In an NTRA teleconference call with members of the national turf media Tuesday, Bill Slevin, owner of Lord of the Game, and Tom Tomillo, trainer of the 4-year-old Saint Ballado colt, discussed the fortuitous $10,000 December claim that so far has spawned six wins--including a grade II--and earnings of more than $300,000.
The men were discussing Lord of the Game's participation in the Claiming Crown set to take place on Saturday at Canterbury Downs. A total of $675,000 is up for grabs in seven races ranging from the $50,000 Claiming Crown Express to the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel.
"I remember it was New Year's Eve," said Slevin of the claim, "The race went off at around 3:30 or 4 p.m., and there was no one there. I had just gotten started in the business in October and Lord of the Game was my first claim. I'm not sure if we were the smart guys in a dumb class, but when he won (by more than 22 lengths) it looked like an easy business to be in--my jaw just dropped."
Even though he knocked one out of the park with his first swing, Slevin, owner of several car dealerships in the Chicago area, has since come to realize the game can be a little trickier than that.
"This is a tough business, good horses pop up all over," said the head of 2 Blondes Inc., the stable named for the locks of his wife and daughter. "Tom (Tomillo) really did his homework with this one. This is a lot like the car business. You need to buy inventory--some work, some don't.
"We've increased our stable and we're going to give a good run at it. We're up to almost 30 horses now and like cars, you've got to have 4-wheel-drives, SUVs, convertibles -- we've got long, short, grass horses -- we'll be in Chicago until the winter and then we'll go down south."
Tomillo said it was primarily pedigree that led him to seek out Lord of the Game who is out of the A.P. Indy
mare She's a Winner.
"I was in New Orleans at the time," said Tomillo, who also claimed Baptistry--a 4-year-old son of Deputy Minister out of the Saint Ballado mare Sister Act--for another $10,000 on the same day. "But when I saw how Lord of the Game was bred, and that his works were decent, I called Mr. Slevin and said if we take both for $20,000 only one of them has to win and the other doesn't have to be worth nothing."
Tomillo said Baptistry recently ran fifth in a $15,000 maiden starter and generally "hasn't produced."
In all, 93 horses are pre-entered in the Canterbury Downs event. The suburban Minnesota track has been home to the event for six of the seven years since its inception in 1998.
Nat Wess, director of the Claiming Crown said the number might have been higher were it not for Lord of the Game.
"This is by far the most qualitative bunch ever to run in a Claiming Crown series," said Wess. "I think Lord of the Game may have scared some others off, but in a field of only six there are three graded stakes winners.
"And handicappers will see a lot of '1s' on the PPs," said Wess. "The Beyer figures (needed to win with) are high this year."
Wess said the final entries for the card are due out Wednesday and betting is available at over 75 simulcast sites nationwide.
Conditioner Tomillo agreed that the race came up a little tougher than expected with the entry of Habaneros, winner of the grade III Carleton F. Burke Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Santa Anita last year, and Desert Boom, winner of the Berkeley Handicap (gr. III) at Golden Gate Field July 11.
"When you look down at his record, the only horses who have beaten him were Pollard's Vision and Badge of Silver," Tomillo said in reference to his colt's third-place finish in the National Jockey Club Handicap (gr. III) at Hawthorne April 23. "He gave Badge of Silver all he wanted (so) I think they'll have to beat him. He's tough."
Slevin said the July 2 Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) winner was indeed up to the challenge.
"He got stiffened in his last race but he rises to the occasion," said Slevin. "He likes the competition."
Slevin said he is weighing his options on whether he will be seen at the upcoming summer and fall yearling sales.
"We might do that -- we bought an Illinois-bred at a sale recently-- but we're looking for the best way to take the risk factor out. We saw a horse that sold for $1.9 million running in a $5,000 race. Every day I learn a little more. We're looking for the biggest bang for our buck."