Monday, December 19, 2011
Trainer Blacker hits ground running
INGLEWOOD, CA -- Folks on the Southern California racing circuit have been rooting for Dan Blacker to win his first race as a trainer ever since the young horseman struck out on his own on Nov. 11 this year.
They didn't have to wait very long.
Sunday, Blacker saddled just the fourth starter of his fledgling career in the fourth race at Hollywood Park. That 5-year-old mare named Hameildaeme would also give him his first victory as a head-bob on the wire sent the 29-year-old and the owners who believed in him to the winner's circle, but the ups and downs of the racing game played out for the team as they lost the runner for a $25,000 tag to trainer Dean Greenman and Calabria Stables in the one-mile turf event for older fillies and mares.
"It's a shame because she's a real special filly and we're all very fond of her, so it's a bit sad even though it's great to get the win," Blacker remarked. "She's a real character, fun to be around in the barn, and a brilliant workhorse who always puts in her best effort whether running in the race or in the mornings."
Last time we checked in with Blacker he was galloping Blue Grass Stakes winner Brilliant Speed up to a 2011 Kentucky Derby bid, working as an assistant to trainer Tom Albertrani. He's done a lot since then, moving from the East Coast to California at the end of the summer and opening a public stable. A native of England who graduated with the 2007 class of the Darley Flying Start Program, he actually worked with trainer Richard Mandella in California before shifting to the East Coast for a few years. When he came back to California this September, former trainer Jamie Lloyd was just leaving to concentrate on his bloodstock business in England. Lloyd put in a good word with some of his owners, and three horses came Blacker's way. Two others recently purchased by Lloyd at Tattersalls brought the young trainer's starting lineup to five.
"If someone comes up to me and says, 'Dan, I want to buy a horse and just have fun winning races; I'm looking for a horse to get running soon and get some wins and have some fun,' Jamie Lloyd is the best at getting a horse like that," Blacker remarked. "I owe him a lot and I owe a lot to my owners for giving me a shot with their horses. It's obviously really exciting to get the win right off the mark; as a trainer, you're trying to get a win early on in your career so it's a good relief."
In the Dec. 18 event, jockey Victor Espinoza saved ground off the pace, moved up along the inside going into the second turn, and guided the mare out for room to wear down the frontrunner inside the final furlong.
"Victor gave her a super ride," Blacker said. "He was really patient on her today and when I felt like she might get into a bit of trouble, he anticipated and waited and luckily the gap opened up."
Fittingly, Blacker's first winner is a British-bred daughter of Storming Home whose past performances include eight starts in England and starts in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup and the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks in 2009. Hameildaeme was graded stakes-placed when she finished third in that year's Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap for majority partners Jim Ford, Richard Ansede, and Mark Nichols.
Blacker, who galloped Brilliant Speed throughout his 3-year-old campaign and who exercised many of Albertrani's top stakes contenders in recent years, is still getting on his own horses every morning.
"I enjoy riding, but that's not the reason I do it," he said. "I feel every horse has dual personalities -- one you know from being around them in the barn and one you get to know on their back -- and it's great to be around both sides. If things pick up and I'm fortunate enough to get more horses, I'll have to make that call when I can't gallop any more. But right now it's a real benefit to know how they're doing. Hameildaeme tried to buck me off about 10 times today, so I knew she was going into this race feeling extremely well."
Blacker was quick to credit Lloyd, his new owners, and the groom and hotwalker who are helping him with his string for the victory that came little more than a month after he started training. He said racing fans can watch for his upcoming starters in the first book at the Santa Anita meeting that opens Dec. 26 - including horses like All De Victors and 2010 Oak Tree Derby winner Fantastic Pick.
"Obviously I have a small stable right now, so I'd like to get some more numbers and try and focus on the future," he said with a grin. "This is a good start; it took Todd Pletcher two months to get his first win."