Nonsequitur's local star leaps into big time

Horse racing: After an unheralded start, Maryland-bred gelding Water Cannon looks to make a national splash.

Preakness Stakes

Horse racing

May 10, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

BOWIE - The morning sun is warm at the Bowie Training Center as Water Cannon, a Maryland-bred gelding, is given his morning bath outside Barn 18, which is his home. His dark gray coat glistens, and it almost appears he is smiling as he lifts his large head and enjoys the cool water being sponged over his face.

Around him, television cameras roll, reporters wait and a few jockeys and exercise riders watch him.

Water Cannon eats it up. He is the star of his little world. But Water Cannon is about to step out and up. The winner of five straight Maryland races, including three consecutive stakes races, he has persuaded his owners to enter him in the Preakness this Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.

It will be his first foray into the national spotlight, the first for his trainer, Linda Albert, and the first for owners Ellen Fredel, Patrick Dooher and David Dorsen, too. The owners, a group of three Washington-based lawyers, named their operation The Nonsequitur Stable 10 years ago and have been on an unexpectedly merry ride ever since.

"The literal Latin translation of non sequitur is `It does not follow,'" said Dorsen, explaining the name he proposed. "It means we hope our horses don't follow others."

In truth, the name Nonsequitur fits for more than one reason.

The three owners eventually came together at a power breakfast because Dooher had represented a client and fellow lawyer, Al Ablondi, who was audited by the Internal Revenue Service because his investments in horse racing consistently failed to pan out. Eventually, the government decided to drop the case against Ablondi, who was a member of the ownership group until he died in 2001, determining he had earnestly tried to make a profit but was foiled by the uncertainty of the horse racing business.

With that introduction to thoroughbred ownership, Dooher was still willing to meet Ablondi's friend Dorsen, who knew Fredel, who already had owned horses trained by Albert.

"It might not have been the logical thing to do," agreed Dooher, 54, the lone Maryland resident in the group and the one who picked out Water Cannon in Timonium's pre-sale catalog last spring. But the lawyers all enjoyed going to the races and handicapping. By pooling their money, they found a relatively inexpensive way to get on the inside of the sport of kings.

And, against all odds, it has worked. In a business where small owners seldom have big winners or make money, Nonsequitur Stable has found success.

Initially, they each contributed a total of $10,000 in $5,000 increments to claim two horses. Since then, they have not had to add one more dollar of their own money. Their stable has grown to 12 horses, and their returns have included about $50,000 each on the original investments, plus the joy that winning a big race can bring. Their horse Perfect to a Tee, retired now on a farm where he goes on fox hunts and rounds up cattle, won the Maryland Million in 1999 and was the Maryland Older Horse of the Year at the age of 7.

"We knew no one makes money in this business," said Dorsen, 68, a litigator who was the assistant chief prosecutor for the Senate Watergate Committee and has represented Gen. William Westmoreland and others in libel actions. "We just thought we'd have a year or two of fun before the money ran out."

Now, they are fielding a horse in a Triple Crown race, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Continuing the trend of results not following the premise is Water Cannon, a $37,000 purchase. He is a son of Maryland stallion Waquoit, who won more than $2 million and has sired more than 252 winners. Waquoit's offspring, like their father, haven't run their best until 4 or older, and Water Cannon seemed certain to follow the trend. His career began with six straight losses.

But Water Cannon, a sweet-dispositioned horse who loves peppermints, has been coming on strong since Albert put blinkers on him to improve his concentration. In August, she joked with her husband, "I might have a Derby horse."

Water Cannon's biggest win came in the $100,000 Federico Tesio Stakes on April 17 at Pimlico. And he not only has won, but he has done so in unlikely fashion.

"Usually, once you ask your horse to go, he has to keep going," said Albert, 45, who has 11 horses in training for various owners, including five for Nonsequitur Stable. "But Water Cannon has shown the unusual ability of coming back after he gives up the lead."

"It's very scary to watch," Dorsen said. "When a horse drops back like he does, it's normally over."

But not, evidently, for Water Cannon. He has fallen as far back as fifth before rallying to win.

Though none of them has long anticipated having a horse in the Preakness field, Albert said the situation is right. Water Cannon is getting stronger. His breeding indicates the longer the distance, the better he'll like it. He has had a successful trip around Pimlico in the Tesio. And he doesn't have to travel.

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