One of the great things about the Breeders' Cup is the feel-good stories surrounding the connections of the horses. As with all sports, these compelling stories are what draw us in. They make us root for our favorite athletes.
Although Stardom Bound will certainly not be an underdog in the Juvenile Fillies - more likely, she'll be the favorite - the story around her connections will have many people rooting for the daughter of Tapit when she goes to post Oct. 24.
Stardom Bound was picked out of the OBS 2-year-old select sale this March by trainer Chris Paasch for $375,000. Paasch, a second-generation horseman who has been training since 1980, bought the good-looking filly for owner Charles Cono, a retired California real estate magnate. Since then, Stardom Bound has won the Del Mar Debutante and Oak Leaf Stakes, both grade I events, in eye-popping fashion. With a devastating late kick, the gray filly displayed two of the most impressive moves you will ever see by a 2-year-old. She is a certified superstar. Has there ever been a more aptly-named horse?
What makes Stardom Bound's story compelling are Paasch and Cono, who have both battled illness and will be dissolving their racing partnership before the end of year.
In the mid-1990s, Paasch was diagnosed with a rare, leukemia-like illness and was forced to take a leave of absence from training. Although he resumed training earlier this decade, Paasch did so on a limited basis. He only trains horses for Cono and has less than 20 in training. Paasch lives in California and keeps his horses at Hollywood Park.
Cono, who is 85-years old and in failing health, has said he will sell all of his horses by the end of the year, including Stardom Bound, who will be offered at the Fasig-Tipton November select breeding stock sale. One can only imagine how much she will command on the open market.
Paasch and Cono have never won a Breeders' Cup. For both of them it would be a dream come true - and a storybook ending if Stardom Bound can capture the Juvenile Fillies. With less than three weeks until the big day, I caught up with Paasch for a short Q&A.
JS: When you first saw Stardom Bound at the 2-year-old sale, what attracted you to her?
CP: I buy most of my horses from 2-year-old sales. I've never been one to buy solely on pedigree, so I guess it was the way she moved on the track that I liked.
JS: Did you know right away that she was special?
CP: We pretty much knew from the start. I let all my horses cool out after the sale, but once we got her with the other horses we could see what we had. It's always easy to spot class.
JS: You entered her in the Debutante even though she was still a maiden. Did you have any doubts she could compete at that level?
CP: I think anyone who watched her maiden race could see she should have won. And in the Sorrento (where she finished second), she kind of broke in the air and scraped the gate coming out. But after the way she finished I knew right then. I was still a little apprehensive about putting her in the Debutante, but my wife Bonnie told me to trust my instincts and go for it.
JS: The Debutante was impressive, but it was the Oak Leaf that really got everyone talking about Stardom Bound. Did she surprise you with what she did?
CP: As good as she was in the Debutante, she didn't change leads. She was still green. So we spent the next few weeks working with her on changing leads and helping her learn to pay attention to the rider. We were real patient with her. Even though the final work before the Oak Leaf wasn't what many thought it should be, she really sparkled. I knew she was going to run big.
I've watched a lot of 2-year-olds, and what really amazed me about the Oak Leaf is the way she finished. Most 2-year-olds lose interest when they are taken five- or six-wide. She kept getting stronger.
JS: Have you ever seen a turn of foot like that from a 2-year-old filly?
CP: When (jockey) Mike Smith got off her after the Oak Leaf, he said, "Chris, I haven't even asked her yet." She still hasn't shown her best, I think. Mike never drew the whip to her. If you look at the replays, he just gives her a slap on the shoulder to change leads and she takes off.
JS: I saw a quote where Smith called Stardom Bound his "Baby Zenyatta." Did he come up with that?
CP: I nicknamed her that after the Debutante. I call her ZJ now, Zenyatta Junior. I mean no disrespect to Mr. (John) Shirreffs (trainer) or Mr. (Jerome) Moss (owner) with that. She has a long way to go before she gets to Zenyatta's level. We can only hope she does.
JS: How will you train her up to the Breeders' Cup?
CP: We'll work her five-eighths Saturday (Oct. 11) and then again the following Saturday (Oct. 18), We're not going to be trying for any bullet works - maybe 1:01 or something like that. Then we'll let her gallop out three-quarters the week of. She's very fit already.
JS: How excited are you about the prospects of taking a favorite into the Breeders' Cup?
CP: It is very exciting. As you know, she will be sold at the Fasig-Tipton sale next month, so this will be our last race with her. Mr. Cono can't get to the races anymore and has decided to sell his stable. It was nice for him to be able to see her run in the Oak Leaf; it was his first time at the races in more than a year.
I'm going to retire after we sell off the horses and our breeding stock. I also have a couple 2-year-olds that we'll sell after they're done training.
JS: How is your health?
CP: I'm doing OK. I have some lingering problems.
JS: What are you going to do after you retire?
CP: We bought a property in Oregon and we'll spend a lot of time out there. But I'd like to stay in the business by working with a client who wants me to pick out horses for them at sales. That will keep me hands-on in the business I love.
JS: What would it mean to go out with a Breeders' Cup win?
CP: Words can't describe what it would mean to me and for Mr. Cono. I've had a filly run third in the Kentucky Oaks (Collect Call, 2001) and if you asked me to vote between winning the Kentucky Derby or Oaks, or a Breeders' Cup race, I'd say a Breeders' Cup race 99 percent of the time. For me, winning the Breeders' Cup has always been the bar I've set for myself.