Trainer Vance Hits Jackpot with 47-1 Caressing

Article published in Nov. 11 issue of The Blood-Horse
His shedrow could be described as a revolving door, through which horses come and go via the claim box. But David Vance has laid a solid foundation in his 34 years as a trainer, as evidenced by the fact some of his employees have been with him for more than 20 years.

Even Cookie Monster, a cream-colored barn cat rescued from a trash can at Louisiana Downs, has had a home in Vance's barn for 15 years.

"David's still the same," said Debbie Sanders, an exercise rider who first worked for Vance in 1976. "He's one of the few people who knows just about everything about every horse in his barn."

That's no easy task, considering Vance has about 30 horses tucked away in Barn 48, located in a quiet corner of the Churchill Downs backstretch. And though many of them could be in the hands of other trainers in a matter of days or weeks, one of them, a 2-year-old filly named Caressing, figures to be around for a while.

Who would have thought a claiming trainer who has won more than a thousand races, and lost many more than that, would be a perfect one-for-one in the Breeders' Cup? But it happened Nov. 4, appropriately at his home base, when Caressing, at 47-1 the longest shot on the board, won the $1,025,920 Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Vance is no stranger to quality stock or grade I winners. In the early to mid-1970s, Vance was head trainer, and later general manager, for the powerful racing and breeding operation owned by Dan Lasater, a three-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding owner.

Lasater, an Arkansan who was a millionaire at 28, and Vance, an Indiana native who came up in the horse business through his late father, R.E. Vance, put up some heady numbers. At any given time, Vance oversaw 60 horses that traveled from Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, to Churchill in Kentucky, to Keystone Race Track in Pennsylvania.

There were some good ones. From 1973-75, the filly Honky Star won 10 stakes, including two grade I events. Royal Glint, who earned more than $1 million in his career, won 15 stakes--three of them grade I--from 1973-76. And the filly Hot n Nasty, a two-time grade II winner, holds the distinction of finishing only 2 1/4 lengths behind the immortal Ruffian in the 1974 Sorority Stakes (gr. I). It was the closest any filly got to Ruffian at the finish of a race.

Vance won numerous training titles, and still holds the all-time Oaklawn record of 50 wins in a season. In 1974, he was second in the nation with 288 wins. He was third with 230 in 1975, and fourth with 270 in 1976. The following year, when he won 137 races, he split with Lasater and went out on his own.

One of Vance's clients in recent years has been Carl Pollard, owner of Hermitage Farm near Goshen, Ky. Pollard, a member of the Churchill board of directors, allows bloodstock agent Mike Ryan to pick out yearlings each year. At the 1999 Keeneland September yearling sale, one of them was a filly by Honour and Glory--Lovin Touch, by Majestic Prince. The gavel fell at $180,000.

"I never saw her before we bought her," Pollard said. "I don't see them, or know anything about them, until they arrive at the farm."

Pollard didn't know it at the time, but Ryan picked a good one. Caressing, a smallish filly, made her career debut about 10 months later at Churchill. On July 2, she raced a bit greenly and finished a closing fourth in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight. On Aug. 9, she broke her maiden going 5 1/2 furlongs by a length at Ellis Park under hand urging. From there, it was on to Ohio, where Caressing made her stakes debut in the $100,000 Bassinet Stakes at River Downs Sept. 2.

It was no contest. Caressing won the six-furlong stakes by seven lengths in 1:12, an excellent time for a 2-year-old filly on a surface that in general is rather dull. She then raced Sept. 30 in the Arlington Washington Lassie (gr. III), finishing second to Thunder Bertie in the one-turn mile stakes.

As early November approached, Vance and Pollard planned to enter Caressing in the Juvenile Fillies, but decided to cross-enter her in the Nov. 3 Pocahontas Stakes in case she drew a bad post for the Breeders' Cup event. At the Nov. 1 post draw, Caressing landed the seven slot. She was scratched from the Pocahontas, a $100,000 listed event, in favor of the race of the year for 2-year-old fillies.

"I looked at the race many times," Vance said afterward. "To me, there wasn't an outstanding horse in the race, and some of them hadn't been around two turns solid. My filly had been training here since April, and I think that really helped a lot."

The scratch of Freefourracing by trainer Neil Drysdale left a field of 12 in the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile Fillies. The favorite at 5-2 was the undefeated Raging Fever, winner of the grade I Matron and Frizette Stakes in New York. Cindy's Hero and Notable Career, who finished third and first, respectively, in the Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park, were the second and third choices.

The race figured to produce a speed duel, but when Cash Run went to her knees at the break, and Raging Fever was reserved in fourth soon after the start, Thunder Bertie grabbed the lead from post 12 and held it through fractions of :23.19 for the opening quarter-mile, :46.55 for a half-mile, and 1:11.10 for six furlongs.

Nasty Storm, Notable Career, and Raging Fever, who tracked Thunder Bertie for more than three-quarters of a mile, had no response at the top of the stretch. That left Caressing and Platinum Tiara, never more than three or four lengths back, with clear aim as the front-runner faltered.

Caressing took over in midstretch and held Platinum Tiara safe by a half-length. She's a Devil Due and Cindy's Hero, who had an awkward start, rallied for third and fourth, respectively. The final time was 1:42.77, just a second and some change off the track record for the distance.

"She gave me the best she's got," said John Velazquez, who rode Caressing for the first time. (In her previous four starts, Caressing had been ridden by Greta Kuntzweiler, who was injured in a racing accident at Keeneland in October.) "I couldn't have asked for a more perfect trip."

Shane Sellers, who rode Platinum Tiara, said his filly encountered just enough trouble in the stretch to have lost a half-length. Mark Hennig and Jerry Bailey, the trainer and jockey, respectively, of favored Raging Fever, made no excuses for her sixth-place finish.

Continued. . . .