost all of it for Seattleites Jarnig, Schweiger and third wheel Kenny Marshall, a novice owner whose first horse is the best one Jarnig and Schweiger have had.

The pair took an interest in Reba Is Tops in 2007 after she ran a troubled fourth at Emerald Downs in a $17,500 claimer for 3-year-old fillies. Then, the day before she was scheduled to run back for the same price, her half-sister Butterfly Belle won a $50,000 claimer at Hollywood Park. That clinched it - Jarnig and Schweiger recruited Marshall and submitted a claim. Reba Is Tops won that day and has been worse than third just once in 13 subsequent starts while climbing the ladder. Jarnig is still pinching himself for his good fortune.

"I'm not into [owning horses] to make a million bucks, I'm in it to have fun," he said at Emerald Downs, clutching a stack of Hollywood Park winner's circle photos. "We just got lucky."

Their good fortune was severely tested last May when Reba Is Tops fell ill with a virus and nearly died after running a lackluster third in the Hastings Park Handicap at Emerald. That snapped a three-race winning streak that included victories in the $57,000 Bay Meadows Distaff Sprint and the $60,000 Monterrey Handicap in Northern California.

Turned out for five months at a Seattle-area farm, Reba Is Tops went back into training at Santa Anita in November. In three starts since - all on the turf -- she has finished second, second, and first while posting successively higher Beyer Speed Ratings.

"He got her going again," Jarnig said of Glatt's work with the daughter of He's Tops and the Present Value mare Miss Kyama. "You never know how they're going to come back, especially after almost dying. But she came back with a vengeance."

Jarnig, Schweiger, and Perry can barely contain their excitement as Glatt prepares Reba Is Tops for a summer campaign in Southern California.

"It's a dream," Jarnig said, "having a Washington-bred set a track record at Hollywood."

Jockeys break through

It was a week of firsts at Emerald Downs. Apprentice jockey Karin Kisfaludy rode her first winner, jockey Joe Crispin won his first Emerald Downs stakes, and sprint sensation Clair Annette won a stakes for the first time in what is becoming a remarkable career.

Kisfaludy, 28, rode Bold Officer to a $50.20 surprise in the fifth race Saturday, her first win in seven mounts since joining the jockey colony in mid-April. Kisfaludy got the horse bug while growing up in San Diego, worked at a farm in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., as a teenager, and began galloping horses at Del Mar at age 20. She worked for Southern California trainers Ron McAnally, Dan Hendricks and Jerry Fanning over the past decade, and Fanning helped launch her riding career when he recommended her to Emerald-based jockey agent Larry Pierce.

Kisfaludy had to wait 14 racing days to get her first victory. It felt like longer.

"I was feeling like I was never going to get to the wire," she said. "I kept trying and trying. . . . This feels pretty good."

Crispin, 48, has won three riding titles at Portland Meadows, but his winning ride on Clair Annette in Sunday's Hastings Park Handicap was his first stakes score at Emerald. He stands to get a few more as long as he retains the mount on Clair Annette, a late-blooming 6-year-old mare who might be the fastest horse on the grounds.

The claimer of the meeting at Emerald Downs in 2008, Clair Annette has led gate to wire in six consecutive races, though she and Crispin were disqualified in her 2009 debut April 26 for causing interference at the start. Trainer Connie Bouslaugh gave Crispin another chance Sunday, and he and Clair Annette skipped six furlongs in 1:08.60 to win by more than four lengths.

"It feels great to finally get it done," said Crispin, who rode with an inflamed appendix. "I'm a little injured right now, and I'm actually supposed to be in the hospital, but I couldn't let that get in the way of this opportunity. She's a great horse, and I just let her go from the beginning. That 1:08 and change was all on her own."