After Gray Attempt became tougher to handle in the morning following his victory in the $125,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 25 at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., trainer Jinks Fires turned to an old friend for help with the Graydar colt.
Enter trainer John Henry Prather, 66, who has regularly galloped Gray Attempt the last few weeks in preparation for Monday's $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds.
Fires, 78, said he's been friends with Prather since the early 1970s when both worked as exercise riders for the late Doug Davis, Oaklawn's leading trainer in 1969, '70 and '75. Chel-c Bailey had been Gray Attempt's regular exercise rider and worked the colt before his 3-year-old debut in the Smarty Jones, Oaklawn's first of four major preps for the Kentucky Derby.
“He was starting to get really tough,” said Fires, who has used Prather as an exercise rider in the past. “John, he's an old hand. We were just trying to get him relaxed. Chel-c has done a great job on him so far. I was just trying to get him relaxed, and John has a tendency to be able to do that. He's been a gallop boy for a lot of years. That's what older guys with good hands do.”
Fires normally takes Gray Attempt to the track after the break to renovate the racing surface, when there is less traffic. Gray Attempt was a front-running winner of the Smarty Jones – his first start around two turns – and will try to carry his speed 1 1/16 miles in the Southwest.
“He's a very a good horse,” Prather said. “Since I've been getting on him, he's settled down quite a bit.”
Gray Attempt is just one chapter in a busy morning for Prather, a longtime Hot Springs resident who also gallops and breezes his eight-horse Oaklawn string. Prather has saddled 90 career winners, according to Equibase, racing's official data gathering organization, including Silverado Road Feb. 7.
“We get my horses out and then I come over here and get him first thing after the break,” Prather said of Gray Attempt.
Fires said he has so much confidence in Prather's hands that he wouldn't have hesitated to use him on Gray Attempt – even if Prather had a horse in the Southwest.
“He would still come over, and I wouldn't be afraid to put him on him, either,” Fires said. “He's honest. He would do the best he could do.”
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