Don’t be surprised if the Keeneland paddock crowd around the tree listing “number six” is a bit thick before the Sycamore Stakes (gr. III) Thursday, Oct. 17.
That tree will be the temporary home of 9-year-old Rahystrada, who will try to secure a Keeneland stakes win for the first time in his eight seasons of racing in the 1 1/2-mile turf test for 3-year-olds and older.
Photo: Four Footed Fotos
Trainer Scooter Hughes said Rahystrada has developed quite a fan following during his 45 career starts that have seen him register 14 wins, including six stakes wins at four different tracks: Arlington Park, Kentucky Downs, Churchill Downs, and Colonial Downs.
“I really hear from them after he wins,” Hughes said with a laugh. “Then everyone’s on board. But I do hear from a lot of people about him; he has a lot of fans. And I do hear from some of them after he loses too, wishing us luck next time.”
Hughes said a stakes win at Keeneland would be special for Rahystrada’s connections. Owner Robert Courtney Jr. raises and sells horses out of his Stonebridge Farm in Lexington. Hughes is based at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington and would love to nail down the first Keeneland stakes win of his career.
Earlier this year the congratulations poured in after Rahystrada became the first three-time winner of the Arlington Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington Park. The victory marked the fifth straight year that the veteran Rahy gelding has won at least one stakes race.
Rahystrada wins the 2013 Arlington Handicap.
Photo: Four Footed Fotos
Hughes said Rahystrada’s natural talent doesn’t turn anyone’s head but he is very sound, has avoided injuries, and has taken care of himself. In return, the connections have given Rahystrada time off in recent years, typically racing him from May-October.
“He loves that time at the farm,” Hughes said. “You should see him out there rolling around in the mud, being a horse.”
When Hughes advised Courtney purchase Rahystrada at age 4 from his breeder Jaime Carrion, he never would have guessed the success that would follow.
“There is no way you could have forecast that,” Hughes said. “He’s pretty special and still performing at a high level.”
The connections had planned to start Rahystrada in the Kentucky Cup Turf (gr. III), a race he won in 2009, but Hughes said an unknown allergy flared up, showing itself as a skin problem. Time was needed to address the issue and the Sycamore will be Rahystrada’s first start since finishing off the board in the Arlington Million Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 17.
Rahystrada won an allowance race on the Keeneland turf in April 2010 and he will try to improve on his fourth-place finish in last year’s Sycamore.
Typically easy to manage, Rahystrada has shifted into his geared up mode that he usually displays in the days leading up to a race. Rahystrada doesn’t mind occasionally making his presence known with a nibble but Hughes said he’ll assume his best behavior anytime he hears the crackling of mint wrappers signaling the possibility of a treat.
Courtney thinks this may be the final racing year for Rahystrada, who would then be turned out at his farm. But Hughes hopes he doesn’t rush that decision.
“But I’ve told him not to make too quick a decision. If he’s still running well, it would be fun to come back for another season and see what we can do at 10. We’ll let him tell us though.”
Rahystrada racing in 2009.
Photo: Reed Palmer/Churchill Downs