(Originally published in the August 11, 2012 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
If there was a horse-for-the-course in the $200,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup Handicap July 28 at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, it was Kyma, a 4-year-old Belong to Me gelding appropriately bred in Pennsylvania that was two-for-two on the local turf course.
It didn’t hurt that Kyma’s trainer, Brandon Kulp, showed 10 wins, 12 seconds, and five thirds in 49 starts this season at Penn National, his home base.
Add the fact Kulp is from nearby Palmyra, and the gelding’s owner and co-breeder, Tom McClay, is another native who lives not far away in Hummelstown, and you had the makings of a really nice tale—one that became reality when Kyma, ridden by Dana Whitney, won the Governor’s Cup at 34-1 and had the locals howling on the track apron.
It was the first stakes win for Kulp, a 27-year-old who got his trainer’s license locally in 2006 and through Aug. 1 had won 161 races, good for a win clip of 22%. And it was a big one for a young trainer with only four previous starts in stakes.
“I’m speechless,” Kulp said after the race. “People said he didn’t have a chance (numbers-wise), but they don’t know this horse’s heart. He’s kind of lazy during training, but he’s very intelligent when you put him in a race.”
McClay, a member of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association board of directors, was on vacation in New Jersey—“When you make them, you have to take them”—and ended up watching the Governor’s Cup on his computer. He said Kyma didn’t look strong in the speed-figure department, but was lightly raced and obviously improving.
“He has no issues at all, and a healthy horse is everything,” said McClay, who breeds 25-30 horses a year. “I think he’s an awfully good horse that has been able to run up to the competition he faces.”
McClay said when he first gave horses to Kulp, the trainer was willing to listen to his owner’s thoughts on training. McClay said Kulp is open to suggestions, something that is hard to find with many trainers.
“He’s a very good trainer,” McClay said. “He’s a young guy starting out, and I’m very happy for him. To get that kind of publicity (winning Penn National’s marquee race) is big for him.”
The Governor’s Cup at five furlongs on the grass attracted a solid field, including 16-time winner Ben’s Cat, winner of Parx Racing’s Turf Monster Handicap (gr. IIIT) last year. Ben’s Cat found himself on the lead through a contested pace in the Governor’s Cup and finished a close fourth.
Kyma was ninth of 10 through fractions of :22.03 and :45.23, raced wide on the far turn, and circled foes to get up by a neck over 22-1 Car Thief and 10-1 Super Chunky. The final time on a firm course was :56.58.
Kulp’s father, Dick Kulp, was in tears when his son accepted the trophy in the winner’s circle. Dick Kulp and his wife, Laurel, earlier had horses with trainer Flint Stites, and then with their son when he got his trainer’s license.
Dick Kulp said other local owners such as Jim Kinsey, Tom Zapf, and Matt Groff gradually provided his son with horses to train.
“He just took off from there,” the proud father said. “They all gave him a shot. This is huge for him. Brandon has been around horses since he was 14, and this is what he has wanted to do since that time.”
Kulp thus far has trained mostly claiming horses. In 2007 he had 62 starters and 27 victories for a 44% win rate. Twenty-four of the wins came in claiming races.
Records the last few years indicate a gradual shift in stock for Kulp, with more starts in maiden and allowance races. Kyma, however, has been the best one thus far for Kulp, who called the upset “unbelievable.”
It appears the Turf Monster Sept. 3 is next for Kyma, who has been trained by Kulp since his victorious career debut June 28, 2011, at Penn National. The trainer said Kyma has told him what he wants to do—run short on the turf.
“We ran him long a couple of times, but he’s definitely a sprinter,” Kulp said of Kyma, who bucked shins as a 2-year-old but has been fine since. “He’s a very smart horse, and you can see how he kicks in. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”