For the price of a used car, anyone could have claimed Kenneth Ramsey’s Slip Away last year. After running him in two $10,000 claiming races in 2008, trainer Tom Voss is now thanking his lucky stars that no one else managed to recognize the flashy gray gelding’s potential back then.
If they had, Voss likely wouldn’t have been saddling Slip Away as the bettors’ favorite at the $50,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial hurdle stakes in New Kent, Va., on July 12, and veteran jockey Chip Miller might not have scored his first Ferguson win.
But as it was, the aptly-named Slip Away delighted his fans and easily dusted the competition in grand style, running off with his sixth win in seven starts. Up against a slew of serious contenders, the gelding shot to the lead going down to the first fence of 10 and never relinquished his position. He led the rest of the field by a good 14 lengths at more than one point during the race.
“I guess we were lucky we didn’t lose him in a claim,” Voss admitted. “He’s turned out to be a nice horse.”
Stakes champions William Pape’s Mixed Up (Danielle Hodsdon), Mrs. S.K. Johnston Jr.’s Swagger Stick (William Dowling) and Sheila Williams’ Rare Bush (Xavier Aizpuru) tried to keep up with the Kentucky-bred, but they could never quite manage to get there.
By the last fence, the gap between Slip Away and the rest of the pack had closed to about 6 lengths, but Miller asked for a big one, and the two landed galloping off to the wire to win by 5 lengths over Mixed Up. Swagger Stick closed for third, and Rare Bush grabbed fourth-placed money.
Until the paddock, Miller had never sat on the horse and only got the call a few weeks prior to the race. Subbing for an injured Padge Whelan, who usually rides for Voss, Miller was happy to get a ride on a horse with five wins to his name.
But despite the resounding victory, the Pennsylvania jockey said the race didn’t exactly unfold according to plan.
“I started with the intention of going in behind someone,” Miller said. “There were two or three horses in there that like to go out in front, so I figured somebody would make the effort. So I turned him at the start and went, and everybody else stood still.
“This horse has been in front in other races, but this was his first time in a stakes,” Miller added. “When you’re out in front, you’re going the fastest and you’re racing the hardest out of everyone. I was surprised that I was out that far out in front, but maybe he’s that good of a horse. Usually you can hear them jumping behind you, but I couldn’t hear anything.”
With Whelan now retired after his fall in May (see sidebar), Voss has struggled all summer to find good jockeys who are free to ride his horses.
“Chip was 8 pounds overweight,” Voss said. “But I would rather take the extra weight than have a jockey that probably couldn’t ride a good race. Most likely I’ll put him up again on Slip Away and on Planets Aligned at Saratoga Springs [N.Y.].”
Fortunately for the 39-year-old Miller, the more a horse wins, the more weight is added, so it’s not likely that he’ll have to try to make the low 140s again.
Last year Slip Away also won a $15,000 starter allowance at High Hope (Ky.), a $10,000 claiming race at Morven Park (Va.), a $20,000 starter allowance at the Colonial Cup (S.C.) and the $25,000 starter allowance at Palm Beach (Fla.). This year he topped the field again at High Hope as well.
Slip Away’s sire, the three-time Eclipse Award winner Skip Away, is one of the top three North American earners of all time and is one of the few horses to beat the legendary Cigar.
Now bound for Saratoga, Slip Away will most likely be going for the two Grade I races, the A.P. Smithwick on Aug. 6 and the New York Turf Writers on Aug. 27. He’ll be up against many from the Zeke Ferguson again, plus Hudson River Farms’ stakes winner Sovereign Duty and Pape’s novice champion The Price Of Love, both of whom ran well later in the day at Colonial Downs in a flat race for jumpers.
Slow And Steady
It took most of the season, but Eldon Farm Racing Stable’s Aero is a maiden no more after winning the $15,000 maiden hurdle.
Jockey Paddy Young kept the 4-year-old Irish-bred son of Northern Spur covered up for most of the running but gave a good kick in the end to keep him more than 3 lengths ahead of Aylor Racing Stable’s Meshwaar and Colvin “Gregg” Ryan.
Young would have liked a little more pace, however.
“We went so slow,” Young said. “I was kind of in trouble at such a slow gallop. It was very impressive that he did pick up at the end there. I don’t think it was a particularly good race, but all he needed was a confidence-builder. I think when you’re running them and they’re not winning, it gets to their head a little bit.”
This is the second win for Eldon owner Ken Luke and Virginia trainer Doug Fout at Colonial. The pair won with Coupe De Ville on June 28 in the $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle.
One of Fout’s owners, Ernie Oare of EMO Stables, has taken up training some of his own horses this summer. It’s not a new venture, though, as the Warrenton, Va., native used to train jumpers and flat horses in the 1970s and ’80s for tracks in Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, New York and New Jersey and has about 14 horses in training for the flat and over jumps at Colonial Downs.
Oare’s hard work has paid off. His horses have been running in the money lately, and his Indy Run grabbed the $15,000 maiden hurdle at Colonial Downs on June 14 and was third in a $7,500 flat race on Zeke Ferguson weekend.
Jump jockey Roddy MacKenzie has the ride on Indy Run, Western Dynamo and Sweep Domino for Oare and is expected to run the horses at Saratoga Jump Start in late July.
“I’ve been watching Roddy ride for a couple of years,” Oare said. “In my opinion, Roddy has the potential to be one of the ‘greats,’ and I was able to make an arrangement with him at the first of the year, which gave me first call for his services.”
Oare added, “Roddy is certainly a top athlete but has the all-important attitude, which is a combination of killer instinct and intelligence. Another plus in his corner is the fact he doesn’t have to starve to make weight. Roddy is naturally small and can arrive at the paddock with a smile on his face as opposed to having to shed 5 pounds at the last minute.”
In addition, Oare has two assistant trainers helping him.
“I’m fortunate enough to have Skip Brittle and Barry Duncan,” Oare said. “Not only are those two gentlemen top horsemen, they’re both top riders.”
There comes a time in a jockey’s career when he has to hang up his tack and stop riding races. Most would like it to be because of age, but unfortunately, because of the dangerous nature of racing over fences, some have to retire due to career-ending injuries. Padge Whelan is one of those jockeys.
Whelan, 30, took a bad fall at the Fair Hill Races on May 23, sustaining facial fractures and a concussion. It was the16th major fall of his life, and like the most of his concussions before, it knocked him out cold.
A concussion is essentially a temporary loss of normal brain function, and most people recover from the brain injury, but sometimes people develop long-term disabilities from the re-peated head trauma. After visiting a neurologist, the Irishman got the news no athlete wants to hear: the next one might be his last.
Whelan is devastated at having to quit jump racing, which essentially has been his life for the past 11 years, but he has plans to embark on a training career. He and his wife Candice and their daughter are heading back to Ireland this summer. They’re also expecting their second child.
“I’ve got a bit of land in Ireland where I will set up stables,” Whelan said. “I’ll transfer my experience and will to succeed into my next career.”
Whelan also said he’s looking forward to the day he can bring one of his trainees “across the pond” for a go at some of the best races the United States has to offer, but admitted that’s probably a long way off.
Whelan started working for Tom Voss last year and won his first sanctioned race on Perry Bolton’s Gigger on April 5, 2008, at Stoneybrook (N.C.). In all, Whelan had 20 victories, 24 seconds and 11 thirds and made $629,728 in U.S. purse earnings while working mostly for Voss.
This year alone, he had six wins, one of which was in the $50,000 Marcellus Frost at Iroquois (Tenn.) with Fox Ridge Farm’s Planets Aligned.
“Mr. Voss has a great method of training, and he’s a terrific horseman,” Whelan said. “I learned a lot from him.”
Voss had begun to count on the quiet young man.
“I’m going to miss the camaraderie of the jocks room,” Whelan said. “Jump jocks are the best bunch of guys you’ll meet, and it’s no exception in the States. It’s hard to go out like this, but I have a wife and a baby girl I love more than anything. I’ve had a memorable career, and this way I’ll still be able to remember it!”