Managing Expectations


By Lisa Grimm,

While there is much excitement in certain quarters over the upcoming debut of brother, Barbaro's brother Nicanor, it's a good idea to temper expectations with a bit of reality. Most horses never compete at racing's highest level. Some show early promise that suggests they have what it takes - but more often than not, things don't pan out. Let's examine the case of another horse bred and (formerly) owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson - the once-promising filly Sweetest Kiss. They were quite high on her in 2007 (Roy, himself, expressed great enthusiasm for her at a work event and I've been tracking her ever since). Unfortunately for the horse and everyone's bank accounts, she has never quite lived up to those early expectations.

Things began well; an auspicious turf debut at Laurel under the tutelage of Barclay Tagg, followed quickly by an allowance win on the Preakness undercard led to her inclusion in Globeform's 50 to Follow list of 2007 (along with the likes of Curlin, Einstein, and Rags to Riches and Wait a While). Tougher allowance company did not seem to suit her in her next race, but she still managed to hit the board in two subsequent races with comparatively easier competitors.

2008 did not prove to be the highlight of her career; she did earn a little money at Gulfstream Park, then after another disappointing effort at Keeneland, she won her first claiming race. She was then claimed for $35,000 - and stopped winning (so far) altogether.

New owner Barry R. Ostrager (owner of Questroyal Stud in New York) first tried her at Saratoga with trainer Carl J. Domino, but she was a gate scratch in August (I don't have details on why). He then moved Sweetest Kiss from the New York/Mid-Atlantic circuits to Suffolk Downs and into the care of trainer Michael J. Collins. She began there at the $20,000 claiming level, but didn't get a share of any purses until her third race at the track - she finally picked up a show spot in late September, six days after her previous race. However, even sticking at the $16,000 claiming level did not seem to suit her talents; she lost her final three races of the year.

Sweetest Kiss
was back to try her luck again in early January, this time entered at Beulah Park in Ohio, with a new trainer, Melinda Johnson, listed and at a new claiming price. Here were the details of that race:

Sweetest Kiss is entered to run on January 10, 2009 at BEULAH PARK.

Race: 4 Distance: Five Furlongs Surface: Dirt Age: 5 Sex: Mare
Race Type: Claiming Purse: $ 5,100
Jockey: Edgar Paucar
Trainer: Melinda Johnson
Race conditions: FOR FILLIES AND MARES THREE YEARS OLD AND UPWARD. Three Year Olds, 114 lbs.; Older, 124 lbs. Non-winners of a race since December 10, 2008 Allowed 2 lbs. A race since November 10, 2008 Allowed 4 lbs. Claiming Price $7,500 (Races where entered for $6,250 or less not considered In Weight Allowances) (Ohio Registered Foals Preferred).
Last Raced: 11/08/2008 at SUFFOLK DOWNS in Race 8
Finish Position: 9th
Last Reported Workouts:
12/15/2008-MOUNTAINEER CASINO RACETRACK & RESORT-Four Furlongs-Dirt Muddy-54:20 Breezing
08/18/2008-SARATOGA-Five Furlongs-Turf training Firm-1.03:00 Breezing
07/30/2008-SARATOGA-Four Furlongs-Turf training Firm-48:44 Breezing

Running against Ohio-breds for a share of a $ 5,100 purse was probably not what her breeders hoped for Sweetest Kiss, but there's nothing unusual about her career - she's just proven to be a typical racehorse, not a star. While her winnings are certainly respectable (over $84,000), she's still not making good economic sense; her sire, Thunder Gulch, stood for $65,000 the year she was conceived (he's down to $15,000 now), and of course there have been expenses for feed, vet visits, training, etc. - but at least she made it to the track in the first place.

In the end, Sweetest Kiss was scratched from that January 10th race; so her yearly debut is now on hold. Here's hoping her first race of 2009 can get her back on a winning track - at least as a confidence-builder if not a money-spinner. And as for Nicanor, we'll just have to wait and see - at least he is actually preparing for a racing debut, which is considerably further along than his older half-brother, Man in Havana, ever got in the racing game.

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