Churchill Racing Review: A Family Affair

This article published in the Nov. 25 issue of The Blood-Horse
In the post Breeders' Cup chill of Churchill Downs on a wind-swept and gray afternoon, there was one ray of shimmering light poking through the clouds in the winner's circle. The sight of owner James C. Routsong hoisting his 2-year-old granddaughter, Megan Wiechers, on his shoulder was a vision of family warmth that radiated enough heat to take the chill off everyone within shouting distance.

The reason for the family gathering in the winner's circle was the wire-to-wire victory of Megans Bluff in the $174,150 Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIT) for 3-year-old fillies, the third graded stakes win by the daughter of Pine Bluff in her last four starts.

It was another crowning achievement for Routsong, a man long on perseverance and spirit to have been in the Thoroughbred business as long as he has. Owner of an excavating contracting business in Dayton, Ohio, Routsong currently has but three horses in training, all with John Hennig, and has been in and out of racing for 40 years.

"Oh, I've had three or four Ohio-bred stakes winners, but they couldn't run anywhere else," Routsong said. "And I've had a lot of bad ones over the years. It got expensive and I got sour. I had one that died in the starting gate. It was one that I bred and that was tough to take."

Routsong gave up owning Thoroughbreds as a hobby, but waded back in. "As I got a little more successful later in life, I got back in. I was at Gulfstream Park a few years ago and ran into John (Hennig). At that meet, he had sent out 10 horses and won with eight and I thought that was pretty nice training. We got together and talked. I thought it might be time to get back in."

Buying just one horse a year at the Keeneland September yearling sale, Routsong finally has landed the "big horse" with Megans Bluff, named for his granddaughter. "After all the bad ones, it's a pleasure to get a good horse," he said.

And what a good one he has. Megans Bluff has earned $433,068 in 2000 with six wins from 11 starts and adds the Mrs. Revere to a graded stakes résumé that includes the Arlington Oaks and Arlington Matron Handicap (both gr. III).

Blessed with natural early speed, Megans Bluff had little trouble clearing her 11 rivals from post one and hugged the hedge. Cruising along under Mark Guidry, Megans Bluff was able to get away with moderate fractions of :24.03 and :48.20 in the early going of the 1 1/16-mile race.

"Everyone was settling off her and she was really relaxed," said Guidry, after winning his first stakes race at Churchill Downs. "She carries her own," Hennig said. "She does so much for herself. I think she's an easy one to ride."

Guidry made it look easy as Megans Bluff coasted on the lead, getting only token pressure early from Princess Ellen. It was an open-length gap back to the rest of the field as they waited for the race to unfold.

Turning into the stretch, Megans Bluff still held a length advantage over Princess Ellen as some challengers emerged from the pack. Impending Bear rallied, but couldn't gain on the leader. Uncharted Haven was moving with authority, but had lost a lot of ground while coming seven-wide with her move. She continued to cut into Megans Bluff's lead, but fell short at the wire by three-quarters of a length, just nosing Impending Bear for second. The final time of 1:43.37 was nowhere close to the course mark of 1:40.96, but was good enough for the win and some deserved time off.

"She's going to Florida Tuesday (Nov. 21)," Hennig said after the race. "She'll get freshened up, and then we'll see."

As for Routsong, he's already got another horse for Hennig to add to his racing stable. In September, he purchased a Jade Hunter yearling filly that he'll likely name for his other grandchild, Drew.  
(Chart, Equibase)