Avie is scheduled to make what will likely be the final start of her 32-race career to little fanfare in Saturday's fourth race at Laurel Park. Yet, when the 6-year-old Maryland-bred mare takes to the track for the 5 ½-furlong optional claiming allowance, it will be a truly significant moment for her owner, Adam Staple.
Had Avie not joined his stable, multiple-stakes winner Page McKenney would never have entered Staple's life.
“It was only because of her success that I was able to buy Page. Avie was the one who allowed us to get him,” Staple said. “It's probably going to be her last race. We'll probably retire her and breed her. None of this would have been possible if it wasn't for her.”
Avie had just won back-to-back races when Staple put up $16,000 to claim Page McKenney at Penn National July 23, 2013. Page McKenney has gone on to win 14 races and notch eight stakes victories, including his most recent triumph in the Native Dancer Stakes that swelled his career earnings over the $1 million mark.
The Mary Eppler-trained 6-year-old gelding will be honored Saturday at Laurel by the Maryland Racing Media Association as the 2015 Maryland-based Horse of the Year.
The Pennsylvania-bred gelding, who launched his 2016 campaign with a dominating 3 ½-length triumph in the Native Dancer, is slated to return in either Saturday's $75,000 John B. Campbell, one of two supporting stakes to the featured $300,000 Barbara Fritchie (G2) Stakes, or at Monday's $250,000 General George (G3).
For Staple, the journey with Page McKenney continues to amaze the former thoroughbred breeding specialist and Las Vegas dealer.
“I don't know if I can put it into words anymore. It's just been surreal,” he said. “Who would have guessed? Nobody could possibly have expected this.”
Staple certainly didn't expect Page McKenney to become a millionaire, but he did have more than an inkling that the chestnut gelding was a bargain.
“He gave us lots of possibilities being a PA-bred. There was so much upside,” Staple said. “I had done a little researching – my background back in the day when I was in charge of the breeding side of things at Signature Stallions down in Florida was pedigree analysis – and we actually found some stuff in his pedigree that we thought might be a little quality there. We knew there were possibilities.”
Staple gives credit to Eppler for developing Page McKenney into a multiple graded-stakes performer.
“Obviously there are good Maryland people like Mary, but say we were New York people or a different kind of PA trainer, I don't see any way it would have been the same result,” Staple said. “This is almost entirely because of Mary.”
As accomplished as Page McKenney has become, Staple sees no reason why his amazingly consistent gelding shouldn't continue to expand his resume.
“We've seen what Ben's Cat can do at 9 and 10. That's the one who Mary looks at,” said Staple, referring to King Leatherbury's ageless Maryland-based multiple graded-stakes winner. “If we're real careful and treat him right and given that he's so healthy and has such an amazingly great attitude, I'm not sure we can get to 9, but we can do this for a couple more years. He's amazing.”
Staple has graciously shared his good fortune with Page McKenney's breeders and former owners. A couple races after making the claim, he agreed to sell a share of his former claimer to Dr. James E. Bryant & Linda P. Davis's Jalin Stable.
“Being on the breeding side of it years ago, I know if I was racing a horse I'd bred, it could be traumatizing to lose the horse like that. I kept thinking if I ever had the opportunity, if I claimed a horse and if someone who had raised the horse from scratch asked to come back in, I have no business saying, 'No,'” Staple said. “I said you raised this guy. He is who he is because of you. I'm happy to let you back in.”
The upcoming goals for Page McKenney are the Charles Town Classic (G2) and Pimlico Special (G3), races in which he finished third and second, respectively last year.
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