By Ray Paulick
We've all seen horses dropping down the class ladder, but this one was ridiculous.
Delta Storm, a 9-year-old multiple stakes-winning gelding, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita in November and most recently running for a $100,000 claiming tag at Hollywood Park last Dec. 6, showed up in the entry box June 16 at the San Joaquin Fair at Stockton, Calif., in a $3,200 claiming race.
That's right. A horse that won 11 of 34 lifetime starts, competed in Grade 1 stakes like the Ancient Title and Bing Crosby Handicaps, and earned $541,743, was being dropped into a bottom level claiming race on the Northern California fair circuit.
Word spread quickly that Delta Storm had been entered to race at Stockton, and he got the attention of Sharla Sanders, who runs an organization called The Second Race, which helps find retirement homes or second careers for racehorses. Arrangements have been made for Delta Storm to be shipped to the California Equine Retirement Foundation facility in Winchester, Calif.
But questions persist. How did a horse that gave so much wind up running for so little? When has a horse done enough to avoid the slide (or in this case, dramatic drop) down the claiming ladder and often into a gypsy life, changing barns frequently and too often suffering a career or life-ending injury?
Delta Storm, a son of Storm Boot, was bred in Kentucky by Alex Campbell and broke his maiden for Campbell and trainer Robert Reinacher at Gulfstream Park in 2004 in his second start, a maiden special weight race. He remained in the East Coast and Midwest for five years, competing in allowance and high-priced claiming events for Campbell and Reinacher until his 20th start, a $40,000 claimer at Churchill Downs in May 2008. Trainer Tom Proctor claimed him out of the race (which Delta Storm won), but when the then-7-year-old showed up in the starting gate next, at Del Mar two months later, he was carrying the silks of Michael House and trained by Mike Mitchell.
He won a $62,500 claimer for House and Mitchell in August 2008, then elevated to stakes company, winning the Pirate's Bounty Handicap at Del Mar in September and finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Handicap during the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita. Delta Storm ran twice more in 2008, then came back in June 2009 to win the Robert Kerlan Memorial Stakes at Hollywood Park, the first of six consecutive stakes appearances that included a fourth-place finish to Zensational in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby, a fourth in his second Ancient Title attempt, and a fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, beaten just over 2 1/2 lengths by California Flag. He then ran second in the Vernon O. Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park later in November and fifth of six runners carrying a $100,000 tag at the Inglewood track Dec. 6, 2009.
Some time later, Northern California trainer Steve Miyadi got a phone call from his old boss, Mike Mitchell, saying he had a horse for sale that Miyadi might be interested in. “Mike asked me if I wanted the horse,” Miyadi told the Paulick Report. “He said you can run him wherever you want. He's a tough horse to handle, and Mike House figured he's going to get good care at the racetrack and won't hurt anybody. So I bought him, obviously not for a lot of money.” Miyadi declined to disclose how much he paid.
Miyadi gave Delta Storm some time off, put him back in training, then worked him “an easy five-eighths in 1:04.” After another workout on June 12, Miyadi thought the gelding was ready to run, but said he wanted to find the easiest spot possible to give Delta Storm a confidence builder. So he entered him in the $3,200 claiming race at Stockton, a race with a winner's share of $4,775.
“That's probably the biggest drop I've done,” Miyadi said. “He would have won by a furlong, with his chin to his chest. He was even-money on the morning line but would have been 1-9.”
Sanders got word of Delta Storm's entry and starting contacting people, including Grace Belcuore at CERF and former owner Mike House. Ironically, it was House's daughter, Maggi, who tipped off Sanders that the horse was entered at Stockton. “She was upset about it, but didn't have the resources or network to do anything,” Sanders said. “I got in touch with people to see what we could do. I had done some volunteer work for CERF for a number of years and called Grace, saying I thought the horse fit the profile. She said there was a spot available.” Sanders said Delta Storm has been shipped back to Mitchell's barn, and that House has agreed to help sponsor his retirement.
In the meantime, forums at several horse racing websites were buzzing with news of Delta Storm's entry. Clearly, it was not a good public relations move for a stakes winner of half a million dollars to be racing for such a paltry sum of money.
Miyadi was unapologetic about entering the horse.
“Here's my take,” he said. “I could have run him for $20,000 or $16,000. I could get Russell Baze to ride and ask him for everything he's got. I just wanted him to win easy. Some of these people want to eliminate the whole breed and do away with racing completely.
“As long as he's at the track, he's going to get good care. We are having a problem placing these retired horses. When I give a horse away it takes a long time for them to change. There are people who don't know what they are in for when they take a racehorse. Some of them are tough and very hard to handle. And these policies the tracks are putting in place that penalize a trainer if a horse ends up in the wrong hands…how do I control what happens to a horse when I give one away?”
Sanders, who said she has found homes for about 70 horses over the past year, said she always asks about a horse's “temperament or any injuries they might have. Those are all things we take into consideration. I have been told this is a tough horse and that he bites. All that info will be given to CERF. Fortunately, this is one story with a happy ending.”
Copyright © 2010, Paulick Report
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