Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Sunday, July 17

| Churchill Downs Communications | 07/17/2011 #
  • Christine Gabriel has given a good home to multiple graded stakes winner Cloudy's Knight. Photo by Nancy Knott

In Today’s Notes: Cloudy’s Knight:  Stars and Stripes Ultimate Warrior;Winchester Heads 2011 Stars and Stripes Probables

It’s Stars and Stripes Day at Arlington Park this Saturday, and since the turn of the 21st century, no horse has demonstrated the courage needed to perform at the top level necessary for Arlington’s traditional mile and a half marathon than S J Stables’ Cloudy’s Knight.

The chestnut gelding, born during Kentucky Derby week in the year 2000, had already grown to enormous proportions by the time he made his career debut at Arlington on Aug. 16, 2003, and immediately he attracted a large local fan following because of his size and demeanor.

One of his first fans was Christine Gabriel, Arlington’s television personality at the time, who was instantly taken in by the horse’s magnetism and habitually commented on it during her paddock show whenever he was about to run.

“I was so captivated with the horse, I went up to (owner) Shirley Schwartz in the paddock one day and asked her if, many years later when his racing career was over, she’d think about turning him over to me as a riding horse,” Gabriel said.

That turned out to be eight years and four renewals’ of the Grade III Stars and Stripes starts later for Cloudy’s Knight, who made his first foray into the marathon in 2004 against Sidney Port Trust et al.’s Irish-bred Ballingarry, who was winning the race for the second straight year that season.  As a 26-1 long shot, Cloudy’s Knight finished a well-beaten sixth.

By the time the 2005 Stars and Stripes rolled around on Fourth of July weekend, Cloudy’s Knight’s heart had grown to match his size.  The Lord Avie gelding finished second that year to Live Oak Plantation’s Revved Up, to whom he was giving three pounds.

Injuries sidelined Cloudy’s Knight in the summer of 2006, but in 2007 on the Fourth of July, Cloudy’s Knight made the pace throughout in the 12-furlong run only to be caught by a nose in the last jump by the British-bred Always First, owned by Merriefield Farm.

Despite that nose loss, 2007 proved to be Cloudy’s Knight’s best season.  He went north to Canada later that fall, won Woodbine’s Grade II Sky Classic Stakes and then scored the biggest win of his career by taking down the win in the Grade I Canadian International.

Cloudy’s Knight’s final Stars and Stripes appearance came once again on America’s Birthday in 2008, when he made a mild late rally after racing six-wide and improved position to finish fourth.

However, his career was not over.    In September of 2009, Cloudy’s Knight made his first start of the year by capturing the Grade III Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs, went on to win the Grade III Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland that October and then suffered another second-place finish by a nose in that year’s $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Santa Anita.  Even then, his year was not done.  He rebounded to win Woodbine’s $150,000 Valedictory Stakes in early December and closed out his 2009 season with a clear victory in the Grade II William L. McKnight Handicap at Calder on the day after Christmas.

Following one start in late 2010, when he finished second in that year’s Kentucky Cup Turf, the decision was made to retire Cloudy’s Knight.  Shirley Schwartz remembered Christine Gabriel’s dream of years before, contacted her at her Inverness, Illinois, home and asked her if she was ready to adopt him as a riding horse.

Gabriel has housed her dream horse at Country Ridge Farm in Mundelein, Illinois, since the middle of May, and with the assistance of hunter-jumper trainer Laura Stern, is teaching “Cloudy” his new career.

“I am constantly amazed by how smart he is,” said Gabriel.  “He seems to anticipate whatever lessons we are trying to teach him, and he’s a very fast learner.”

Another longtime member of the Cloudy’s Knight crew is Nancy Knott, a veteran equine masseuse who is still keeping the horse as a patient throughout his two careers.

“I’m so happy Christine and Shirley still include me in ‘Cloudy’s’ life,” Knott said of her frequent professional visits to the Mundelein farm.  “He’s been like family to me for nine years, and now I’m so happy he’s still part of my family.”

Gabriel, on the other hand offers this humorous update.

“He’s doing just great these days,” said Gabriel.  “I’m going broke feeding him carrots, but he doesn’t seem to mind that at all.  He’s just loving it.” 

Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone’s Winchester, who won Arlington’s Grade I Secretariat Stakes in 2008, breezed five furlongs in 1:03.60 Sunday morning at Belmont Park and will be vanned to Arlington this week to contest Saturday’s Grade III Stars and Stripes, according to Arlington stakes coordinator George Berry.