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Breeders’ Cup stories start with the opening race

November 4, 2010     E-mail this page to a friend!

Gabriel’s Hill is the kind of horse that can give a small-time operation hope. In 2009, he raced once, won, and brought home the grand sum of $1,127 for his owner.

On Friday, November 5, he’s running in the $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon. Makes a person think about what can happen when an owner just doesn’t give up hope …

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the 6-year-old Gabriel’s Hill is by A.P. Indy, who stands for a fee of $150,000. Or that he was reared on Kentucky bluegrass at Gainsborough Farms. Or that he’d proven he had a bit of talent by winning more than $70,000 in the first 10 starts of his career.

But something apparently went wrong at the end of Gabriel’s Hill 2007 season. After winning an allowance race at Santa Anita in late September, he wasn’t seen on track again until October 1 the next year, where he struggled in seventh in an optional claimer at Arcadia. In his next start at Golden Gate six weeks later, he could only manage third in an even cheaper optional claimer.

Horsemen can reconstruct a likely scenario for the next eight months: patient rehab, slow and steady works, knowledgeable attention and handling, all in preparation for his return to competition.

When the time came to unveil his retooled runner in July 2009, owner Isaac Zoldan looked to familiar connections—and a rather obscure track. With Isoso Zoldan as the trainer of record, Gabriel’s Hill was entered in the Classico Fundation de Guayaquil Stakes at Hipodromo Miguel Salem Dibo in Ecuador. His track-record-setting victory was what earned him the whopping sum of $1,127 for the year.

But that win helped rebuild the gelding’s competitive spirit. His 2010 campaign began at Gulfstream Park in January, and he has compiled a record of one win, two seconds, and a third in nine starts, with earnings of over $105,000.

Although his owner is justified in giving Gabriel’s Hill the opportunity to compete at this level, the horse does have his work cut out for him. Among the competitors he is facing in the 1¾-mile Marathon is morning-line favorite Awesome Gem, who was the runner-up as the posttime favorite in the 2009 Longacres Mile.

But win or lose, we “small-timers” have to appreciate the story of a horse who can bring home a bit more than $1,000 one year and then run for a half-million the next …

UPDATE: Here's a story that even has a exciting ending. Gabriel's Hill ended up third across the wire at the end of the race—and then was elevated to second-place after the horse that finished in front of him, Javier Castellano's mount Prince Will I Am, was taken down for interference. This disqualification precipitated a post-race fisticuffs between Castellano and jockey Calvin Borel, who felt he'd suffered the worst effects of Castellano's bad riding.