Six months ago, trainer Bret Calhoun thought he had a Breeders' Cup contender in his barn. A big gray filly, Fiftyshadesofgold turned heads whenever she stepped onto the racetrack. She was a rarity, speedy but willing to submit her talent to the cues of her rider. She won her first two outings by a total of 18 lengths, including the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs by eight. And in those performances, she was so dominant, so promising, that she even put some jauntiness in the step of her 88-year-old owner, Clarence Scharbauer Jr. of Alysheba fame.
But just as the sport can fill aspirations with lofty dreams, it also can shatter expectations with rare suddenness. And the expectations for Fiftyshadesofgold crumbled in an instant at Saratoga. Or rather they had to be dramatically revised.
She returns Saturday night in the Two Altazano Stakes at Sam Houston.
She was advancing through an opening along the inside when jockey Joel Rosario on Who's In Town suddenly slammed the door shut.
But last August, in the Adirondack Stakes, where she was the odds-on favorite, Fiftyshadesofgold saw her juvenile campaign end abruptly. She was advancing through an opening along the inside when jockey Joel Rosario on Who's In Town suddenly slammed the door shut. And in that instant, Fiftyshadesofgold got slammed, too. Repeatedly.
Who's In Town was disqualified for her offense and Fiftyshadesofgold moved up from fourth to third. But that was a trifling consolation. The experience left Fiftyshadesofgold with a cracked cannon bone and a chipped knee.
"I'm not going to hold anything against Rosario," Calhoun said. "I've never seen him do anything malicious. In the heat of the battle, I just think he overreacted. But it cost our filly most of her 2-year-old season, and so now we have to focus on her 3-year-old campaign."
After surgery and convalescence, Fiftyshadesofgold resumed training in the fall. Since December, she has had eight published workouts, the last four being bullets, which is to say they were the fastest of the morning at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. On February 1, for example, she worked three-quarters of a mile in 1:12.80, which was 13 lengths faster than the second-fastest workout at the distance.
"And she's done it the right way," Calhoun said about the workouts. "We've never pushed her. We haven't rushed her. And everything has gone perfectly for her. We've been able to stay right on schedule."
And so she returns to competition Saturday night in the seven-furlong Two Altazano, where she's the 7-5 favorite in the morning line against seven other Texas-breds. It's a good place to start her campaign, Calhoun explained, since she doesn't yet have the conditioning to try two turns.
"We thought she was much the best in the race where she got hurt," the trainer said. "And we hoped to go on to the Breeders' Cup with her; we thought she was a top filly. I don't see any reason she can't come back and still be a top filly."
If she's successful Saturday, she could be aimed at some bigger objectives, Calhoun said. Visions often yield to revisions in this sport, and so it is with Fiftyshadesofgold.