Here's one you don't see every day: A 7-year-old mare and her 2-year-old son are running on the same card this Wednesday at Saratoga.
Both Enthusiastic Gal (Race 9) and Get Set (Race 6) are owned by breeder Joseph Imbesi and trained by Steve Klesaris.
“It's a quite a coincidence that they land on the same day at the same track, same ownership, jockey, trainer,” Klesaris said. “The whole story actually begins with the owner/breeder. He bred this mare because she sustained a tendon injury back in 2016. Research, as he's explained it to me, has shown that impregnated mares, while swapping cells through the bloodstream with the foal, actually create stem cells that heal damaged tissue within the body.”
After breaking her maiden in her second career start, Enthusiastic Gal ran third in an allowance race at Gulfstream on Jan. 1, 2016. She then returned to J.J. Crupi's farm in Ocala where she was diagnosed with a serious bow to her tendon. Imbesi prefers to give his horses at least 18 months for a tendon injury, and decided that breeding Enthusiastic Gal was the best chance she'd have at healing.
“That's common knowledge way back to Ronald Reagan,” said Imbesi, laughing. “I have some doctor friends, and we talk, and it was pretty clear to me that a pregnant mare, as well as a pregnant woman, will manufacture stem cells with the fetus. The stem cells caused by the fetus will cure any ills the dam might have. So it was kind of a natural thing, because this filly showed a lot of ability and it was very frustrating that she got hurt, and we thought, you know what, she's well bred, let's breed her to a reasonable stallion and give her the time.”
Bred to Florida-based Awesome of Course, Enthusiastic Gal (Ecclesiastic) foaled a colt at Imbesi's farm in Pennsylvania on April 3, 2017.
“She had a very nice colt, who was actually a little too full of himself so we had to geld him,” Imbesi said.
Sent back to Crupi in late 2017, Enthusiastic Gal was ready to resume her racing career in the spring of 2018. The mare was previously trained by Benjamin Perkins, but Imbesi was looking to keep her closer to home.
“Years ago when I was stabled at Philadelphia Park I had horses for Joe,” Klesaris said. “I've known Joe a long time, he's an ex-trainer himself. I knew him from New Jersey and I've trained horses for him before. I was headed to Philadelphia Park, and he has a farm not far away, and he had contacted me winter before last and asked what my plans were. We hooked on from there.
“She's with me now, been with me the last year, and you would never know she had a tendon injury. That's how well it healed up. To Joe Imbesi, to his credit, this was a success story with the injured tendon.”
Making her first start in 28 months, Enthusiastic Gal ran fourth in a claiming race at Pimlico in May of 2018. She was third in her next outing, then won a $40,000 claiming race at Belmont Park third off the long layoff.
Enthusiastic Gal was on the board in each of her subsequent starts last year, then took a brief break over the winter months. She returned to capture an allowance race at Belmont in May, then ran a close-up seventh, beaten just 2 ¾ lengths, in the G3 Intercontinental Stakes.
“She's running really well,” Klesaris said. “She had a pretty good season last year, and she started out this year and both races have been very good. At her age, and having an injury, and having a foal, there's a lot to say about that.”
Her 2-year-old son, Get Set, also showed promise in his first start at Parx, finishing fourth after missing the break.
“He had a little hesitation at the start in a 4 ½ furlong dirt race,” Klesaris explained. “You really can't give up anything going that short a distance. I'm optimistically hoping that his ability follows his pedigree on his mother's side.”
Since Enthusiastic Gal runs so well in turf sprints, Wednesday's maiden special weight race for Get Set will also be a turf sprint.
“To tell you the truth, we had pointed for this race (with Enthusiastic Gal),” Imbesi said. “We didn't particularly point the gelding, but it came up as an extra, and when we knew we were going to run her I just couldn't resist.”
While it's not unheard of for mares to continue to race after being bred, it is rare to have a mare back on the track after giving birth.
“This is a first for me, I've never seen it before,” said Klesaris. “I did hear of it once before. There was a trainer in New Orleans one winter, a filly he had at the races that accidentally got in foal. It's pretty unique, coincidental how they land on the same track, same day.”
Imbesi won't be at Saratoga Wednesday to watch the races, instead choosing to stay behind to help train the horses at home. He plans to follow the action on television.
“It's not going to help them win if I'm up there, but it will help them if Steve goes,” said Imbesi, laughing good-naturedly. “I was never at the racetrack when this mare won, so that's another reason I'm staying back.”
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