08/17/2006 11:00PM

McBride back at it after weathering storm


Nobody deserved to win more than Burl McBride. After enduring nine months of financial and emotional trauma, McBride was part of a tearful winner's circle celebration last weekend at Ellis Park after he sent out Palace Rumor to an upset victory in the $50,000 Audubon Oaks.

McBride, 53, had suffered the unimaginable horror of losing virtually his entire stable last November when a tornado tore through Ellis in Henderson, Ky. McBride, a former jockey who turned to training in 1981, was training eight horses at the time. Three died, and four were never healthy enough to train or race again. Only Palace Rumor, who by a quirk of fate had spent that fateful night at Churchill Downs after racing there the previous afternoon, has stayed in McBride's care since then.

"It's been quite an experience with everything that's happened," McBride said earlier this week.

Palace Rumor, a 3-year-old filly by Royal Anthem, is co-owned by Corbet Bryant Jr. and Tim Gavin. A $5,000 yearling purchase, Palace Rumor got a terrific ride from Corey Lanerie to prevail narrowly at 19-1 in the Audubon Oaks, after which McBride was greeted by Bob Jackson, a longtime Ellis official who knew all too well about what McBride had been through.

"Bob said, 'Ellis Park owed you that one, buddy,' " said McBride. "He'd helped me uncover my horses the night of the tornado. There were some teary-eyed people in that winner's circle."

McBride still gets choked up when he talks about the tornado, which struck around 1:30 a.m. Central on Nov. 6 and killed 25 people in the Kentucky-Indiana region. While spending the night in Louisville, McBride was awakened by a phone call alerting him to the tornado. He immediately drove the two hours to Henderson to find two of his horses dead and another with injuries that required its euthanization.

McBride, who was born and grew up in New Mexico, eventually vanned the other four horses himself to a farm in San Antonio. He said it was a devastating time in his life.

"I was trying to quit, I wanted to quit," he said. "It was really like I was badly wounded, both financially and emotionally. I was really sad, and to be honest, I just wasn't quite right for months afterward."

But he persisted, eventually rebuilding his stable to its typical numbers.

"I used to have 25 or 30, but now I like keeping it under 15, maybe less," he said.

The best years of McBride's training career were 1997, when the stable earned $430,030, and 2000, when his horses won 31 races. But from 2002 through 2005, McBride averaged just seven wins a year, and the tornado very nearly put him out of business.

"I've had a whole bunch of people who've treated me real nice since the tornado," he said, including fellow trainer Hal Wiggins, who trained Palace Rumor for him for free for about a month after the tornado. "A lot of people called to tell me to keep my head up and to offer whatever they could."

With the Audubon Oaks win, McBride now finds himself looking ahead, not behind. He said Palace Rumor will run next in a turf stakes for 3-year-old fillies - at Arlington Park, Louisiana Downs, or Remington Park.

"Winning this race meant the world to me," he said. "I couldn't think of anything better to help put the tornado farther behind me."

Newcomer tips rider standings

Miguel Mena, the 19-year-old Peruvian who moved from Chicago to the Kentucky circuit in late June, has surfaced atop what has been a tightly contested jockeys' race since the Ellis meet began July 19.

Into Friday's action, Mena had 21 winners, three more than John Jacinto. Three other riders were lurking close with 17 winners apiece: Corey Lanerie, Tom Pompell, and apprentice Victor Lebron.

On the trainer side, Ralph Martinez, who in recent years has been dominant at Fairmount Park and both Indiana tracks, Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs, is threatening to win his first Ellis title. Into Friday, Martinez had nine wins, while five other trainers with five apiece were tied for second.

Natalicat has the experience

The Sunday feature at Ellis is an entry-level turf allowance for 2-year-old fillies, only one of whom, Natalicat, has ever raced on turf or as far as a mile. Natalicat, owned by Silverton Hill Farm and trained by Darrin Miller, won an Aug. 4 maiden race at Ellis at a mile on turf, the same distance and surface over which the 10th of 11 Sunday races will be run.

Come Together, trained by Todd Pletcher, might be favored in the $22,000 race. She enters off a sixth-place finish as the pacesetter in the Aug. 5 Fisher Debutante.

Concert to halt training

The Rolling Stones concert scheduled for Sept. 29 at Churchill Downs will cause the track to cancel training for at least two days (Sept. 29-30), according to track spokesperson Julie Koenig-Loignon.

Set construction will begin as early as Sept. 24, but no work will be done during regular training hours (6 to 10 a.m. Eastern) until the day of the concert. Training will resume Oct. 1, assuming all goes according to plan, said Koenig-Loignon.

Some 50,000 tickets have been sold to the concert, with about 8,000 seats being stationed on the turf and dirt tracks. A customized protective covering called Terraplas will be used on the tracks.

The tour promoter announced this week that Alice Cooper will be the warmup act.

Kentucky Cup Day to go VIP

Turfway Park is looking to duplicate the festive atmosphere that typically reigns on Lane's End Stakes Day in the Maker's Mark VIP tent by offering a similar deal for the first time to its signature event in the fall, the Kentucky Cup series.

Turfway has announced that it will offer upscale tent seating on Kentucky Cup Day, Sept. 30, with its new VIP Paddock Pavilion. Tickets are $100. More information is available at (859) 371-0200 or at turfway.com.

Turfway and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association also have scheduled their College Scholarship Day for Kentucky Cup Day, with $10,000 in scholarships being raffled off throughout the afternoon.