In the midst of all the major racing this summer at Del Mar and Saratoga, sometimes the hard-knocking veterans of our sport get lost in the shuffle. One of them is remarkable 6-year-old Star Guitar, a Louisiana-bred who won the $125,000 Evangeline Mile Handicap last weekend for the third consecutive year.
Trained by Al Stall Jr. and a homebred of Evelyn and Maurice Benoit--all southern Louisiana natives--Star Guitar ranks as one of the best Louisiana-breds of all-time. The son of Quiet American has won an incredible 19 of 25 career starts and has earned more than $1.3 million. He is second behind the filly Happy Ticket, who won the grade I Ballerina back in 2005 and was runner-up in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Distaff, as the top Louisiana-bred earner of all-time. Happy Ticket earned nearly $1.7 million during her career, but the way Star Guitar is going, he could pass her next year.
Of Star Guitar's 19 wins, 17 have come in stakes company. In addition to winning the Evangeline Mile three times, he has won four Louisiana Champions Day events (including the Classic twice) at Fair Grounds and the Premier Night Championship at Delta Downs three consecutive years. Overall, he has won seven of his last eight starts and is perfect in four tries in 2011.
How dominant is Star Guitar? Since December 2008, he has only lost one state-bred stakes out of 17 starts, that coming in last year's Gold Cup at Delta Downs. His four other losses during that span came in graded stakes company, including the 2009 Alysheba (gr. III) at Churchill Downs when finishing a close third. Incredibly, Star Guitar has been favored in every one of his non-graded races in his career (21), and has been the odds-on choice in his last 12--sometimes as low at 1-20.
Stall, who trained champion and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame, counts Star Guitar as one of his top two or three favorite horses of all time.
"He's so consistent and tries every time," said Stall. "You don't get too many like that who also stay sound. He's just been unbelievable for us. We treat him a little different now that he's older, but his race last weekend might have been his best ever. Larry Melancon had never been on him before (the Evangeline Mile) and he was very impressed. He still has a lot left."
Star Guitar is campaigned by the Benoits, who not only bred and raced his dam, Minit Towinit, but also raced his granddam, Roaring Fireplace. Roaring Fireplace was the first ever winner for the couple, who own a 30-acre farm in Houma, La., which is about 17 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite being a Louisiana-bred, Star Guitar caught the attention of some high-profile owners in 2007 when he won his first two starts impressively and was about to be sent on the Triple Crown trail in early 2008. Satish Sanan and Jess Jackson, who campaigned Curlin together, were considering buying Star Guitar for a reported $1 million just before he was set to run in the LeComte (gr. III), but he cracked his shin the week before the race and was sidelined for nearly 10 months. Star Guitar did not return until September 2008 and after finishing third in a comeback allowance race, he went on to win 12 consecutive state-bred stakes.
"Maybe that 10-month break set him up for the rest of his career," Stall said.
Stall said the best part of training Star Guitar is being able to share his success with the Benoits, who are as passionate as they come about horses and are first-class people. Evelyn Benoit attends all of Star Guitar's races, while Maurice, who was involved in a serious automobile accident in 2007, does his best to make as many as possible.
Star Guitar is named after Evelyn Benoit's son Tab, who is a Grammy nominated and award-winning Cajun/blues performer. Tab Benoit is a former Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year winner and has written songs for several popular prime time shows during his career.
Stall said Star Guitar's next start will be in the Gold Cup at Delta Downs in November. He finished fourth in the race last year, the only state-bred stakes defeat of his career. Stall said he plans to race him in 2012.
"He's still got some work to do to chase down Happy Ticket," Stall said. "There are still a lot of pots to be won."