Trainer Barbara Minshall lauds the day that what was lost was found again.
On Sunday, she won the 130th running of the Breeders Stakes with British Royalty, a horse she lost through the claiming ranks – but was able to get him back, and quickly.
The thought that a horse with such a lofty name could find himself in a claiming race is one thing. But in this contracted thoroughbred season at Woodbine, Minshall was just looking for a turf race for an inexperienced 3-year-old to prepare for the ultimate goal: to win the 1 ½-mile Breeders Stakes, the third jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown and the only one on the turf.
“You take chances sometimes,” she said after the Breeders. “I dropped him in for $25,000, thinking he’d win and nobody would touch him. What happens: I lose him. I was pretty disappointed, but what do you do, right?”
To her utter astonishment, British Royalty, the big gangly thing, was back to run in another claiming race, albeit for a $40,000 price, two weeks later. “I couldn’t get in fast enough to claim him back,” she said. “Right from the beginning, we thought we had a Breeders horse. It was definitely one of those lucky things that I got him back because it was a mistake to run him at that time.”
And having to pay an extra $15,000 to correct a mistake? “At the time, it seemed like nothing,” she said. “Just the fact I had the opportunity to get the horse back, he could have been any price almost, to be honest. I was disappointed I lost the horse. But it’s part of racing, and you just suck it up. I did not want to lose the horse, and I got him back.”
Nobody saw what Minshall saw, though, the day of the Breeders. While others were focused on Queen’s Plate winner Safe Conduct (5 to 2), Frank Stronach’s Riptide Rock, the horse that finished a wild closing second to him in the Plate (and actually the favourite at 5 to 2), and Artie’s Storm, second in the Toronto Cup with a big rally (also 5 to 2), who was looking at Minshall’s son of English Channel?
British Royalty went off at 24 to 1.
British Royalty was a $30,000 yearling purchase in Kentucky, but he was bred by Ontario stalwart Richard Lister. He ended up in Minshall’s barn, and she owns him in partnership with a powerful client, Bruce Lunsford, who has had a delightful weekend. On Saturday, his Art Collector won the $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park, and became a major contender for the $6-million Breeders Cup Classic at Del Mar racetrack near San Diego on Nov. 6.
The fact that Lunsford’s notable black silks with the brilliant cerise sash found a way into Minshall’s barn was a lucky break and one that has breathed life into her training career. “I got fortunate many years ago to meet Bruce and he sent me up a horse,” Minshall said. “You couldn’t ask for a nicer, better owner that really knows the game. He knows the ups and downs of the game better than anybody in the business. We’ve had horses with him for years and we’ve had a few partnerships. I’ve trained a lot of just horses for him. I’m very very fortunate.”
Who is Bruce Lunsford? He’s a 73-year-old U.S. attorney, businessman (at one time, nursing homes) and politician who was a Democratic nominee for a seat in the U.S. senate in Kentucky in 2008, against a vastly funded opponent Mitch McConnell. Even Hilary and Bill Clinton backed him and although he didn’t win, Lunsford outperformed Barack Obama at the top of the ticket by 10 per cent. He has owned racehorses such as Madcap Escapade, First Samurai, Tessa Blue and Bel Air Beauty. And now Art Collector, who at age three, won the Blue Grass Stakes. This year the horse has also won the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga and the G2 Charlestown Classic.
Lunsford and Minshall have always liked British Royalty (the horse.) He won his very first start at Woodbine last October, defeating the filly Curlin’s Catch. And then he went into the Coronation Futurity in his second start, but finished fifth after hitting the gate.
He raced in a $50,000 claimer on the turf at Churchill Downs on May 7 this year and finished seventh, although Minshall thinks he could have won. He was bumped and ran into traffic trouble. In his first start back at Woodbine, he finished ninth, beaten by 15 lengths in a race won by Queen’s Plate candidates Tidal Forces, with Harlan Estate and Keep Grinding second and third. So his light was still under a bushel.
Still, trainer John Charalambous was clever enough to spot the talent when he tagged him out of a claiming race. And had him for two weeks.
Once she got him back, Minshall looked for a turf race to prepare British Royalty for the Breeders Stakes. “I wanted to get him on track, get him on the turf because I knew I wasn’t looking to run him in the Plate, and definitely wasn’t looking to run him in the Prince of Wales. We had our eyes focused on the Breeders. He had been training really well, so we put him in an allowance with older horses. He ran well that day, still a little green down the lane, but raced against some pretty nice horses and I was pretty happy. He breezed well. Patrick [Husbands] breezed him the last couple of times.”
When Minshall went looking for a jockey for the Breedeers, she waited until the nominations came out and figured out which rider would likely ride which horses. Patrick Husbands wasn’t taken. “He’s No. 1 for me in a race like this,” Minshall said. “He worked the horse twice and his agent gave him the call on this horse early.”
And Husbands gave British Royalty the perfect ride. “He was in a pretty good space the whole way around,” Minshall said. “Patrick rode him excellent. He’s a stop rider here. He’s won this race and he knows how to ride these horses. He doesn’t need instructions.”
British Royalty sat sixth on the rail, saving ground on the yielding turf, while Plate winner Safe Conduct set the pace, chased by 24 to 1 shot Collective Force, a Chiefswood Stable entry with only four allowance races to his credit, the last one being a win. Keep Grinding sat third.
British Royalty was in a group behind them and Husbands began to make his move from the catbird seat around the final turn.
British Royalty pulled away to win easily by four lengths in 2:34. Riptide Rock rallied on the inside to get second again. Collective Force, also overlooked, finished third, a well-bred son of Tiznow.
Safe Conduct had held the lead with a quarter mile to go, but faded to finish eight of 12. Artie’s Storm was fifth after racing at the back of the field. Hadassah, who won the Prince of Wales Stakes, was only 14 to 1, and finished 11th after stalking the leaders.
Husbands was winning his fifth Breeders Stakes. No one has won more. The 48-year-old rider also won with Triple Crown winner Wando in 2003, with Royal Challenger in 2006, with Marchfield in 2007 and Dynaformer in 2015.
Husbands said that his agent Leroy Trotman had come to his house to tell him he had a ride for him in the Breeders Stakes, but added “Will you look at the Form?”
Husbands said: “Leroy, that’s what I pay you for. I want to get your opinion.”
Trotman said Minshall told him that Husbands could work the horse and if he didn’t like him “she won’t be mad.”
Husbands did like him. And said the horse ran the way he expected him to.
This was Minshall’s first Breeders win, but she thought she had won another in Mt. Sassafras in 1995. The big chestnut had swooped down on pacesetter Charlie’s Dewan in the stretch and was eyeball to eyeball at the wire. “If you look at the replay, you think he won it,” Minshall said. “It looked like a win. It was that close.”
But Charlie’s Dewan got the nod. Charlie’s Dewan still holds the stakes record of 2:26 2/5, and that was 26 years ago.
Minshall says that in recent years, she hasn’t had a lot of Canadian-bred horses. She is now getting back into getting a few now. She’s had a lot of Kentucky-breds.
Minshall has a stable of about 20 horses, and thought she was poised to have a good year. But her top filly, Dreaming of Drew, is injured and out for the entire year. Dreaming of Drew won the Princess Elizabeth Stakes last fall and looked like Minshall’s best chance for a Woodbine Oaks contender.
She was also hoping for good things with Armistice Day, a gelding that Lunsford bought as a yearling for $245,000. He is now hurt, after two starts this year. But last year, he finished second in the Autumn Stakes, and fifth in the Woodbine Mile.
She’s also had a couple of young horses with minor injuries. “It’s part of the game,” she said. “You just have to plug away and keep going. When you’re in the game a long time, you understand that.”
She has no idea what’s next for British Royalty. (Lunsford named him. After all he’s a son of English Channel out of Queen Martha.) Maybe something out of town. Somewhere that he can have a nice finish for the year. If she can’t find the right race, she won’t run him, just for the sake of racing. She’ll pick her spots. Distance won’t be a problem.
“I always thought he would improve as an older horse,” she said. “He’ll only get better as he gets older.” He’s still learning.
And still big and gangly.