Little Bold John to run in Md. Million Classic 10-year-old to make 104th career start

September 22, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

The seventh Maryland Million Classic on Saturday will mark the 104th career start of the incorrigible, incredible Little Bold John.

John J. "Jerry" Robb, the horse's owner-trainer, said yesterday that he definitely intends to run the 10-year-old gelding in the 10-furlong, $200,000 race.

If the horse wins, it might be the richest stakes victory ever for a 10-year-old thoroughbred. A quick look in the history books shows that Kelso and John Henry, geriatric geldings with the same feisty spirit and iron-clad constitution, raced only though their ninth year.

Little Bold John has won 26 stakes, more than any other Maryland-bred horse that raced on the flat. Steeplechaser Elkridge, who ran during the 1940s, won more stakes, but they were over the jumps.

It will be Little Bold John's fourth appearance in the Maryland Million Classic. He won the race in 1987 as a 5-year-old. He finished third in 1988 and 1989. He missed the past two runnings because he was injured just before the race.

"In 1990, he broke a splint bone, which had to be removed from a front leg," Robb said. "And last year, he pulled a suspensory ligament in one of his hind legs."

Robb thought the injury had ended the horse's career, but Little Bold John has returned to run eight times this year, winning twice.

He comes into the Classic off of a 13-length win in allowance company at Timonium. A victory in the Classic will push his earnings over the $2 million mark.

"If I ran Little Bold John back, it would be in an allowance race for probably a $20,000 purse, and it would be a tougher field than I'll hit in the Classic for $200,000," Robb said. "That's how I look at it. I have two other horses, Pulverizing and He Is Risen, who have already beaten the Classic favorite, Timely Warning, this year. Those are the types of horses I'd face in allowance company.

"But I'm not running Little Bold John on Saturday for the money. I'd give up the purse to see him win. He is simply a horse who loves what he does. And people had better not count him out. If he puts his mind to it, and decides he wants to win on Saturday, then he will."

Little Bold John has been in Robb's barn at the Bowie Training Center for nine years. Since then he has cracked a cannon bone, had stomach ulcers, pulled suspensory ligaments in three of his four legs and then broke his splint bone in a front leg.

"I really intended to retire him last year," Robb said. "But he hated being on the farm. I brought him back to the track and thought I could use him as a lead pony. But then I started working him, and he held up and kept getting better."

Robb said he discounts criticism that he is running the horse for greedy purposes. "How can any one say that?" he said. "The horse loves to run, and he's still winning. If things don't go his way in a race, he protects himself and figures he'll try again next time."

Robb said some people probably think he's crazy to run the old horse Saturday. "But people told me I was crazy to sprint him one year in the [$200,000-added] General George Stakes at Laurel, and he won."

Robb also plans to run four other horses on Maryland Million Day, including Hal Clagett's Carnirainbow in the Maryland Million Lassie for 2-year-old fillies. "I liked her chances until I saw there was a Canadian filly in the race named Clever Cleo," Robb said. "She is sired by Smarten and has won both of her career starts."

Robb plans to run an entry of John's Ambition and Ameri Corridor in the 2-year-old colt race and a maiden named Night Launch in the maiden turf race.

Twice, he said, Little Bold John almost left his stable. The horse's original owner, Hal Clagett, had planned to sell Little Bold John to Baltimore restaurateur Richard Pirone as a 2-year-old for $30,000. "I intercepted that deal and bought him myself," Robb said. He subsequently sold half of the horse to Jack Owens, another of his owners. The next year, he and Owens were offered $75,000 for Little Bold John as a 3-year-old.

"I wanted to sell and Jack didn't," Robb said. "So he bought me out." Just before Owens died last year, Robb bought all of Owens' horses, including Little Bold John.

"He's the most unbelievable horse I've ever been around," Robb said.

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