Ron Lombardi stood outside of Barn 58 admiring the view of the San Gabriel Mountains. The owner of Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT) outsider Tightend Touchdown had never visited Santa Anita Park before.
"I've been walking around taking in the history and everything," said Lombardi. "I even watched the movie 'Seabiscuit' again."
Lombardi has 42 horses in training with Jason Servis, who bases at Palm Meadows in Florida and Belmont Park in New York with his 60-horse stable. Tightend Touchdown will be the first Breeders' Cup starter for both men, though neither is a stranger to the winner's circle.
"Two weeks ago I was down at Laurel for the Maryland Million," Lombardi said. "We won the Maryland Million Sprint with Ribo Bobo, his ninth win in a row. It was great. But I am thrilled to be here for the Breeders' Cup."
Lombardi began his stable six years ago and races in the name of Mr. Amore Stable as a tribute to his first horse, who injured himself and had to be euthanized before he could start. Lombardi owns SportsCare, a chain of physical therapy franchises that is the official physical therapy provider for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.
"I've been in the physical therapy business for 25 years," said Lombardi. "When people hear me talk about the horses, they say, 'Wow, you really love that, don't you? We can hear it in your voice.' And now everything seems to be falling into place."
Lombardi said that he selects horses to claim and Servis handles the training. Lombardi claimed Tightend Touchdown last year. Bred by Chad and Laurie Stewart in Florida, the 4-year-old gelding is by Pure Precision—Starry Mark, by Marquetry.
"I saw him up at Saratoga," Lombardi said. "He's a big, strong horse, and he's beautiful. I picked him up for $35,000."
In his second start for Lombardi and Servis, in a $25,000 claiming race at Belmont Oct. 27, Tightend Touchdown impressed the trainer in winning by 3 1/4 lengths at six furlongs on the turf.
"He went 1:08 4/5 on the turf at Belmont," said Servis.
Servis raised Tightend Touchdown to the $30,000 claiming level in his next start on Aqueduct's inner dirt track, and trainer Linda Rice claimed him.
"We were going into the winter at Aqueduct," Servis said. "My thinking was he wasn't terribly attractive unless you were planning on wintering a turf horse. You're in jail—you can't leave. But he got claimed anyway because he runs well on dirt too."
Tightend Touchdown won the dirt race, and Lombardi and Servis claimed him back in his next start for $35,000.
"I thought if I could get this horse back on the grass, he would do well," said Servis. The trainer was right.
Once turf racing in the East began again, Tightend Touchdown graduated from optional claiming races to stakes company, winning the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup Handicap at Penn National and running second in three subsequent stakes.
Tightend Touchdown will be in tough in the Turf Sprint as part of a 14-horse field that includes the mare Mizdirection, last year's winner. Javier Castellano will ride the gelding, who drew post 7 and is listed at 12-1 on the morning line.
"I have the leading rider in the nation," said Servis. "What else can I say? He's won a lot of races—I feel good having him."