A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
What is it about some horses that captures fans’ imaginations?
Think legends like Kelso, John Henry, and Whitmore, and then add one more name to that list: Dr Blarney.
This veteran gelding is on the precipice of a record as he prepares to say goodbye to his racing days. Behind him, an adoring fan base, including his breeder-owner, trainer, and jockey, are celebrating the longevity of this Massachusetts-bred, one of the last representatives of a state with deep racing roots.
Made in the Bay State
Massachusetts native Joseph DiRico remembers his first trip to the races at Suffolk Downs at age 11, a day when he won money on a 50-1 longshot named Fun Flight. That whetted his appetite for the sport, which he shared with his father; the two owned and bred Thoroughbreds for years, with Dr Blarney the product of several generations of broodmares the DiRicos bred themselves.
In addition to their band of mares, the DiRicos stood the stallion Disco Rico, a multiple Grade 3-winning sprinter, at Keane Stud in New York. There, Disco Rico shared the stallion barn with Dublin, the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes winner and son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex. “I always liked Dublin’s pedigree,” Joseph DiRico said. “I had a share in him. My mares were right there [at Keane], too.” One of those broodmares was Dr. Capote.
A DiRico homebred, Dr. Capote’s dam was Dr Margaret, a stakes winner who also produced Dance Gal Dance and Dr Disco, both black-type stakes winners by Disco Rico. Pairing Dr. Capote with Dublin produced Dr Blarney, who started his career as “a big, goofy-acting baby,” remembers Jessica Paquette, whose job as vice president of marketing at Suffolk Downs gave her a chance to see the chestnut in his earliest starts.
Jockey Tammi Piermarini, who has been aboard Dr Blarney for 32 of his 39 starts so far, remembers his early days well: “As a 2-year-old, he had a very big, spicy attitude, one made galloping him a challenge. You always had to be tied on and never to let your guard down because in an instant you could be left sitting on the ground watching him run away.”
It was not just his attitude that was a challenge. Dr Blarney’s stride was a question mark, too, making his racing career all the more remarkable. “They didn’t think he would make it because he would wing that [right] leg pretty bad,” DiRico recalls. “But Lucia Carroll saw something in him when he was training in South Carolina early on.”
Dr Blarney debuted in July 2015 at Monmouth Park, winning his first time out. The following year, at age 3, he won the first of three Last Dance Stakes, a stakes restricted to Massachusetts-breds, and has since added other state-bred stakes to his resume, including four editions of the Rise Jim Stakes. The gelding has made the winner’s circle a regular destination at racetracks across the Mid-Atlantic and New York areas, including one memorable trip to Delaware Park.
Going for a Record
By the fall of 2018, this son of Dublin was into his fourth season on the racetrack with multiple state bred stakes wins. In the DTHA Governors Handicap, Dr Blarney waded into even deeper waters, facing horses like Unbridled Juan and Fellowship. With his favorite jockey aboard, the son of Dublin shined. “He was carrying high weight on a 96 to 97-degree day, and beat some really nice horses that day,” DiRico remembers.
“He ran a monster race. He’s always liked Delaware and races well there,” trainer Karl Grusmark, who took over conditioning Dr Blarney in 2017, said about the three-quarter-length victory. As DiRico accepted the trophy from Gov. John Carney, the win was also a memorable one for another member of Team Dr Blarney: it was Piermarini’s 2,500th career victory. Twenty-two of those wins came on the hard-knocking gelding.
“That win was very special because it was on Blarney for a trainer that I’ve known for 40 years and an owner I’ve known for close to 40 years, and we’re all from Massachusetts,” Piermarini recalls about that milestone triumph.
Now age 9, eight seasons into his career, Dr Blarney has a fan base that has treasured getting to know this stalwart racehorse. “I think he’s a throwback to a horse of a different era, when horses ran for multiple seasons,” Paquette observes. Fans turn out in force whenever he races, enchanted by his love for his job and his will to win.
“He’s won from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and has speed at all distances. He’s well-rounded, very versatile,” Grusmark says about his charge. “Any horse that draws public attention is good for the sport. We need more horses like him.”
The fact that Dr Blarney is “quite a big boy a rich chestnut in color with lots of chrome,” as Piermarini describes him, does not hurt either. Standing 16.3 hands, the 9-year-old gelding can be on his toes on the racetrack but is laid back in the barn. “He has quite a personality. You can put your arms around him,” DiRico says. “He’s a real ham. He just loves attention. He loves being petted and given carrots. He’s a cool horse to be around.”
“Heart goes a long way in horse racing and Dr Blarney stole mine many years ago,” his regular rider says, “He’s my man. He just looks right through you.”
Grusmark gives all credit for Dr Blarney’s condition to the gelding’s regular groom, assistant trainer Paul Eubbink. “He loves to have Paul take him out in the yard and graze, loves having his head scratched between his ears.”
This week, Dr Blarney added another start at one his favorite places, Delaware Park. Piermarini was aboard again as the gelding finished fifth Aug. 24 as he approaches a milestone, becoming the richest Massachusetts-bred ever. With $753,718 won after Wednesday's race, this son of Dublin is only $26,647 away from taking the title from Ask Queenie, who raced from 2003 to 2010. As always, a crowd of enthusiastic fans were trackside to watch the old guy run again with a chance to make history.
Last of His Kind
Racing and breeding in Massachusetts go back nearly a century, but the recent closure of Suffolk Downs has left the state bereft of a place to race. For DiRico, whose family ties to racing date back to his father’s trip to Suffolk on its 1935 opening day, his homebred is a throwback to a different time: “Blarney brings back all of those memories of how racing used to be.”
Their circuit may not command the same attention, but this chestnut gelding with 26 wins from 39 races shines as an example of what keeps people coming back for more: names and faces that are as familiar to them as the places they grew up, a durable horse that loves his job each time he steps out onto the racetrack. “He became a hometown hero to many fans,” says Piermarini. “A horse that never let you down. A horse you could always count on. A local horse that was and still is a winning machine. Everybody loves a winner.”
Paquette echoes those sentiments. “He’s a hard-knocking horse, a testament to the DiRicos’ breeding program,” she observes. “He’s a reminder that great horses can come from anywhere.”