When the curtain closed on last year, Joe Sharp's stable landed $1,072 purse dollars short of the career best season they enjoyed in 2017 ($4,554,157). It was a successful campaign by any standard, particularly for an operation that has only been in existence for six years, but Sharp's aspirations know no boundaries.
“That was my Girvin year,” Sharp said of 2017 and the Risen Star (G2), Louisiana Derby (G2) and Haskell (G1) winner that put him in the national spotlight. “We did it the hard way in 2019. It was a good year, but I'm a little bit hard on myself. I push myself and want every year to be better than the previous one. We had a lot of solid, useful horses, but no big stars in the barn.”
After falling just short in his all-out pursuit of the Fair Grounds title in recent years, Sharp has seven wins at the current stand, which ties him with multiple trainers for fifth in the standings.
“We had a good last weekend at Churchill, winning two on the big 2-year-old day,” Sharp explained. “It's slowed the start of our meet at the Fair Grounds, but it's all relative. The purse boost in Kentucky really helped our numbers. Winning maiden special weight and allowances is like winning two races in years prior. We definitely felt the stimulus of the purse structure in Kentucky, which we call home. I don't think we've made any wrong moves.”
Sharp has a well-balanced barn and he will continue to win races at all levels. He has several proven class horses with upside, and some young stock worth keeping an eye on.
Carl Moore Management's Louisiana-bred 4-year-old filly Midnight Fantasy, a two-time restricted stakes winner, was most recently disqualified from a victory in the Louisiana Ladies Sprint on Champions Day.
“We had her at Saratoga this summer so we could have some options open on the East Coast,” Sharp said. “She was making a lot of noise and her breathing was labored over the summer. Carl (owner Moore) and I had a conversation about it. We did a dynamic scope on her and realized that we had to help her out a little bit and do some work on her throat. So we sent her to True Baker at Hagyard's and he did a procedure on her.”
“She's gotten bigger, stronger and happier,” Sharp said. “She's not fretting the airway and she seems confident in herself and physical being. That (Louisiana Ladies Sprint) was her first race back. We were really over the moon with the way she ran. She was the winner without a doubt. We were the best horse. That being said, it was very ugly. It was the right call. You can't step out three paths inside the sixteenth pole and expect to have no ramifications from that. We were very happy to see her back just as good if not better than ever. We are excited about this year for sure.”
The Plan: “We are looking at the Premier Night Matron (five furlongs, LA-bred f&m) at Delta Downs on February 8.”
Calumet Farm's 4-year-old colt Tracksmith, the recent winner of the Woodchopper over Fair Grounds Stall-Wilson turf course.
“He's one of my favorites,” Sharp said. “He came out of the race (Woodchopper) super. He shows up every time, which is all you can really ask for. He is scheduled to work back next weekend.”
The Plan: “I think we will probably point him for the remainder of the turf series here (Colonel E. R. Bradley up next on January 18), but we are also taking a look at the John B. Connolly (G3) at Sam Houston (1 ½ miles turf). I've always wanted to try him over an even longer distance so the 1 ½ miles seems like something we want to entertain. We have a couple horses for that division and kind of just need to see how everything shakes out.
Scott and Evan Dilworth's Canadian-bred 3-year-old colt Sycamore Run, who wired ten rivals over six furlongs at Fair Grounds on debut by 3 ½ lengths.
“He ran great on debut,” Sharp said. “We thought he was that good. He's one of those you can lead over there with confidence that the morning is going to convey to the afternoon. He has a solid disposition. Some horses can work fast in the morning but you don't know how they're going to show up in the afternoon. You could put some faith in this horse. Came out of the race great and had just a super work Saturday morning (bullet breeze :47 4/5) It was a little quicker than I had hoped for, but he worked in company with O Serafina and got to her pretty easy and did it within himself. We are excited.”
The Plan: “I think we are going to point him to Lecomte (G3 on January 18). There is a first-level allowance race prior that we are going to look at, but I don't think we'd be out of line by taking the plunge in his next start. Physically he looks a little more like a sprinter, but he's very mentally stable. He's got a lot of gears. In those big fields, having tactical speed is always important for position, but also the ability to shut off and save something for the end is crucial. I think he has those qualities. Whether he's going to be a 1 ¼ mile horse down the road remains to be seen, but I think in the early stages of his road to Louisiana Derby, I think this step should be well within his scope. As a Canadian-bred, we have options, which is nice come summer. The horse can be anything he wants to be. Scott just wants to compete at the top level and not try to force them to be something they're not. The horse will pick their path.”
Carl R. Moore Management's 5-year-old mare Classy Act, multiple graded stakes placed, most recently won a third-level optional claiming/allowance sprint at Fair Grounds.
“I think the race at Delta (sixth as the favorite on November 15) was a compete throw out,” Sharp said. “She was training great going in. We sent her down a week before. She had no excuse. Timmy (jockey Thornton) had her in a good position. Some horses just don't handle it there. After the big race at Charlestown (second in the Pink Ribbon on September 21) I thought she would handle the bullring, but the surface is completely different. She ran against some of the toughest fillies out there her 3-year-old year, and has run hard enough to warrant being a stakes winner, but has always been a bridesmaid. For her residual (value), we definitely want to get her that stakes win.”
The Plan: “We are looking at the Nelson J. Menard (January 25 at Fair Grounds, 5 ½ furlongs turf, for f&m),” Sharp said. “She likes the grass and she showed (in that win) the other day that she's got her speed back. We don't have a filly and mare sprint series for stakes mares at Fair Grounds, so it kind of forces you to go to Oaklawn with horses like that, unless they like turf. We'll start there and see where it takes us.”
Calumet Farm's 3-year-old colt Blackberry Wine, impressive maiden winner in the slop two starts back at Churchill, most recently third in a Fair Grounds allowance on turf.
“That turf was very yielding the other day when he ran on it,” Sharp said. “It looked like he was going to pull away turning for home, but Adam (jockey Beschizza) said when he let his head loose on that soft turf, he faltered a little bit. We've been high on him since day one. He's headed in the right direction and has a lot of upside. That's why we took him to Saratoga to start.We will try to get a firm turf, but he's also shown he likes the off (main) track.”
The Plan: “It's not out of the realm of possibility for Mr. (Brad) Kelly (Calumet Farm) to want to take a shot in the Lecomte (G3 on January 18) with a horse like that, but there's also that first-level allowance we might point him for as well.”
Bruce Lunsford's homebred 3-year-old colt, Art Collector, a maiden winner on turf at Kentucky Downs and most recently an allowance winner over a sloppy track at Churchill by 7 ½ lengths.
“He kept getting better, but he danced every dance as a 2-year-old,” Sharp said. “He'd run on the asphalt if you asked him to. No issues came up, but he's not a huge horse, so we wanted to give him a freshening. We turned him out at Kesmarc (in Versailles, Kentucky). Horses like him often hit a growth spurt. You have to treat every horse like an individual and plot their course accordingly.
The Plan: “The expectation is for him to return to training at Fair Grounds at the end of the month (January),” Sharp said. “He's by Bernardini, so we don't think distance will be a factor.”
Richard Snyder, Connie Snyder, Brett Setzer and Billie Jo Stetzer's 4-year-old colt Malpais, minor stakes winning sprinter.
“He had a little bit of an issue pop up after the Chick Lang (last start on May 18),” Sharp said. “We've given him the time. He's one or two works away (from returning). He's coming back like a bear. Bigger, stronger and doing everything well within himself, so we are pretty excited about his year. He's a really nice horse. We tried the Lecomte with him last year, but he didn't show the desire to want to settle and rate within the pack and conserve that stamina over a longer distance. That's fine. There's a lot of good opportunities for sprinters out there.”
The Plan: “He's going to target the Duncan Kenner (January 18 at Fair Grounds), or he'll go to Sam Houston on January 26th (Stonerside Sprint).”
Scott and Evan Dilworth's 4-year-old filly Lady TNT, winner of the Charlestown Oaks (G3) on September 21 in her final race of the season.
“She's turned out on my farm in Kentucky,” Sharp said. “She hadn't had any breaks, so we opted to kick her out and give her 90 days to just be a horse. (Owner) Scott (Dilworth) and I kind of road mapped it. There are no sprint races at Fair Grounds for a horse like her, so we needed to map out her year accordingly.”
The Plan: “She'll start back in training in February at Fair Grounds,” Sharp said.
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