I was reading an article on Standardbred Canada's website this morning. You hear all the time of a horse really down on his luck. The trainer just about ready to give up on him. Some do give up on them and then someone else comes along and the horse becomes great for them. Rambling Willie was that kind of story.
In this case, the trainer, Joe Cirasuola decided to keep the horse, Ruff Me Up, and slowly and steadily the horse turned around to become a very nice WEG horse. At the time Cirasuola got him, he first raced him in a 6 claimer at Sarnia. The horse raced terrible and he was thinking of selling him for 4000. He didn't, for whatever reason and within a few months he completely turned around.
“I was going to sell him for $4,000 last fall at Sarnia after he didn’t fare well,” he remembered, of the horse that was originally a $61,000 purchase at the 2005 Lexington Select yearling sale. “But it didn’t happen, so we just moved on from there.”
Not long after, Ruff Me Up showed signs he was getting things on-track, punctuated by a strong second-place showing at Flamboro Downs on November 6, in a time of 1:54.2, after leading the field through a half-mile in a scorching :52.4.
|Ruff Me Up winning at WEG|
Or did he?
Lets take a look at Ruff Me Up to see what kind of horse he was before he was down on his luck.
As mentioned in the SC article, Ruff Me Up was a $61,000 yearling. And for good reason. He is by Real Artist, who is a popular sire. His dam, April Ruffles, is a half sister to JD's Buck (p, 2, 2:01.4f, 3, 1:57f, 4, 1:54.3 -'81 ($1,153,031) 39 wins. and Tough Hombre p, 2, Q2:04f, 3, 1:52.1f, 4, 1:51.3f -'93 ($631,656) 26 wins. Both of those horses were high end FFA horses back in their day. JD's Buck raced consistently against Cam Fella in his prime and then against the top FFA horses in the world for a couple of years. Tough Hombre was very competitive in the top stakes and was third in the Breeders Crown.
April Ruffles was also the dam of RUFFED UP (g, Western Hanover) p, 2, 1:55f, 3, 1:52.2f, 1:49.2 -'02 ($650,089) 33 wins and FAST RUFFLES (m, Western Hanover) p, 2, 1:52 -'04 ($413,758) 6 wins, who was a winner in her elim of The Breeders Crown and second in the final. The pedigree was clearly there. The talent was clearly there.
Of course, lots of well bred horses that have a big ticket yearling price end up being nothing, but in this instance, that wasn't the case.
Ruff Me Up was raced hard and early at 2, and he made the Woodrow Wilson final at the Meadowlands. You don't do that unless you have real talent. He paced his own mile in the final (where he finished 6th) in 1:52.1 in August. While he may never have been destined to beat those type of really high end horses, he certainly had some level of class. He was also second in the Smullin at Rosecroft just after that before they shut him down.
At 3, he won multiple Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and was good enough to race in the Little Brown Jug. He was thought that highly of. Unfortunately, he drew the 7 hole, was parked from before the half and finished last, beaten only 5 lengths, his own mile in 1:51.3.
Two horses that beat him in that elim were Tell All and Southwind Lynx. That is very good company to keep.
He also won a division of the Reynolds stake that year.
After that, he tailed off badly in his 4, 5, 6 and 7 year old season, many times missing large chunks of time for whatever reason. Clearly he was raced hard young and was fried. That happens. That is the business. People pay $61,000 for a yearling and they expect to get their investment back as soon as possible. By the time he hit the starting gate the first time as a 2 year old, his owners were likely in the hole for about $100,000. His first lifetime start was in the Goshen Cup, where he paced in 1:54.1 and then his second lifetime start was in the Wilson elim. He was thrown to the wolves without much preparation. And as time went on, he paid the price for that. The two horses who beat him in his Wilson Elim basically fell off the radar and were never really heard from again. That is how it goes.
A trainer I once had said that most 3 claimers are made, not born. I have always agreed with that. Sure, some horses just don't have much ability, but for the most part the ones that end up at the bottom rung of the ladder are ones that were pushed too hard or not taken time with when that time was necessary. That doesn't mean that many of them will make it back to where they were born to be, but some can.
I think it is safe to say that if you go back and look at most of the starters in the Woodrow Wilson, you will find that very few go on to do much after that. Racing two year olds is a big time gamble, as is buying yearlings, and racing in the Wilson is like playing roulette at the casino. You might get the big score, but if you don't you will likely lose it all. That is the gamble you take when you race in those types of races.
In the case of Ruff Me Up, that gamble didn't pay off. He certainly never paid back that initial investment plus expenses and the yearling buyer lost, big time.
As we all know, those of us who have been to the racetrack, picking up losing tickets off the floor in the grandstand is a fools game. You rarely find one winner. But it does happen.
In the case of Joe Cirasuola, that ticket, the one he picked up and almost threw away, did come back to pay off for him. He recounts his first impressions of the horse.
It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight.
“I never really liked grey horses and when we got this guy, the first three months, he couldn’t get out of his own way,” recalled Cirasuola. “He had issues his entire life, all kinds of things, and he just couldn’t seem to put it all together.”
I remember a horse who had a very similar story. Back in the late 80's, an unraced son of Storm Damage called Soft Light was bought by Garth Gordon. The story goes that he had a very significant injury training down as a young horse, possibly a bowed tendon, but he had now healed.
Soft Light was a very well bred horse, and Gordon took a chance on him.
Soft Light's dam, Lantern, p,3,T1:57.2 ($96,952) was a fantastic broodmare who had produced multiple good performers including:
SAVE FUEL p,5,1:511m (h, Bret Hanover). Winner of 23 races and $325,377.
GUIDING BEAM p,3,1:534m (m, Bret Hanover). Winner of 25 races and $205,854.
STEELY GLOW p,6,1:54f (h, Bret Hanover). Winner of 24 races and $201,001.
and many others.
Lantern's dam, Flicker was a full sister to FLY FLY BYRD (h, Poplar Byrd) p, 2, 2:03.3, 3, 2:00.3h, 4, 1:58.2 ($244,601).
My memory is that Soft Light didn't make his first lifetime start until the middle of his 4 year old season. But he went on to be one of the top FFA and stakes horses of his generation and lasted for 5 or 6 years at that level. Much the same way that JD's Buck and Tough Hombre went on to be better horses as aged than they were as 2 year olds. It is mostly a family of horses that get better with age.
SOFT LIGHT p,4,1:523q (h, Storm Damage). Winner of 55 races and $691,220.
Now, in the article, the writer lists Cirasuola as crediting the mother of one of his workers for the good fortune he has with Ruff Me Up.
"Cirasuola still marvels at the way the mother of one of his workers can walk down his shedrow, analyze a horse’s current physical state, and be bang-on in her assessment.
So, when the woman told Cirasuola a grey horse would one day win a lot of races and money for him, he didn’t pass up the opportunity, just 48 hours later, when he had the chance to purchase Ruff Me Up, a pacing son of Real Artist, in 2011."
I don't need to be a physic to figure out this horse was bred to be good and has talent. I can read a program and a sale book just fine.
The perception is that he was a horse who was no good anymore and was an underachiever his whole life. The reality is that he was just a horse who was a victim of his circumstances and needed some care and a chance to shine again. No witchcraft or psychic powers are involved in that.