On a beautiful March 7th, in a performance scarcely to be believed, Red Rabbit Racing's Workin For Hops
at Florida's Gulfstream Park in a $50,000 claimer at a mile and a sixteenth on their lush inner turf course! There are Oh so many lucious side stories here so we best start from the beginning....
Drew "Big Country" Coontz is an able assistant trainer in Chris Block's North American Thoroughbred Training enterprise. He is responsible for all Chris' horses based this winter out of Gulfstream Park, in sunny Hallandale, Florida. Big Country had been entrusted with our Workin For Hops when the Hopster had arrived at Gulfstream a couple weeks before our first race there on March 7th.
Under Chris' direction, Big Country breezed our boy twice to ready him for the race. After his second bullet breeze on March 1st, Big Country pronounced the now immortal line that "We're Sitting On Gold!" Why? Because the Hopster had set the fastest workout time that day at 5 furlongs, while overtaking 2 slower horses breezing in front of him as if they were standing still. Big Country was the 1st person on the planet that knew we were live.
The day dawned under a brilliant Florida sky. We were entered in the 3rd race on the card in a field of 8 with the Morning Line Odds set at 8-1. Only Founding Rabbit (Peggy Lenz) and Money Rabbit (Jean Gallo) were able to watch the race in person as they had winged there way down to Florida just the day before. Jockey Jose Lezcano was making his riding debut for RRR, and we were excited to have him as he is a nationally known turf rider. On Raceday eve, Founding Rabbit and Money Rabbit visited the Hopster in his barn and plied him with 5 pounds of Carrots. The Hopster devoured them. He was Happy - and Ready.
As the Hopster was led into the Paddock the actual odds of the race were now starting to be calculated. The Hopster started out as the 5-2 favourite and stayed there. He looked so good strutting round the Parade Ring that the betting public, who could actually see the Hopster, diregarded the Morning Line Odds and bet their money squarely on the broad back of our gelding. They were well rewarded.
The race was being shown on HRTV and as Kathy Rabbit recalls, the on-air announcers were dissing the Hopster Big Time, questioning why anyone would bet us to win given his recent performances where we were well out of the money in his last 3 races. Those announcers were about to get served a smorgasbord full of the only item on their buffet. Tasty Black Crow. Eat it.
The Hopster was the last one loaded into the gate. As soon as he was in there, he started tossing his head about, impatient to be on his way. I worried as he was so animated that he might miss the break when the doors finally opened. Not a chance.
He broke like a bullet, sealing off the 3 horse on his left, and made the lead within the first 10 strides. Jockey Lezcano took firm hold of him as they ripped down the stretch the 1st time. They entered the near turn with the Hopster in front with his seven opponents screaming directly on his ass.
It was then that I first saw them and I could not believe my eyes!
Squarely in front of the Hopster, there must have been 50 birds standing on the turf course, stupidly grazing on grass seed. They were directly in front of the Hopster, now traveling about 35 miles an hour, with Jockey Lezcano holding on for dear life. I thought for sure they would spook our hero,and he would toss Jose, bolt over the rail, and start galloping towards the topless tarts on South Beach. But not our boy. He plowed through those birds, leaving a fair number of them in multiple pieces, and never missed a stride. It was unbelievable. First Bullet Dodged. Picture of the idiot birds is shown right.
So the Hopster is roaring down the Backstretch, on the lead approaching the far turn. Dark Cove, the number 7 horse owned by the famous Ramsey racing family has been gamely holding on for second and is starting to waver trying hard to keep up with our boy. So what does the Hopster do? He kicks it up another notch and absolutley rips the quivering heart from Dark Cove leaving it beating uselessly on the turf in the far turn. A move like that is called "The Dagger".
Into the stretch we go and Jockey Lezcano gets our boy to change leads producing another turn of foot that opens up a 4 length lead mid stretch. Jose keeps our boy focused with a couple of reminders as the field was starting to gain some ground - but we have this race squarely in our control. A victory, our 1st in 2 and 1/2 years!
A jubilant Founding Rabbit, Money Rabbit, and Big Country Rabbit, pile into Gulfstream's beautiful winners circle. A spent Workin Fop Hops steps in and takes a very sweet photo. It was then that we spied the time that the Hopster posted for this race.
Unbelievably, he ran the mile and a sixteenth in 1.40.53! A minute, 40.5 seconds! 100.5 seconds! That is huge. On his best day, 2010 Arlington Park Meet Champion General Charley never bettered 1.42.00! And even though Gulfstream is a fast track, this time is absolutley EYE-POPPING!
Founding Rabbit & Money Rabbit went back to the barn and waited for the Hopster who had to stop off at the Detention Barn for mandatory Drug Testing following his victory. When re-untied, he wolfed down another 3 pounds of carrots and looked to have come through the race in fine fettle.
Many thanks go out to the Hopster first for this magnificent performance. Jockey Lezcano rode this boy brilliantly and will keep this mount as long as we are in Florida. Chris Block & Big Country are doing a stellar job training for us and have given us another unfogettable day. Thanks also to Neil Pesin, who trained the Hopster at the Fairgrounds and delivered him to Big Country in fantastic shape to quickly post this victory.