Stellar Brush: next year's star horse?

On Horse Racing

August 22, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

With Real Quiet hurt and Victory Gallop, Free House and Silver Charm retired, racing lacks a star. Could the next headliner be bedded down at Pimlico?

That's the residence of Stellar Brush, a late-developing 3-year-old trained by Richard W. Small and bred and owned by Robert E. Meyerhoff. Stellar Brush could probably hold his own against the top 3-year-olds at Saratoga, but Small and Meyerhoff have mapped an alternate route through Delaware Park, Prairie Meadows, Thistledown, Remington Park, Louisiana Downs and the Meadowlands -- not exactly the major leagues of horse racing.

But next year, watch out.

"We want to campaign the horse," Small says.

That means race him at 4 and 5 at major tracks against the best thoroughbreds still standing.

"He's still learning," Small says. "He's still a little green. Each race he's getting a little stronger."

A little stronger, eh? Last weekend, Stellar Brush devoured an 11-horse field in the $250,000 West Virginia Derby by nine lengths -- nine lengths with a jockey who not only had never ridden in a big race but also had never even dare dream of it. His name: Joe Stokes.

Small knew him from Louisiana, where Small stables horses during the winter. Now based at in Chester, W.Va., at Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort (that means slot machines, folks), Stokes became a last-minute substitute for Mike McCarthy, Stellar Brush's regular jockey. Inclement weather stranded McCarthy at the Philadelphia airport.

"To me, the whole story's the kid," Small says of Stokes. "He's just the nicest kid you ever saw. If you could have seen his expression when he's heading back to the winner's circle -- he's trying to smile, but he's almost crying."

The little-known Stokes may have been the story of the West Virginia Derby, the richest race ever in that state, but that chapter will be overlooked if Stellar Brush finishes the story he started July 24 in the Ohio Derby. Stellar Brush won that race by a neck over Ecton Park, who came back to demolish a strong field in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga.

A horse earns a $1 million bonus if he wins the $300,000 Ohio Derby, the $300,000 Remington Park Derby on Sept. 5 in Oklahoma City and $500,000 Super Derby XX on Oct. 2 at Louisiana Downs. While the Menifees and Lemon Drop Kids compete in the Travers, Stellar Brush has set his sights on that bonus.

Then, assuming all goes according to plan, the colt will close out the year Oct. 29 in the $400,000 Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands.

"They're not glamour races," Small says. "I'm treating him like a really top horse without throwing him to the wolves."

Stellar Brush is the latest in a long line of blue-chip Meyerhoff homebreds that includes Broad Brush and Concern. Meyerhoff retired Broad Brush, a winner of four Grade I races, for the 1988 breeding season and then continually supported him with some of his best mares. The offspring include Concern, winner of the 1994 Breeders' Cup Classic, and now Stellar Brush, Magic Broad, Jovial Brush and Brushed Halory.

Those horses won stakes races the second half of July. And Meyerhoff was named Owner of the Month by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

Slimmer Colonial Downs

Laurel Park closes Friday, Timonium opens its 10-day meet Saturday, and then on Labor Day, Sept. 6, Timonium closes and Colonial Downs opens. Colonial Downs runs until Columbus Day, Oct. 11.

That five weeks is the only break in Maryland's thoroughbred season. Enjoy it.

Colonial Downs, the struggling track in southern Virginia, will race Friday through Tuesday, post time 3 p.m. The lone exception is Oct. 2, Virginia Derby Day, post time 1 p.m.

That weekend features the meet's only open stakes races: $50,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial steeplechase on Friday, Oct. 1; $75,000 Chenery Stakes and $200,000 Virginia Derby on Saturday, and $75,000 Tippett Stakes on Sunday, Oct. 3.

The severely reduced stakes program is to save money in Colonial Downs' third year, when it's supposed to right its sinking financial ship. Through June 30, Colonial Downs lost $516,000. Through the same date last year, it lost $2.9 million.

If that's the good news, the bad news is that Colonial Downs recently lost its arbitration case with Norglass Inc., its general contractor. A three-member panel granted Norglass its claim of $1.965 million for unpaid construction bills, plus interest and fees.

Around the tracks

Take a comp day. Call in sick. Do what you have to do. Just be at Laurel Park on Friday for the racing debut of Mary Bo Quoit. Nicknamed Miss Piggy, the 3-year-old filly has been the subject of more than 15 articles in The Sun. Reporter Mike Klingaman has chronicled her story from the womb to the starting gate.

Edgar Prado's days as a Maryland jockey may be over. He says he will ride at Belmont Park after Saratoga and then probably move to Gulfstream Park for the winter. Expect to see him next year with a top 3-year-old in the Kentucky Derby.

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