Survival, Faith and Victory

Just as good horses make good trainers, writers need good stories. The challenges the Parbhoo family faced when many family members had their homes flooded by Hurricane Sandy just a few days before last year's Breeders' Cup and the family's subsequent victory against a deep Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) field is a remarkable tale. Their story, which I had the privilege to tell and which was honored recently with the Bill Leggett Award as the best Breeders' Cup magazine story of 2012, is reprinted below.

Survival and fear enveloped the family behind Shivananda Racing four days before the small South Florida stable would revel in its biggest win on racing's most prestigious stage.

Trainer Shivananda Parbhoo was on the phone with his daughter, Lakshmi, who lives in Jersey City, N.J., where sustained 90 mph winds from Hurricane Sandy caused widespread flooding, collapsed buildings, and downed trees and power lines.

"The water was pouring in, and she didn't know how much more would come inside," said Parbhoo. "We were shouting because we didn't want her to leave; we didn't know if there were electric lines in the water outside, but she said, 'Dad, I have to take a chance because if I stay here, it might get worse.' "

Lakshmi carried her two children on her shoulders through four feet of water and out to safety.

Meanwhile, the family patriarch Bisnath Parboo, 73, was five houses away dealing with a similar situation. The family was fortunate to see all its members affected by the hurricane survive. Their blessings didn't stop there.

On the other side of the country at Santa Anita Park, a 3-year-old dark bay colt named Trinniberg, the pride of Shivananda Racing, would give this family a powerful gift, a victory that will not only carry them through the rebuilding that lies ahead but warm their hearts for a lifetime.

The son of Teuflesberg turned in an absolutely beautiful performance in the $1.5 million Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 3 to give the Parbhoos the biggest victory in the history of their family-owned stable and the first Breeders' Cup World Championships win for the like-family jockey Willie Martinez.

"To be here racing against some of the toughest, best trainers in this country, just to be on the same stage as them, is amazing," said Shivananda Parbhoo, while celebrating the moment with a dozen family and friends. Parbhoo recently assumed the title of stable trainer from his father, Bisnath, though both of them collaborate on every decision. Bisnath could not attend the Breeders' Cup because of the storm. "To my father, I tell him: We did it."

Bisnath Parboo, whose name is spelled without an 'h' due to a clerical error that occurred when he immigrated from the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago in 1982, told his family a week before the Sprint he had complete faith the horse would win despite the presence of five grade I winners in the 14-horse field. One of those grade I winners was Amazombie, the winner of last year's Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint and the 2011 sprint champion. Mike Smith, the Breeders' Cup's winningest jockey, would be aboard Amazombie for trainer and co-owner Bill Spawr.

"(My father) told me before the race we would get post position nine, and the third time is the charm," Shivananda Parbhoo said. "We got nine for the Kentucky Derby; we got nine for the King's Bishop. We had faith in God and we did it."

The Parbhoos have been aiming high all year with Trinniberg, whose name is a combination of Trinidad and Teuflesberg. After wiring the Swale Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park and the Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack, both races at seven furlongs, the colt was aimed for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), where he finished a dismal 17th. The family regrouped and ran him back at seven furlongs in the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II) on the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) undercard. Trinniberg wired the field again in a solid 1:22.26. He would finish second in the grade III Carry Back Stakes by a neck at the Parbhoos' home base at Calder Casino Race Course before throwing in a clunker in Saratoga's Foxwoods King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I).

Trinniberg's performance in the King's Bishop troubled Shivananda Parbhoo and his father. The colt had run in front in solid fractions of :22.28 and :45.13 and had the lead midway down the stretch, then disappeared to finish ninth. As it turned out, the colt had lost his left hind shoe late in the race and was "off-balance, spinning his wheels," according to Parbhoo.

While Trinniberg had an excuse in the King's Bishop, Parbhoo said he heard from several people that he needed to change jockeys. He was being told Martinez wasn't aggressive enough. But that was one change Parbhoo was not making.

"I don't want a jockey who comes in and just test-rides the horse," he said. "We're small. Who is going to want to ride for Parbhoo? You need someone who wants to come and wants to ride, not who just wants to sit on the horse. We want someone who is part of the family. I will take Willie anywhere. The jockey has not done anything wrong."

Then came the Gallant Bob Stakes Sept. 22 at Parx Racing, Trinniberg's race prior to the Breeders' Cup Sprint. In this $300,000 listed stakes the colt sat off the pace, took the lead in the stretch, then failed to win by a half-length. The calls to replace Martinez became louder, but Parbhoo knew the problem was with Trinniberg, not Martinez.

Parbhoo believed adding blinkers was the answer, but Martinez was skeptical.

"I am one of the ones who requested we take the blinkers off when he was a 2-year-old," said Martinez. "We thought it would help him relax. I was a little scared to go about it when he said he wanted to put the blinkers back on."

The jockey said he had to trust that Shivananda--whom he refers to by the nickname Ralph--had seen something in the horse he had not.

"I always thought he had a good kick from the eighth pole to the wire but losing a little spark coming out of the gate in his last two races," he said. "Ralph went to work on him, and he showed that spark today."

In the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Trinniberg faced a lot of potential early speed from front-runners Sum of the Parts, winner of the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (gr. III); Poseidon's Warrior, winner of the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I); The Lumber Guy, winner of the Vosburgh Invitational Stakes (gr. I); and a wildcard speedster named Fast Bullet out of Bob Baffert's barn, who had started only twice in 2011.

When the gates opened, Sum of the Parts took the early lead, followed closely by Trinniberg. They raced through stiff fractions of :21.41 and :43.73. As Sum of the Parts passed the quarter pole, Trinniberg passed Sum of the Parts. The winner took control of the front heading into the top of the stretch where The Lumber Guy took a run at him to no avail.

"I was watching the eventual winner and hoping when I got to him, maybe I'll get to run him down at the quarter pole," said jockey John Velazquez, who rode The Lumber Guy. "I got to him at the quarter pole, and he opened up by another length. I thought, 'Oh, this is going to be a tough one.' Sure enough, he ran a great race."

The Lumber Guy finished second by three-quarters of a length with Smiling Tiger third another 21⁄4 lengths back. The final time was 1:07.98.

Amazombie never advanced farther than fifth at any time in the race and finished eighth. Smith said he had no explanation for the poor performance.

"Absolutely nothing," he said when asked to explain what had happened in the race. "That's what was mind-boggling. I had a great trip, broke extremely well; great spot. For whatever reason, he is not firing."

Amazombie had finished fourth in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (gr. I), his last race prior the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Spawr said he had expected the son of Northern Afleet to win the Sprint Championship and had him tested after the race. He discovered a slightly elevated white cell count and protein levels that were off. Spawr made some adjustments and had said he felt the 6-year-old gelding was mentally and physically back to his old self. Apparently something is still amiss.

"I knew around the turn we were in trouble," Smith said. "He quit running, and it was like he didn't want to be here."

Trainer Jeff Bonde said he was pleased with Smiling Tiger's third-place finish. The 5-year-old son of Hold That Tiger has been lightly raced this year, having made only three starts between May 5 and June 30. He had not raced in four months leading up to the Breeders' Cup.

"This is certainly a tough race to make a comeback in," Bonde said. "I'm very proud of him. He ran great, despite it all. Ramon (Dominguez) said he got a little tired at the end, but he still ran great."

While the Parbhoos' success has been relatively recent, Bisnath Parboo had been a trainer in Trinidad before immigrating to the United States 30 years ago. Shivananda said he remembers when he was 5 going to the races with his father. After coming to the U.S., Bisnath Parboo gave up training to focus on growing a trucking business in New York City. Within five years, however, he took out his trainer's license and began racing horses at Aqueduct. Eventually Shivananda moved the trucking business and the stable to South Florida, where it is now based at Calder Casino & Race Course. The stable has 19 horses in training.

"When you train at Calder and come to these lighter racetracks, the horses really run," said Shivananda Parbhoo. "Calder is a strong track. Heavy. If you can run at Calder and breeze in :47 and 1:00 and come back and not drink water, you can run anywhere in the world. The track (at Santa Anita) was deep. The way the track was playing yesterday and today, I knew there was no way they could catch (Trinniberg)."

Trinniberg has been a surprise since the Parbhoos bought him for $21,000 out of the 2011 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s April 2-year-olds in training sale. Shivananda was making a delivery and stopped by the OBS pavilion, not even realizing a sale was being held.

"We walked in at about 11 a.m. and were getting ready to walk out when I saw this horse," he said. "We turned around and went back in and I bought him. I didn't even have a catalog. I just liked his looks. He has a great back-end. We went back to South Florida and I sent my worker back to Ocala with a check the next day."

Trinniberg was bred in Kentucky by J M Stables. He is out of the stakes-placed mare Bella Dorato, a daughter of Goldminers Gold. She has produced two other winners, but Trinniberg is her only stakes winner. As a yearling, Trinniberg had been sold by Beau Lane Bloodstock, as agent, for $1,500 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale. He was purchased by M & H Training and Sales, which sold him as a juvenile in Ocala.

The Parbhoos took two horses, Trinniberg and Giant Ryan, to the 2011 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs. The experience was called a "sight-seeing" venture by Shivananda. Giant Ryan finished eighth in the Sprint and Trinniberg finished seventh in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. Sadly, Giant Ryan sustained multiple fractures while competing in this year's True North Handicap (gr. II) then later developed laminitis and had to be euthanized.

No one lost faith in Trinniberg after the 2011 Breeders' Cup, after the Kentucky Derby, or even after the King's Bishop.

"We always knew he was the dominant sprinter in his division," Martinez said. "We never lost faith. In the King's Bishop we were super confident, but it happens in racing. I told Ralph, 'Let's get back to work, get him back on track, and get him ready for this day,' and we did."

Shivananda Parbhoo now runs the stable but in name only. He said his father will always be 100% involved.

"We talk about everything," said Shivananda. "If I tell him something he doesn't like, he'll tell me."

One of those critical discussions was about putting blinkers back on Trinniberg.  Bisnath had some reservations at first.

"He said, 'Do you know what kind of race you're going into? This is a big race,' " recalled Shivananda. 

"I told him, 'Pops, don't worry. What do we have to lose? We came from nowhere. Try it; maybe we get lucky,'" Shivananda told his father.

And so the family found themselves in the winner's circle on racing's biggest day as the flood waters back in New Jersey recede. An unwavering faith in Trinniberg, in Martinez, and in each other was rewarded with their first championship victory and even more precious, a chance to celebrate together safe and dry under the bright California sun. 

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