Dr. Barry and Shari Eisaman are no strangers to success. Perennially among the leading consignors of 2-year-olds at public auction, the couple specializes in breaking and training young racing prospects at their 300-acre Eisaman Equine in Williston, Fla., near Ocala.
With 250 horses going through their program each season, 150 of which are sent directly to the racetrack for clients that include many of the industry's top owners, and 100 of which are destined for the auction ring, the Eisamans are represented by top stakes horses year in and year out.
Among the numerous grade I winners to have gone through the facility's training program in recent years is I'll Have Another , winner of the 2012 Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands, and Preakness Stakes. I'll Have Another had his shot at Triple Crown glory taken away with a tendon injury that resulted in him being scratched from that year's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) a day before the race, ultimately leading to his untimely retirement.
Not surprisingly, the Eisamans are back in the midst of another Triple Crown run this year, albeit in a different role with training graduate Ride On Curlin, who is scheduled to turn in his final pre-Belmont Stakes breeze June 1 at Belmont Park.
Runner-up to Danza in the April 12 Arkansas Derby (gr. I), Ride On Curlin endured a terrible trip in the Kentucky Derby, checking in seventh after encountering traffic trouble in the crowded field. With a cleaner trip two weeks later, he resolutely chased California Chrome across the wire in the Preakness, finishing a game second, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths. The Kentucky Derby is his only off-the-board finish from 11 starts.
With a 2-3-4 record and earnings of $714,687, Ride On Curlin will take one more crack at the Derby and Preakness winner, playing the part of potential spoiler to California Chrome's bid for a sweep of the Triple Crown in the June 7 Belmont.
A $25,000 purchase by trainer Billy Gowan for owner Daniel Dougherty at the 2012 Keeneland September sale, the son of Curlin is out of the graded stakes-placed Storm Cat mare Magical Ride. He was the first horse the Eisamans broke and trained for Gowan and Dougherty. The connections sent two yearlings (now 2-year-olds) to the Eisamans to start this past season.
"Billy had learned of us through his friend Bernie Flint, who we have broken many horses for," said Barry Eisaman. "Billy picked him out (at the sale), took him home and turned him out for a month, and then sent him to us to break. When he came in, the thing that struck me is that he had a Storm Cat look to him. As a younger horse he wasn't nearly as big as he is right now.
"He wasn't a real correct colt when they bought him, hence the $25,000 purchase price." Eisaman added. "But as time evolved he has grown and gotten much bigger and he's really a pretty correct horse now. It worked out for him. As he grew and time went by his conformation improved. He's actually pretty correct now."
Ride on Curlin has earned a reputation on the Triple Crown trail for his playfulness in the mornings, frequently rearing and pawing at the sky on his way to the track. Barry remembers the rambunctious side of his former student who often displayed a mind of his own while going through his early paces.
"He had and still has a certain degree of spunk to his personality," Eisaman said. "Even as a young horse he would want to nip and play in his stall. You have to have a suit of armor on when you go near him or he will drag you in there (his stall). But he never did anything dangerous.
"He was never bad enough at that stage of his life to require any special handling other than you had to be careful when you were near him," Eisaman added. "He was always very sound, a good mover. In all of his prep works, he appeared to have a lot speed. He was always excellent to work with."
According to Eisaman, Ride On Curlin was among the top members of that year's Eisaman Equine class, a group that also included Martin Cherry's homebred Northern Afleet colt Embellishing Bob, winner via disqualifiation of the Derby Trial Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs April 26.
"He was in the top 15 in his crop," Eisaman said of Ride On Curlin. "He was one of the good pupils. He wasn't a towering standout where you would say this is the one to make it to the classics. We're fortunate. We get a lot of good quality, young horses to work with each year; he was one of the good ones.
"I told Billy I thought the colt was going to be a lot of fun for them," added Eisaman. "He showed a lot speed. I was optimistic for what his future may hold for them. I didn't really think I was dealing with a Derby or Belmont prospect at that moment, but he was an excellent young horse with a lot of speed.
"I always thought the sky was the limit. He's developed in all the right ways and he has added his desire to be competitive to the mix."
Eisaman is encouraged by Ride On Curlin's progression through his 3-year-old campaign.
"In some of his races Billy has tried to get the colt in a situation where he was laying off the early speed but not being many, many lengths out of it," Eisaman related. "It became a hard thing to have happen. A couple of times late in his 2-year-old year he tried to go to the front and was too headstrong and wasn't able to finish well.
"Other times, he was rated way too far off the pace and had too much to do at the end of the race, which was the case in the Derby. Having an outside post and angling sharply to the rail he was last or close to it. If the seas part and you have a place to go everything is wonderful. If you get trapped, which he was, you're just trapped. He had to circle nine wide and was only beaten several lengths in the Derby after all the trouble.
"In the Preakness, Billy wanted in some way to lay three, five, six lengths off the pace and be close, which Joel Rosario did perfectly for him," Eisaman continued. "I recognize California Chrome as a very special talent. In the Preakness, even though Ride On Curlin was closing, I think if California Chrome had hit the gas pedal again there was very well more horse left."
As for the Belmont Stakes, Eisaman offered, "I don't know what the 1 1/2 miles will do to that scenario. If they square off again in a stretch-long drive at Belmont, for racing and history I would hope California Chrome can kick in and do that. If he can't, Ride On Curlin may be able to. He doesn't give up and he never stops trying."
Like many in the industry, Eisaman, is rooting for history.
"If Ride On Curlin happened to win, of course, I would be delighted that one of our grads has won the Belmont," said Eisaman. "Still, our sport overall is so hungry for a hero that not having a Triple Crown winner would be disappointing. And our sport has been disappointed so many times in the last 36 years.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get to run in that third leg of the Triple Crown (with I'll Have Another). I would love to see California Chrome win. If he can't, it might as well be Ride On Curlin that does it."