Profit Option posted an upset victory in the W. L. McKnight Handicap.

Profit Option posted an upset victory in the W. L. McKnight Handicap.

Calder Race Report: Grand Finale

Published in the Jan. 12 issue of The Blood-Horse
The Calder meet that began in May--back when Sept. 11 was just another day on the calendar--came to a rousing conclusion during its extended closing weekend with five graded stakes, or exactly the same amount contested during the meet's first 166 days. Four of the stakes were on its Dec. 29 Grand Slam II card, the 32nd consecutive Saturday of racing at the Miami oval.

And if length seems to be a recurring theme, consider the featured pair of $150,000 turf events on that card, the W.L. McKnight and La Prevoyante Handicaps (both gr. IIT), each captured by a horse winning its first career stakes, and each with a trainer who attributed the surprise ending to a single detail. "The mile and a half was the single most important factor," said Shug McGaughey of the La Prevoyante win by Stonerside Stable's Krisada.

"He's a true mile-and-a-half horse," said Ken Hoffman, trainer and one-third owner of McKnight victor Profit Option. That, however, was the only nice thing Hoffman had to say about the 6-year-old son of Alleged. While most horsemen would use glowing vocabulary to describe a grade II win, Hoffman's post-race commentary included repetitive use of the words "vicious" and "nasty."

"He's deceiving--like a shark," said Hoffman, who called Profit Option the worst behaved horse he had seen in 43 years of training, "He goes crazy and tries to hurt people; he just about broke my exercise rider's hand trying to bite him the other day. He's cost me a lot of good stable help through the years."

The tribulations of the horse extend to the gate: he expended precious energy while reluctant to load in each of his two previous starts in the Kentucky Cup Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) and the Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT). He ran dismally both times.

Perhaps owing to the importance of the occasion, Profit Option was an absolute gentleman in the McKnight, loading well, breaking alertly, and allowing jockey Mark Guidry to settle him comfortably in last of the dozen runners. Still trailing after a slow opening mile in 1:40.75, Guidry made his move well outside of the bunched leaders. "Coming to the half-mile pole, he got a little more aggressive so I let him go ahead and make up some ground," Guidry said. "Turning for home, I had so much horse I knew I was going to win."

While early pacesetter Eltawaasul was weakening in the final sixteenth and expected heavy hitters Honor Glide and Mr. Pleasentfar were both turning in dull performances, Profit Option lengthened his strides dramatically down the stretch, running the final quarter-mile in less than :23. He hit the wire in 2:27.95, a half-length ahead of Deeliteful Irving, who also rallied from the back of the pack.

Like each of the six runners in Hoffman's barn, Profit Option was purchased privately as a young horse from Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud. The trainer subsequently sold a one-third interest to both Mark Conway and Tony Canonie Jr. "His father was bad and his mother was bad, and they told us he would be bad, too. But we just have to deal with it," Hoffman said.

Florida Native
When Kiss a Native was in trainer Bill White's barn at Calder in 1999, he was an afterthought, relegated to the second stall from the end. But upon returning to White's barn last month, the son of Kissin Kris took up permanent residence right next to the trainer's office, where White can keep an eye on him. The transformation that took the John Franks homebred from being so poorly thought of that he started his career as a $32,000 claimer to a Sovereign Award winner as Canada's top 3-year-old of 2000 came full circle with a one-length victory over Hal's Hope in the Fred W. Hooper Handicap (gr. III) on the Grand Slam II card.

Shortly after beginning his career with three consecutive wins at two by a total of 36 lengths, Kiss a Native departed White's care, and was sent to the barn of David Bell in search of higher purses. After capturing five stakes and earning over $550,000 in 1 1/2 years with Bell, Franks decided to send the gelding back to White in Florida. "I never thought I would see him again," White said. "But suddenly Mr. Franks called. He said he wanted him back just like it was: put him with the same groom and definitely make sure you get Cornelio back."

"Cornelio" is jockey Cornelio Velasquez. He kept Kiss a Native tucked off the early pace in the Hooper before moving four-wide on the turn to overtake Groomstick Stock's, part of the contested speed duel with defending Hooper winner American Halo and favorite Best of the Rest. While moving to the front, Velasquez managed to keep Hal's Hope in tight quarters, not allowing the reformed speedster to put in his rally until it was too late.

Besides providing a happy homecoming, winning the Hooper was especially meaningful to White, who was a struggling young trainer during the late '80s when Fred Hooper began to send him some horses. "Mr. Hooper was my first big-name owner," said White, Calder's leading trainer each year since 1996. "And I've always felt people noticing he had horses in my barn helped me to attract other big-name owners. I credit a lot of my success to him."

Graded Memory
Bob Bakerman, an accountant, attorney, and real estate developer, despises parting with any of his homebreds. As a result, his operation has mushroomed from what he hoped would be a small breeding and racing operation to the 100-acre His Honorship Farm near Ocala, Fla., where some 60 horses are kept.

But it was a filly he very nearly gave away, Vague Memory, that became his first graded stakes winner on Grand Slam II day in the seven-furlong Chaposa Springs Handicap (gr. III). The daughter of Ward Off Trouble suffered so many physical ailments as a juvenile that she was not even put into training. "She had allergies, respiratory problems, a growth in her cheek," Bakerman said as he checked off her laundry list of maladies. "The vet said I could take this out and do that type of surgery, but we all decided just leave her be and see what happened."

It was a wise decision. Last year, at age five, Vague Memory turned into a striking looking, trouble-free mare who captured her third career stakes by outgaming four-time graded stakes winner and 6-5 favorite Gold Mover by a nose in the Chaposa Springs.

Jockey Julio Garcia took Vague Memory to the front while breaking from the rail. "I wanted to get good position so those other speed horses didn't bother her," said Garcia, also mentioning that Vague Memory doesn't like being hit in the face with dirt. She was joined a half-mile from home by Gold Mover and the two made it a match race from there. Though Gold Mover appeared poised to go by, and may have briefly surged ahead in mid-stretch, Vague Memory held on for a nose win, timed in 1:24.15. Platinum Tiara was 3 3/4 lengths back in third.

The winner was also aided by a second pilot. In the stands, as soon as Gold Mover came alongside, Vague Memory's animated trainer Ross "Rudy" Wolfendale ducked into a rider's crouch and began thrusting his arms and cracking an imaginary whip. "When I saw the number two come alongside her with a ton of horse I said, 'Uh oh,' " said the trainer after his first graded stakes victory.

However, he was not surprised by Vague Memory's eighth win in 19 starts, noting, "I knew she had this race in her because she always runs well when she's fresh. Last time she had the same spacing between her races she ran huge."


(Charts, Equibase)