- I haven’t posted an update on Highland Cat in a while. For new readers, he’s a 2 yo Tactical Cat colt in whom I own a small stake through Castle Village Farm. Some photos I took of him in Saratoga are posted at the bottom of this post. We thought he would debut at Saratoga, but our trainer, Billy Turner, felt that he wasn’t mentally ready. There was nothing to report for awhile, as he had a 19 day workout gap after his last breeze at Saratoga, something that raises red flags for me as a handicapper. But there was nothing wrong and he continued to gallop regularly. (He finally worked a half in 48.83 [6/14] on Sept 14.)
Word came on the 13th that Highland Cat would finally be making his debut – in a 75K maiden claiming race. “Huh??? We’re running him for a tag???” replied one of the partners in a huff. Well, that was me. We’d been hearing for several months now how much Turner likes the colt, and I really wasn’t expecting that. “I thought we liked this colt, has that changed?” It was explained that Turner wanted to avoid the more expensive competition in the maiden specials, that the likelihood of him being claimed was virtually non-existant (and besides, the tag would be nearly twice his purchase price), and that we could maybe pop him first time out (a distinctly non-Billy Turner-like maneuver), pull one over and even get an offer for him if he won impressively. After all, this is supposed to be a pinhooking partnership, the only problem being we’ve been yet unable to sell three of the four horses!
This all does makes sense of course. However, I found the news to be a big letdown, and even a bruise to my ego. After all, I’ve been writing here and telling everyone I know about how well the colt has been training and how high Turner is on him, and then I have to tell people that he’s debuting for a tag? Perhaps some or most of you don’t see that as quite the stigma as I do; as a handicapper, I generally figure that an owner who runs a first-timer, for whom hopes and dreams are not yet tinged by reality (like a pro sports team during training camp when everyone is 0-0), for a tag is an admission that he/she doesn’t think much of the horse.
So I hadn’t even written about it here; I actually felt a little embarrassed! Also, I didn’t really know how to present it, because I didn’t want to say ‘well, we love the horse and we’ll slip him by for a tag and cash in’ because in the unlikely event he was claimed, I’d be forever haunted by the feeling that perhaps someone read it here and put in the claim! (None of you would do that to me, right?)
But now, it’s a moot point. Turner, explaining that the colt has progressed well since Saratoga, has decided not to take the risk and to run him in a maiden special weight after all. He's planning to enter him in a 6 ½ furlong affair written for October 1, Jockey Club Gold Cup day. Some other partners joined me in celebration. I pointed out that as a first-time starter myself, in an enterprise that is supposed to be mainly for fun, the excitement of running in a maiden special on a Saturday with five Grade 1s far exceeded a maiden claiming debut on a sparsely-attended Belmont weekday. But Castle Village’s head honcho Steve Zorn made me think again when making known where he stands on the issue:
My view comes from a lot of experiences seeing a horse get badly outrun against top-level company. That's perhaps even more discouraging than having your trainer say the horse belongs in maiden claiming first time out. And it's a real concern running open maiden special at Belmont, where you see some pretty expensive horses.Well, what can I say; he makes some solid points. Only time will tell who is right. But on Wednesday, Highland Cat, as if to validate the trainer’s call, zipped a half mile in 48.46 breezing, the 5th best of 35 works at the distance on the Belmont main track. If all goes well, he debuts a week from Saturday.
..Some pretty good horses have run first time out for maiden claiming prices, namely Silver Charm (Kentucky Derby) and Trafalger (stakes winner of over $500,000), both of whom raced for Robert and Beverly Lewis, who presumably have pretty strong ego involvement themselves.
That said, it's Bill's call, not mine.