Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Wednesday, Sept. 14

| Churchill Downs Communications | 09/23/2011 #

In Today's Notes: Howard's End of 2011 Arlington Season Beats the Beginning; Arlington's 2011 Jockey, Trainer Titles Still Up for Grabs

Labor Day traditionally marks the end of the summer season, but for trainer Tom Howard, who has brought his stable at Arlington Park for the first time this summer, it proved to be a new beginning.

Howard, who served as an assistant trainer for Cole Norman in the late 1990s before going out on his own in 2001, saddled a training double on that Labor Day Monday holiday racing program to triple his number of local wins. Then, last Saturday, the Oklahoma-born conditioner underlined that success by saddling Frank Fletcher's Rocket Twentyone to win the Grade III Arlington-Washington Lassie – Chicago's most prestigious race for 2-year-old fillies.

Now, Howard plans to work Rocket Twentyone one more time at Arlington before the local season ends and then is looking forward to shipping his filly directly to Keeneland for a run in the Grade I Alcibiades Oct. 7.

So although the rest of the 2011 racing season looks bright for Howard and his wife Kathy, who serves as racing advisor for Frank Fletcher Racing Operations as well as her husband's assistant in the barn, things didn't start off so well.

After years of summer sessions at Louisiana Downs, Howard decided to make a leap of faith and bring his horses to Arlington this season.

"We had a home just three miles from Louisiana Downs," Howard said, "and it was hard to give up the convenience of that, but we wanted to go to a track where things were moving forward. This facility is just beautiful. It's like being in Disneyland, but the trip up here to Chicago proved to be a nightmare.

"We loaded up the trailer at Oaklawn with four horses and a pony and made most of the trip up here without any problems," Howard said, "but when we got up to the outskirts of town we made a wrong turn and ended up going the wrong way into downtown Chicago traffic.

"Eventually, we got turned around going the right way to get up here," Howard said, "but then we got into the middle of a group of cars full of people carrying on some kind of traffic war. They were weaving in and out of traffic, cutting us off repeatedly while they were chasing each other, and eventually one of them brushed against the trailer and caved in one of the wheel wells enough that it was brushing against a tire.

"We had to pull the trailer with the horses off by the side of the road in traffic until I had a chance to get out and pry the wheel well off the tire so we could continue to get the rest of the way out to unload the horses," Howard said. "Then we had to find our way to the place where we had rented, even though we'd never been there before, and unload all the things we needed in the apartment. By the time we got done with that it was well after 2:30 in the morning, so we got a couple of hours sleep before we had to get up and come back out to the barn to feed the horses.

"But when I got to the spot where I had parked the night before the trailer was gone," said Howard. "It turned out where we had parked was marked as a towing zone, but in the dark the night before we hadn't seen the sign. On top of that, we got a ticket for the towing expense.

"On the ticket it said they had towed us at 2:30 in the morning," Howard said, "but like Kathy pointed out – they couldn't have towed it at 2:30 in the morning because we were still unloading the trailer at that time.

"Kathy then took another look at the ticket and saw the towing fine was supposed to be something like $175," Howard said, "but they had scratched that price out and penciled in $520. That really got her blood boiling but we had no choice – we had to pay the fine right then because we needed the rig to get back to the barn.

"Things have gotten better since then and will continue to do so," Howard said with a smile on the morning after Rocket Twentyone's Lassie score. "Also, we're not done yet. We've got a few more horses to run before the end of Arlington, so hopefully now we won't have to borrow money to get home."

The race for leading rider honors at Arlington this season, as well as the race for the leading training title, remained too close to call entering Thursday's racing program.

James Graham is the current leading jockey with 72 wins through Sunday, while J. Z. Santana had 68 wins with Junior Alvarado in the third spot with 65 trips to the winner's circle.

Larry Rivelli was the meet's leading trainer after saddling 36 winners through Sunday, while Scott Becker was runner-up with 32 and defending trainer champion Wayne Catalano had saddled 30. Red-hot trainer Jim DiVito, with three winners Friday, two more Saturday and another training double Sunday, was in the fourth spot with 29 winners.