Just a little patience

February, 7, 2010
OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- Thoroughbreds are quirky, unpredictable.

We take them out of their natural element, train them to accept bit and bridle, put them through blistering paces and rigorous training regimens, harness their innate talents and abilities, entertain ourselves by watching them run.

When it goes right, this sport is glorious. When it goes wrong, catastrophe looms.

Saturday was an exercise in contrasts; Eightyfiveinafifty blowing the turn and dumping jockey Jorge Chavez after an equipment malfunction in the Whirlaway, Quality Road romping to two track records in the Donn. But somewhere in the insanity between Aqueduct and Gulfstream, parallels emerged.

Many wrote off Quality Road after his fiasco at the Breeders' Cup last November, when he refused to load and ultimately was scratched from the Classic. The Todd Pletcher trainee wouldn't even load aboard a plane to leave California. There were those who thought he'd never race again.

The same could be said of Eightyfiveinafifty following today's drama: not only did he blow the turn when his bit broke in the first quarter of the Whirlaway, but he jumped the rail, dumped jockey Jorge Chavez, jumped a second rail, and took off down the chute for trainer Gary Contessa's barn. He made it back with just a 2" cut on his right hind. His connections were incredibly lucky.

But if there's anything Quality Road's romp proved, it's that you don't write off a horse when he struggles a little. With patience, true talent may emerge. And there is almost always an explanation for a racehorse's reactive behavior -- and generally a solution, whether off the track or on.

That's the trainer's job. To figure it out. And as Contessa goes back to the drawing board for a redesign of a racing schedule following one mishap this afternoon, Pletcher celebrates the outcome of his problem-solving with another.

And it's a funny thing. That justifying victory with a problem horse, when it comes around at last, is always a little sweeter, the hard-earned product a little more satisfying.

Like Quality Road.




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