Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Let it ride

Marlon Miller logo11

Mark Fraser

 UNLIKE infamous Irish gambler Barney Curley, I am one of the world’s worst punters, hence I try not to indulge in that vice too often.

And when I do, I’m quickly reminded of how bad I am, like two Saturdays ago when I spent the afternoon out at Santa Rosa Park, watching the ponies go through their paces.

After failing to cash a ticket for the first few hours I was at the track, owner-breeder Robert Bernard pointed out a horse to me in the seventh race and I agreed with his complimentary remarks about the American-bred first-time starter.

He was a handsome, compact grey colt and caught the eye much more than the short-priced favourite. But with my amazing lack of knowledge of the nags, I decided to err on the side of caution and see how the newcomer handled his initial taste of competition.

Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth!

The only good thing was that I didn’t bet against him, because this three-year-old went about his business like a seasoned pro, running his rivals ragged from the off and beating them by more than ten lengths and clocking a very good time.

But besides my continued lack of betting on a winner, there was more to tell about this impressive newcomer, because you know there’s always a story behind everything in Trinidad…and this is a good one.

Before I go on, the horse’s name is Coroneo and right here I have to apologise to his trainer John O’Brien, who wouldn’t be expecting to read anything so soon about this potential star. But I also have to point out to John that if you wait to tell a good story it might never be told.

So keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that my words don’t blight such a fickle creature as a talented thoroughbred, not long after Coroneo trotted up, I happened to be by the bar where another of John’s owners spoke about the purchase of Coroneo last April at a two-year-old-in-training sale in Ocala, Florida.

The future owners were in a wake somewhere in east Trinidad that day when amongst them they decided that they were going to call John, who was at the sale, to buy a horse for them…but they had conditions.

This was not long after the sad demise of multiple Horse of the Year, Bruceontheloose—one of the best-ever to run in T&T—and the guys in the wake told John they wanted him to get a grey horse—just like “Bruce”.

It was the last day of the sale and the colour specification reduced the 300 lots down to 11 horses and, with a specific purchase price, John and his advisers on spot narrowed their choice down to Coroneo.

He came into the ring with that name, but one of his new owners, Deo Maharaj, joked that a relative told him he should rename the grey “Corodeo”.

By then, Deo had joined the conversation at the bar and brought everyone a drink after the sparkling victory.

Of course, that was when I heard how well Coroneo had been exercising, with another owner in O’Brien’s stable telling me that John didn’t have a horse that could work with him.

Why didn’t someone tell me that before the race?

It reminded me of other fabled thoroughbreds and the talking drums and smoke signals when a really good one is coming up to a true test of his ability, like the gallop report that said Frankel, arguably the best horse of the last 40 years—or ever, if you listen to some pundits—outran a train which was going past in the background as he strode out over the lush gallops at Newmarket in England.

Or that Nashwan could have run up the side of a house, or some such description, so breath-taking was his workout as he prepared for the English 2000 Guineas in 1989.

It’s stories like these which make horse racing the great sport that it is, a past-time that attracts every level of society--from hustlers to royalty--to work with and witness the equine athletes gallop to glory.

All now O’Brien must be still cussing me for mentioning his under-exposed charge amongst such heady company, instead of letting him prove himself, ever aware of the extreme highs and lows of the game, with disappointment lurking around every bend.

That’s another fascinating aspect of racing, the resilience of its principals, from owner to trainer to jockey to groom to horse, and the way they bounce back from adversity, especially the little men in the saddle who risk their lives in every race.

And the owners and breeders of the thoroughbreds who keep it going, so you can’t help but tip your cap to them anytime they get the opportunity to lead in a winner.

So I could only be happy for Deo, who I’ve known for years around the Santa Rosa paddock, back in the days when Patrick De Freitas trained Chatter Girl for my mother, and my brother and I would get invited to Patrick’s weekly wild meat cook-ups.

Among the guests in Patrick’s fly-infested stable, which he had converted into a liming and kitchen area, were diehard horsemen like Deo and Jerry Narace, along with then government minister John Donaldson and a few other PNM big shots, most of whom didn’t know the head from the tail of any horse that walked by.

With the exception of some of those political parasites, almost everyone you meet in racing is a character who has some kind of story to tell, from the dirt-poor groom right up to the noblest aristocrat.

Like the Parbhoos, who left their vegetable garden in San Juan to race with the big boys in the United States, owning and training a Breeders’ Cup winner in Trinniberg, who also took them to the world’s richest race day in far-off Dubai.

Oh, the tales they could tell, placing them alongside the great raconteurs of T&T racing, like the late Dr Steve Bennett and former champion trainer Joe Hadeed.

So I just had to tell this one about Coroneo and hope for John and Deo’s sake, that there are more occasions to praise his name…knock wood!