By BERNIE DICKMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001
Well-bred horses have filtered through the entries at Tampa Bay Downs for years. But it's rare when one shows up with the credentials of Easy Climb, especially in an $8,000 claiming race.
Easy Climb is by Cox's Ridge out of the heralded Alydar mare Cadillacing, who is one of the premier broodmares in the legendary stable of Ogden Phipps. At the racetrack, Cadillacing was a multiple-graded stakes winner who numbered the Grade I Ballerina among her seven victories while compiling earnings of $268,137. Cadillacing's dam is the superior runner and broodmare Relaxing, a multiple Grade I winner, champion older mare and Broodmare of the Year in 1989.
Among Relaxing's other runners is champion Easy Goer, a full brother to Cadillacing and an earner of $4,873,770. Easy Goer's battles with Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1989 have become part of racing lore, and the colt denied Sunday Silence a Triple Crown by defeating his archrival in the Belmont Stakes. Another of Relaxing's runners is the Grade I winner Easy Now, who earned $359,466.
Cadillacing's best runner to date is the late Strolling Along, a multiple graded stakes winner of $450,852 and a sire for a brief time before his death a few years ago. The mare also produced the stakes-placed runners Lion Hearted and Cat Cay; The Jogger, now a stallion in New Zealand; and Game Plan, an unraced horse who stands in California. And, of course, Easy Climb.
The 7-year-old horse runs in the colors of Canadian Bruno Schickendanz. Before the Tampa Bay Downs meeting, he hadn't won a race since Aug. 20 at Fort Erie in Canada. Saturday, Easy Climb made his fifth start of the Oldsmar meeting for trainer Layne Gillette and scored his first victory of the season while entered to be claimed for $8,000. He sat close to the pace under Joe Rocco Jr., then wore down the leaders late and won by nearly a length with six furlongs in 1:11:46. Riding an eight-race losing streak, Easy Climb was sent off at 10-1 and paid $22.80.
Easy Climb has started 42 times in his career, winning six races and adding four seconds and seven thirds. He has earned nearly $88,000, but by racing for less than $10,000, he still is the black sheep in this famous Phipps family. SMART MOVE: Todd Pletcher is one of the most successful -- and youngest -- trainers in the country. He is enjoying another good meeting at Gulfstream, but he took a shot with one of his inexperienced 3-year-olds in Tampa's $50,000 Budweiser Challenger on Saturday.
Pletcher sent First Spear, a colt by Dare And Go, for the one-mile turf race, this despite the colt having raced four times previously, twice on the grass, with one allowance score. But that is why Pletcher has reached the pinnacle of his profession. First Spear came from well off the pace in the 12-horse field and won by a length under Chris DeCarlo, getting the mile in 1:36:56.
First Spear is owned by Peachtree Stable and was a $50,000 yearling purchase at the 1999 Keeneland September sale. The colt is 2-0-1 in five starts, and the $30,000 check for his first stakes victory boosted the Kentucky bred's earnings to $62,610.
Talking Red, the lukewarm 5-2 favorite, closed well to finish fourth, and second choice Unchained Storm, also 5-2, stalked the early pace in second before fading to fifth.
SUNDAY'S RACES: Kris Prather, the nation's leading rider this year with 57 victories, set a Turfway Park record with six wins at the Florence, Ky., track. ... Innuendo, an odds-on favorite ridden by Jerry Bailey, took control on the last turn and drew out to a four-length victory in the $100,000 The Very One Handicap at Gulfstream. ... Spain pulled away from rival Chilukki down the stretch to win the $200,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies at Santa Anita. ... Jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr., who escaped injury when unseated during the running of the previous race, guided Boston Party to a two-length victory in Aqueduct's feature, a $54,000 allowance for older horses.
DERBY LANE: Several Derby Lane runners will head to Hollywood Greyhound track this week to pursue the winning purse in the $75,000 Hollywood World Classic to begin Feb. 21. The race is open to any runner in America. Last year Derby Lane runners System Ax Friend and Leta's Duke ran first and second.
This year BD's Phillip, Dominator and D's Jasmine will be among the local runners making the trip. Greyhound owners will finalize their entries during the next few days.
It is not certain whether Saturday's Sprint Classic winner, Craigie Whistler, will compete, but Courageous Nicky will not go. Although the 19-month-old star holds the season's best time of 30.46 and is the wins leader with seven in 11 career starts, kennel owner Robert Thorne believes the youngster needs more time to mature at Derby Lane. Courageous Nicky could be the youngest runner to have competed in a Sprint Classic final at Derby Lane.
Nicky's trainer, Peter Barnhoorn, believes his runner has the talent to go the distance and is pondering a move from the sprint to the 1,980-foot course for the upcoming $100,000 Distance Classic beginning next month.
Craigie Whistler's Sprint Classic victory gives another credit to America's leading sire, Molotov, who had five offspring in the field. Molotov also is the father of seven of the top 10 runners this season and sire of N Big Ed, who holds the season's best distance time, 37.41, and Courageous Nicky.
SWEET HEART CHALLENGE: Wednesday night, Derby Lane offers free admission for both performances for Valentines Day. At night the Sweet Heart Challenge will feature eight top grade runners. The first 1,000 people arriving at 6p.m. will receive a valentine with a number on it. If the greyhound crossing first in Race 8 matches the valentine, winners can collect a $50.00 Derby Club Dining certificate.
- Vera Filipelli and Times wires contributed to this report.