No. 9 Rocket - By Tom LaMarra

  (Originally published in the June 4, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

Ready’s Rocket is a picky horse. The 17-time winner from 62 starts has taken his share of van rides and has won races at five tracks, but there’s nothing like Churchill Downs for the 8-year-old gelding.

On May 21 Ready’s Rocket won his ninth race at Churchill to set the modern record for most wins by a horse since the mid-1970s, when official records began being kept at the Kentucky track. Roughly one year earlier he tied six others with eight wins at Churchill.

The most recent victory in a $10,000 claiming race was the first for Ready’s Rocket since July 30, 2010, when he won a starter allowance race at Ellis Park in western Kentucky. Trainer Tim Glyshaw, who co-owns the gelding with Deann Baer, indicated he wasn’t surprised.

“He’s a fairly sound horse who just happens to really love Churchill,” said Glyshaw, who stables at Churchill from spring to the fall and Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in Louisiana in the winter. “He ran some mediocre races at Delta Downs this past winter, but when he got back up here his whole attitude changed.

“He has some minor problems we have to work on because of his age, but he eats up everything when he’s at Churchill. After the Claiming Crown (in 2009 at Canterbury Park) we tried to turn him out and do the right thing, but he’s a basket case at the farm. He doesn’t take well to it.”

Ready’s Rocket, however, does take well to racing and has gotten better with age. Bred in Kentucky by Nicky Kearns, the gelding by More Than Ready out of the El Gran Senor mare Serene Delight won two races in his first three seasons and 15 in his last four.

Ready’s Rocket broke his maiden in special weight company on Polytrack at Turfway Park in February 2006 at age 3 but forays into allowance company on the Kentucky circuit didn’t produce the desired results. He finally won again in September 2007 in an $8,000 claiming race at Turfway.

In May 2008 Glyshaw claimed Ready’s Rocket for $7,500 at Churchill for another owner. Two races later the Churchill streak began with a blowout win in $10,000 claiming company.

Glyshaw won eight races with Ready’s Rocket before he was transferred to another trainer at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania in the winter of 2009. The gelding didn’t perform well in four starts; Glyshaw reacquired him in early 2010 and took him home.

The result: Three consecutive victories in starter allowance company at Churchill. Calvin Borel was aboard for those three wins and has won eight races total with Ready’s Rocket, including the record-setting run.

“The horse responds to Calvin,” Glyshaw said.

In the fall of 2010, after two uncharacteristically poor performances in which Ready’s Rocket was beaten a total of 88 lengths, Glyshaw thought the gelding was trying to tell him something.

“He had some problems but nothing major,” Glyshaw said. “We couldn’t figure it out, so we started wondering if we should even continue with him. Luckily we did and just bided our time until we got back to Churchill this year.

“We were very happy (when he set the record), but I didn’t even know about it until the Churchill people told me. We all know that back in the 1930s and 1940s there probably were horses that won 20-25 times at Churchill because they ran every week, but this is the modern record.”

“It was more of a relief than anything because he just missed setting it last year.”

 Other eight-time winners at Churchill since 1976 are Athenium, Bet On Sunshine, Canela, Crown Lease, Lord Rusty, and Maxxed. Bet On Sunshine, who finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) twice, became the oldest graded-stakes winner in Churchill history when he won the grade III Aristides Stakes at age 9 in 2001.

Through May 31 Ready’s Rocket had banked $212,895. Depending on his form, Ready’s Rocket is possible for the Claiming Crown in December at Fair Grounds.

Glyshaw, who has 24 stalls at Churchill, had a pretty good week. On May 28 he saddled Loosen Up Stable’s Unreachable Star to win the William Henry Harrison Stakes at Indiana Downs in his 2011 debut.

Unreachable Star, the 2010 Indiana-bred champion aged horse or gelding, has won 14 of 44 starts, with five wins, four seconds, and a third in state-bred stakes company. Bred by Dr. Crystal Chapple, the 7-year-old by Unloosened out of the Stars n’ Stripes mare Starsovertheriver has earned $514,013 with strong efforts on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces.

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