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Barn Notes: Wednesday, August 27, 2014
In Today's Notes: Mister Marti Gras Always Ready to Party
MISTER MARTI GRAS ALWAYS READY TO PARTY
It's one thing to be able to saddle up and run as a 7-year-old racehorse in this day and age of horseracing, but it is a completely different animal – if you will – to be at the top of your game at such a ripe age – and such is exactly what Mister Marti Gras is. The tall, kind chestnut gelding has served his owner Lothenbach Stables well since the son of Belong to Me's debut at Hawthorne Race Course in November 2009.
Thought of highly enough – and precocious enough, for that matter – to compete in the Grade II Louisiana Derby in his fourth career start (for initial conditioner Neil Pessin – with whom he still spends his winters at the Fair Grounds), it has become increasingly astonishing to see the gelding maintain his form throughout six seasons of training. One race after making his Arlington International Racecourse debut with a good fourth in the (then) Listed Arlington Classic, he won his first of four career stakes races in his seventh start in the Listed Oliver Stakes – now the Centaur – at Indiana Grand.
Since that first taste of added money eminence on the turf, the well mannered (now) Chris Block trainee has gone on to win the Grade III Washington Park Handicap on the Arlington Polytrack in 2011, that year's Grade III Ack Ack Handicap on Churchill Downs dirt and last year's Mystic Lake Mile on Canterbury Park's main course. In such, he has not only displayed stunning equilibrium and reliability, but also has demonstrated what it means to be versatile as a racehorse.
Such was possibly on its best exhibition in defeat earlier this season in the Grade III Hanshin Cup over the Arlington main course. At a one-turn mile course that contradicts everything in which a leggy, long-winded campaigning gelding should revel – the homebred stormed home on the outside to lose in a photo behind highly regarded Nikki's Sandcastle at odds of 16-1 – a gift to his pari-mutuel supporters.
Since, he annexed a tough allowance optional claiming event on the grass on June 21 with eye-opening ease – defeating the well regarded allowance duo of O T B Bob and R Great Adventure in the process – which prompted his connections to attempt the Grade III Arlington Handicap on July 12 last out. Such resulted in a fifth-place finish – beaten only 2½ lengths. After such, Block decided a fourth-consecutive try at the Washington Park was the obvious next move.
"He's really coming into the race good," Block remarked. "He came out of his last race in great shape. He's just a pretty consistent type who trains very well and has always been that way. He's had some good spots in his career, but is in great form now and is in a nice pattern. Health-wise, he's really great. He's had some solid works and run really well against some good horses."
A win in the Washington Park – where he will likely start as the favorite – would mark an improvement on a perplexing fourth in last year's race and a solid hard-charging runner-up performance in 2012. One factor that may be in his corner this year is that his performance numbers – for those who place stock in such – are actually slightly better than last year, returning that which he achieved in his 4- and 5-year-old seasons. For example, in the Hanshin Cup he achieved a 118 Equibase Speed Figure – only two points below his career-best.
"He's a Grade III type of horse," Block continued. "He is kind of like what I call a blue-collar horse and goes out there and performs on any surface and tries as hard as he can. Distance-wise, he surprised me that he was so effective at one-turn (in the Hanshin), but I think that speaks to his quality. He is a horse who probably needs a little pace to help him out, but he kind of adapts to the situation."
Managing a talented charge through many seasons has become something at which the Block barn has excelled for some time. Virginia H. Tarra Trust's Giant Oak won two Grade I races within a 31-race, four-season career for the conditioner from 2008 through 2011 – ending in a third in the Breeders' Cup Marathon. Perhaps even more striking was the career of Team Block's Illinois Horse of the Year Fort Prado, who won 18 of 59 starts for the conditioner over seven seasons. That charge earned $1,211,681 for his owner – a total Mister Marti Gras ($1,060,584) could surpass before year's end. And at such time, a nice vacation will take place – as usual – which could result in a possible 8-year-old season, if all goes well.
"I think part of (Mister Marti Gras' success) is that I don't think we overrun him," Block said. "We try to give him a little rest at the end of each season. That being said, I think his success is more of a tribute to the horse, himself. He makes my job easy because I know when I take him to the paddock to race – or the track to train – he's going to show up. He just loves his job every day and loves being a racehorse."