Welcome to this week’s edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. Each week in this spot we present the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
As for this week’s story, it’s about a golden moment on one of the sport’s biggest stages for the little guys in the sport.
The field for Saturday’s Grade 1 $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park featured a fitting collection of the sport’s bluebloods.
The field included:
- Thunder Snow, the Dubai World Cup winner from Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum‘s world-renowned Godolphin Stable.
- Mendelssohn, the $3 million yearling from the famed Coolmore operation who won the UAE Derby by a mile and was second in the Travers.
- Diversify, the winner of last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup who captured the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in August.
- Gronkowski, the runner-up in the Belmont Stakes.
And yet none of those stars wound up in the winner’s circle.
Instead the victory went to Discreet Lover, a 45-1 shot purchased for $10,000 by Uriah St. Lewis, a Parx-based, 60-year-old black owner/trainer who was a born in Trinidad and before Saturday had a just single graded stakes win in a career that started in 1988.
Talk about your feel-good stories. There was nothing discreet about this one. There was a loud, emotional and uplifting moment in the winner’s circle as St. Lewis and his family celebrated a highly emotional victory by a neck over Thunder Snow that seemed almost inconceivable to some observers.
“It was one of the great feelings in my life,” St. Lewis said on Monday. “That race is so prestigious and it was the 100th running. I appreciated that victory and thanked God for it. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience anything like this again, so I’m enjoying it. And to think we did it with a $10,000 horse. I keep pinching myself and asking myself, ‘Did this happen? Did it really happen?’”
Yes, it did, though even a few days later, it’s still hard to believe. After all, one of the nation’s premier dirt races for older horses went to a horse who is the living, breathing embodiment of a longshot.
In his 44 career starts, Discreet Lover has raced in a stakes 31 times and owned a single Grade 3 win before Saturday. Yet on 20 occasions, the 5-year-old horse was 20-1 or more and Saturday marked the eighth time he was sent off between 20-1 and 49-1. As preposterous as it sounds, he was a 238-1 shot in the 2016 Pennsylvania Derby.
Yet for all of those huge prices, he was also third or fourth in four graded stakes this year.
“This horse tries all the time. He just doesn’t get any respect,” said St. Lewis, an obscure figure in his own right with 376 wins in a 30-year training career, mostly at small racetracks. “He’s like Rodney Dangerfield.”
In a twist of fate, Discreet Lover did get a strong level of respect in his previous race, the Woodward Stakes. After finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at 79-1, third in the Grade 2 Suburban at 41-1 and third in the Grade 1 Whitney at 38-1, he was a key player in the Grade 1 stakes on the closing weekend at Saratoga. But the son of Repent was kept closer to the pace than usual and he lacked his customary closing kick in the Woodward, fading to 12th in a field of 14.
As a result, he was once again relegated to the role of an overlooked outsider at long odds in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
“It looks like he can read the odds board,” St. Lewis said. “When he was 12-1, he got a lot of attention and he ran badly. Here was 50-1, dropped to 45-1 and he ran fantastic.”
Aided by a killer 1:09.13 pace that had St. Lewis “licking my chops,” Discreet Lover rallied from sixth in the field of eight and lit up the toteboard with a $93 win price that had the owner/trainer in a hurry to head to the betting widows to cash some large bets on his horse.
“It’s the first Grade 1 for the horse and myself. He did it all,” Lewis said after the race. “All I want to do is go cash my ticket.”
With a wallet loaded with cash, St. Lewis could have funded a lavish party after he, his wife, his son and assistant trainer Uriah St. Lewis Jr., and daughter left Belmont Park. Instead, he loaded Discreet Lover into a van and returned home to Pennsylvania – where he promptly went to sleep.
“We had the truck and trailer for Discreet Lover and a car behind it and we had a great time driving home,” St. Lewis said. “We were laughing, talking about the race and calling people. It was one of those feelings you can’t describe. When we got home, I went to bed. We were all so tired and had to get up early in the morning and take care of my horses.”
In a footnote to the Discreet Lover’s unlikely victory, he was placed on the veterinarian’s list after the race because of concerns over his physical condition. St. Lewis shrugged it off, saying the same thing happened after the Met Mile and the 5-year-old bounced back in his next start to finish third in the Suburban.
“After the race, they were interviewing (jockey Manny Franco) on horseback, so they were walking back slowly instead of letting him jog back so we could get some water on him and he tied up (muscle cramps or soreness). They put him on the vet’s just like he did when he tied up after the Met Mile. He was drained. He gave everything he had to win that race. He was good and tired that night after the race but he ate up everything. He ate up everything Sunday night and he was much more active (Monday). In a couple of days we’ll get him back on the track and afterwards, we’ll work him and get him off the vet’s list.”
Discreet Lover will need to work four furlongs in 52 seconds to be cleared for racing, something St. Lewis said his horse “could do in his sleep.”
Once that’s in the rearview mirror, Discreet Lover will most likely take advantage of the free spot in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic that he earned by triumphing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge series race. Not surprisingly, the always confident and optimistic St. Lewis has high hopes in advance of the rich Nov. 3 showdown at Churchill Downs.
“We’ll go down there to the Breeders’ Cup because we can beat everyone in the field,” St. Lewis said. “We beat the best in the East in the Gold Cup and that horse in California (Accelerate) has a trainer (John Sadler) who can’t win outside of California. I’m not worried about them.”
After that, St. Lewis is “leaning heavily” toward retiring Discreet Lover. He says he has already received inquiries from Taylor Made Farm and Woodford Thoroughbreds, which bred Discreet Lover, in regards to standing the Florida-bred as a stallion. With earnings of $1,354,060 and a Grade 1 win to his horse’s credit, St. Lewis expects a few more calls on his cell phone before November rolls around.
“Taylor Made called about three months ago and they were the first to say they would like to have him as a stallion. Now that he’s a Grade 1 winner, we’ll get some other offers,” St. Lewis said. “He’s run 44 times and if he wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I’ll be happy to retire him. My goal has been to run a horse in the Breeders’ Cup and if we get there, that’s good enough for me. Whatever happens, I’m leaning heavily toward retiring him. I just want him to have a good home after all he’s done for us. He deserves it.”
After defying the odds and winning the centennial edition of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, who could argue with that?
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry:
Vale Dori wins Zenyatta in stunning upset
Game Winner pulls away in American Pharoah
Finger Lakes pledges per start aftercare contribution