Running for Good: Foal Project Subjects Make First Starts

Luv Dakota Skye will run for the first time this week at Saratoga, but he's already a winner

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (Aug. 8, 2013) -- Luv Dakota Skye loves the camera, and this should come as no surprise. Before he even ran a lick, his image was enlarged upon shiny steel art prints, displayed in New York and Kentucky and South Carolina as those who love horses and those who love helping people came together to make the world a better place. He met his first photographer just moments after arriving in this world, one subject in Lisa Miller's non-profit gallery show--The Foal Project--that raises funds for equine-assisted therapies.

A Foal Project Image of Luv Dakota Skye (©The Foal Project)

At Saratoga Race Course this afternoon, Luv Dakota Skye will make his racing debut for owner Sanford Bacon and trainer Jose "Manny" Coronel (view entries). The New York-bred juvenile son of Corinthian will be the first Foal Project Thoroughbred to run, followed shortly thereafter by I'm a Bird, a daughter of Andromeda's Hero slated to race at Finger Lakes on Saturday. Another Foal Project graduate and Andromeda's Hero filly, Taramislew, will likely make her first start as well before the Saratoga meet comes to an end.

Luv Dakota Sky was purchased privately from breeders Jerry Bilinski and Harry Patten by Bacon, who sent him to 37-year-old Coronel--a relative unknown on the national scene. Coronel went out on his own last March after stints as an assistant to Angel Penna Jr. and James Bond, and won with his first starter--four-time stakes victress Risky Rachel, who rolled to victory here in the 2012 Union Avenue after taking the Broadway Stakes and the Putthepowdertoit earlier in the year.

Bacon, 86, helped Coronel go out on his own by giving him horses last year. He found the native Argentinian to be a bright, caring horseman.

'Above all, he's a horseman," Bacon said. "He'd do anything for the horse. He knows his horses. Soft-spoken. Magnificent, gentle. No one will ever say a bad word about him, because he's never said a bad word about anyone else."

The same could be said of Luv Dakota Skye, according to Coronel. Of the trainer's 10 runners, this is the one with the gentle soul.

"Every person coming to the barn looks at the horses and comes back to this one, because he's the most sweet guy," said Coronel. "I think he's doing everything right. I can't complain everything. He's getting better and better, I'm very happy the horse is doing everything well leading up to his debut."

Trainer Manny Coronel and Luv Dakota Skye at Saratoga

While Luv Dakota Skye has been training at Saratoga, I'm a Bird and Taramislew have been prepping for their debuts under the supervision of trainer Jared Schoeneman at Finger Lakes. The 39-year-old conditioner was born and raised around the racetrack, "brought up in a muck basket," as he describes it, and went out on his own about 15 years ago.

Schoeneman conditions the Foal Project fillies for breeder Sandee Schultz, a former digital equipment sales specialist whose world changed dramatically when she became ill with a neuromuscular disease (Read an article about Schultz, Miller, and the origins of The Foal Project). Encouraged by the benefits of therapeutic riding, Schultz quickly became immersed in the world of equine assisted therapy--and also bought a couple broodmares and became involved in the Thoroughbred game. Now she plans to assist a local charity, The Kelberman Center, with developing a therapeutic riding program in the area.

I'm a Bird's Foal Project debut (©The Foal Project)

The careers of I'm a Bird and Taramislew will continue beyond racing and their Foal Project fame. Schultz pledged to donate a portion of their earnings to the Kelberman Center, founded seven years ago by local Dr. Michael Kelberman, whose son, Harrison, has Autism. The center has a diagnostic center, preschool program, summer camps, impact in approximately 60 school districts, a work-integration program called Project Search, and 74 full- and part-time staff who provide services throughout Central New York to more than 400 children.

"It's amazing to see the impact you can make with children with Autism," Dr. Kelberman said. "The day-to-day legwork gets results. We help with their journey to becoming successful, productive members of society. We've worked really hard to raise money, to create a program for the kids and families who need resources and support.

"Sandee knows a lot about horses and riding, and has really pursued her passion with us of creating a therapeutic riding center. When she said she wanted to earmark some of those funds from her horses to go to that effort, we were thrilled. Not only will her horses be supporting a great cause, but they'll help raise awareness for some very important, special work."

So down to the particulars. Will I'm a Bird and Taramislew win races?

"I'm a Bird has been really smooth sailing; everything has gone like clockwork with her training," Schoeneman said. "She really aims to please. Whenever your'e around her you think right away 'Oh, she's really nervous,' but she's not--she's just anxious and ready to go. I've never had a horse that tries so hard to please a person. She wants to just do right by you so badly. All I've ever had to do is show her once, and she does it right. It's made my life a lot easier training her. If she knows she's not doing the right thing or did wrong, she really knows it and she tries really hard to correct it. She cares about what I think.

"Tara on the other hand, could care less. If Tara does something wrong it's like she laughs at you. Although she's been really fun to work with, she wants to do it her way. If something doesn't go her way, you've got a fight on your hands. And you've really got to pick your battles with her, because she wants to win."

The first day Taramislew arrived at Finger Lakes, for instance, she pitched a fit in the trailer before destroying the hotwalking machine upon arrival.

"She decided she didn't like that, threw her head around, and ripped my machine apart in about three minutes," the trainer said. "Once she trusts you she will do what you want to do, but until then, you almost have to fight with her."

Who would have thought this sweet little foal would become the firey Taramislew? ((©The Foal Project)

Obviously, with Taramislew slated for a potential start at Saratoga, her connections have faith in her ability.

"Tara's got more raw talent, she's faster, but 'Ima' never gives up," Schoeneman said. "Tara's ability is uncharted, I can't put a guage on her yet, but she looks to be really good. 'Ima' can also run and run and run, and never gets tired. She's a bottomless pit when it comes to training. I can't find the bottom on her. Hopefully that pays off Saturday when she runs, but she's done everything I want her to do."

The question of who will make a better racehorse--the filly who aims to please or the one with the 'tude--remains to be answered.

"It's going to be interesting to see who does better," the trainer remarked. "I think 'Ima' is going to need a start. The race drew 11 and that's going to be really hard to run against 11 in your first race. I'm looking, hopefully, for a third or fourth first time out--but even if she beat five or six horses, I'd be happy with that first time out.

"Tara, I'd like to run her here to get some experience under her belt, but it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to do that, time-frame wise. She's been working very strongly, obviously, to even have me thinking about running her there. I talked to Sandee and told her we can't let Saratoga dictate our schedule. If she's ready, she's ready. If she's not, it's not something I want to force her into doing just to be there. If we don't make Saratoga, we'll go to Belmont. Belmont's very nice, too."

Even as The Foal Project subjects are making their juvenile debuts, the show continues to raise money. The Foal Project is at The Niche Gallery--480 Broadway, Suite 1B--through the end of the racing meet. So no matter how these runners do on the track, in my book, they're winners already.

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