Updated on 09/15/2011 12:33PM

McNeelys help keep Virginia on race map

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Bringing parimutuel racing to Virginia - and keeping it there - has been an epic struggle. But for longtime Virginia breeder/owners such as Mr. and Mrs. Charles McNeely, the opportunity to race on their home turf has been just as gratifying.

It wouldn't be exaggerating too much to say that the McNeelys (known informally as Wick and Carter) waited all their lives for a race like the $30,000 Lee and Grant Stakes at Colonial Downs on July 4. Please Run, an aptly named 4-year-old colt bred and owned by the McNeelys, found running room on the rail and drove to a half-length victory, drawing whoops and hollers from the holiday onlookers.

The Lee and Grant was the first race in a widely promoted two-race series pitting Virginia-bred and/or sired runners against their West Virginia counterparts.

The challenge is now clear: Please Run, trained by Tom Voss, is in line for a $10,000 bonus, known as the Chenin Blanc Challenge (sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone), if he follows up with a win in the second event, the $50,000 Blue and Grey Stakes, scheduled Oct. 27 at Charles Town in West Virginia.

"Winning any kind of race is exciting," said Carter McNeely, who is a daughter of the late P. Hunter Faulconer, a prominent Virginia horseman. "But this is quite meaningful to us. We felt like the time had come for Virginia to have its own racetrack a long time ago; now it's finally here."

The McNeelys, whose biggest claim to fame in the horse world so far has been multiple stakes winner Just Call Me Carl, whom they bred and sold as a yearling, consider themselves small-scale commercial breeders. They have been in the business about 20 years, and maintain six broodmares at their 300-acre Morrowdale Farm near Charlottesville, routinely handling the horses themselves. Although their mares are usually sent to Kentucky for mating, they are kept home for foaling, meaning that all of the McNeelys' homegrown horses are Virginia-breds.

Please Run's dam Say Please (a 1982 daughter of Valid Appeal-Rosy Alibhai, by Your Alibhai) joined the McNeelys' broodmare band in 1987, as a $210,000 purchase from the Warner L. Jones dispersal in Kentucky. She is a winning half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Pair of Deuces ($531,220) as well as stakes winner Arisen (a stakes-producing daughter of Mr. Prospector) and stakes-placed Hello Handsome.

Say Please was in foal to Private Account when the McNeelys bought her, and the resulting foal, Silent Plea, was one of two stakes-placed older half-siblings for Please Run. Of the eight foals of racing age the McNeelys have bred from Say Please, six have started, and all of them have won. Most were sold at auction as yearlings.

But fortunately, the McNeelys decided to keep Please Run, who is by Kentucky sire Roy. Please Run is now a two-time stakes winner at Colonial Downs, having won last year's John D. Marsh Stakes, as well as placing third in Colonial's Daniel Van Clief Stakes. The Lee and Grant was his fifth career win from 18 starts, and boosted his earnings to $103,365. The McNeelys rate him as the most successful horse they've ever raced.

"For the McNeelys to win the first leg of the Chenin Blanc Challenge was special for all of us," said Mark Deane, field director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association (VTA). "They have been staunch supporters of the VTA and Virginia's breeding industry, and in fact were the leading award recipients from the Virginia Breeding Fund for the year 2000.

"Raising and racing quality Virginia-breds is what our program is all about, and the McNeelys have been doing their best to do just that for a long time."