In the moments after Halo Reality, the juvenile filly he trains for Centaur Farms, captured the Three Ring Stakes on Dec. 9, trainer Ralph Ziadie, a man who takes his religion as seriously as his racing, was enraptured. "Thank the Holy Trinity," he repeated.
While Ziadie clearly did not have in mind the Pick 4, Calder's novel approach to linking the quartet of $100,000 stakes races run in succession on a day christened "Grand Slam I," he easily could have been speaking about the wager. A winning Pick 4 ticket paid $6,678 and read 3-3-3-3.
Besides wearing the royal blue saddle cloth representative of numero tres, each of the winners also shared a heritage: all four stakes winners were Florida-breds. And three, each a Calder regular, captured their first stakes race on this day.
"This is our first time in Florida, but she absolutely loves the heat," said trainer Eugene Brajczewski of 4-year-old filly Wild Heart Dancing upon receiving the winning trophy in the My Charmer Handicap (gr. IIIT), the first of the four stakes. "The more heat I give her, the more she gives me."
In the moments after the My Charmer, the heat was really on the stewards, who had to review a bumping incident near the sixteenth pole, right about at the point at which Calder's main turf course meets its chute, causing a gap of some 20 feet to the hedge. Pat Day, aboard favored Megans Bluff, was urging his filly right handed when she propped, making contact with Jorge Chavez and Wild Heart Dancing.
Although Megans Bluff prevailed by a half-length, it was determined that the bumping was significant enough to reverse the order, giving Brajczewski the win. "I thought the other filly knocked mine off stride," he said after a long exhale that followed the disqualification announcement. "I would have claimed an objection myself if the stewards hadn't."
"She came into me a little bit and turned me sideways," was Chavez's description of the clash. Day, however, saw things differently.
"I thought she was running straight," he said. "I may have taken a little step in, but the other one took a step out, too."
The daughter of Farma Way, who Brajczewski trains for My Jo Lee Stable, the nom de course of Robert Firth, had been taking all the big steps before the race. In just her past three starts, besides a last-place effort in the WinStar Galaxy (gr. IIIT)--an effort that the trainer blames on a Keeneland turf course he called "horrendous"--Wild Heart Dancing had won both the Canadian Handicap (Can-IIT) at Woodbine and Aqueduct's Athenia Handicap (gr. IIIT) in wire-to-wire fashion.
That was the agenda again in the My Charmer for Wild Heart Dancing, and she assumed the lead directly. Megans Bluff, the only 3-year-old in the field of 12, took up second position, and the pair maintained that order throughout most of the nine furlongs. Although it was clear sailing up front, things were more rugged toward the rear as trainer Christophe Clement's uncoupled entry of Orange Sunset and Amalia, both with a head of steam near the three-eighths pole, were forced to check sharply when Idle Rich stumbled and nearly went to her knees. Though Clement's pair both made up ground in the stretch, they were forced to settle for third and fourth, respectively.
Kinsman Stable's stakes-winning Chasing Stars, racing at the back of the pack, broke down on the turn and had to be euthanized. "The jockey said there was no contact," said her disconsolate trainer Gary Sciacca. "She just took one bad step and broke everything."
The My Charmer was contested over a bone-dry turf course that afforded an edge to the front runners. The conditions soon deteriorated; the skies opened up midway through the following race, the Three Ring. Almost in tandem with the downpour was a decisive move by jockey Rene Douglas aboard Halo Reality to wrest the lead from 2-5 favorite Thunder Bertie near the quarter-pole of the 1 1/16-mile race for juvenile fillies. They never looked back.
"I was waiting for the right moment to take off," Douglas said. "I didn't want to make any mistakes and put pressure on the other one early and then have somebody from behind beat me."
He need not have worried. Halo Reality, a homebred daughter of Prospector's Halo, out of the In Reality mare My Yankee Girl, extended her edge down the lane under active urging. The winning margin over Southern Fiction was four lengths--nearly identical to the distance to the well-beaten favorite in third.
"I think she wants to be a sprinter," said Bert Klein, who bred and owns Thunder Bertie with his wife, Elaine, and son Richard. While the day was over for Thunder Bertie, the heavy favorite for the Three Ring following a victory in the Arlington Washington Lassie (gr. III) and a speed-and-stop seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), the misery for the Klein family had just begun.
Actually, their suffering began three days prior, during the draw for the What a Pleasure Stakes (gr. III) Dec. 6. There, assistant trainer Steve Flint, who oversees the South Florida string for his father, Bernard, described the lack of success the Kleins' runner Outofthebox had encountered at such moments previously.
"He must be cursed," said Flint. "Three times in four starts he gets the far outside, and the one time he doesn't (last month's Iroquois Stakes (gr. III), he gets the 12 hole in a 13-horse field."
When the first three pills came up and Outofthebox was not among them, Flint admitted defeat. "Right there and then I knew we drew the 11 post," he said.
He did, and that may have made the difference between winning and losing the What a Pleasure. Breaking outside of 10 other juveniles, Day was forced to use his mount just to get into the three path on the first turn, and was wide through the run down the backstretch. Meanwhile, Eduardo Nunez had longshot Radical Riley cruising on the rail, staying within striking distance of pacesetter Mr Notebook and relishing the slop.
"He can grab a hold much better on a wet-fast track like that," observed Jim Hatchett, who trains the son of Wheaton for Fred and Jane Brei's Jacks or Better Farm. Radical Riley, already making his 11th career start in the What a Pleasure, had destroyed an allowance field over a soupy Calder strip last month for his second win, and appeared home free for his third, two lengths clear in the stretch. But Day had finally gotten Outofthebox straightened out after wobbling in early stretch, and the 7-5 favorite was gobbling ground with every stride.
"I was holding my breath in the final sixteenth," Fred Brei said. He was able to release it when the photo determined his colt had hit the wire a neck before Outofthebox's furious rally could overtake him. The tote board flashed yet another three.
The fourth three belonged to Stokosky, Santa Cruz Ranch's homebred son of Stack who won the Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) by three-quarters of a length over the dead-heating Special Coach and Band Is Passing. The 4-year-old runs for trainer Juan Rizo, who earned his first stakes win, and was piloted by Carlos Hernandez, riding in only his third race in the United States.
The first race on the program was the $50,000 Tropical Park Steeplechase (NSA-II), and a popular victory by Augustin Stable's Pompeyo makes the 6-year-old Chilean-bred a top contender for the Eclipse Award for top steeplechaser. Gus Brown piloted the winner for trainer Sanna Neilson.