Thursday, July 30, 2009
Winning a $6 million race would make you fat and happy. Trainer Eoin Harty, one of the wittiest guys on the backstretch, is happy. Well Armed, whom Harty trained to win the Dubai World Cup four months ago, is fat.
"I can't get the belly off him," Harty said while feeding Well Armed a carrot at his Del Mar barn. "He looks a little too prosperous."
He's entitled to be that way after taking down a first prize of $3.6 million. And despite the extra weight, Harty is enthusiastic over how Well Armed is training. "Well Armed is super," he said emphatically.
Just how well he's doing will be evident on Sunday at Del Mar, because Well Armed is about to go back to work. For the first time since winning the richest race in the world, Well Armed will be in a race, the Grade 2, $250,000 San Diego Handicap. The San Diego is a prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sept. 6, and depending on how events unfold over the space of the next few days, Harty could have two of the leading contenders in this track's most important race.
On Friday, Colonel John - who last year won the Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes - will compete in the $85,000 Wickerr Handicap. It will be his first start since Dec. 26. The race is on grass, but it's not as if Harty is looking to move Colonel John to the turf. The Wickerr is a means to an end. Harty wanted to keep Colonel John and Well Armed apart for now, rather than have them face one another in the San Diego. Put $1 million up later this meet, though, and he'll gladly let them try and carve up the spoils. The groundwork for that assault will be laid between Friday and Sunday.
After Well Armed won the World Cup, Harty immediately said Well Armed would get a vacation, then return in the San Diego. So far, everything has gone according to plan.
"He came back to California after the World Cup. We gave him a week to recuperate, then sent him to the farm for three or four weeks," Harty said. "All his training from that point was determined by working back from the San Diego. When we needed to get him going, we put him back in training."
Well Armed got his R & R in Kentucky at the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, which bred and owns both Well Armed and Colonel John. Well Armed has been a pet project of Casner's, who helped nurse the gelding back to the races from a severe pelvis injury early in his career.
The World Cup was the payoff for all that attention to detail. Harty remembers the week, and the race, vividly, from trying to watch a workout in the midst of a sandstorm next to Bob Baffert, to Well Armed's 14-length victory under jockey Aaron Gryder.
"I was pretty damn confident. He had been doing better than the year before, when he finished third, and there was no Curlin in the field, and no other speed," Harty said. "I thought his best advantage was to go to the lead.
"Aaron came over early in the week to work him. We wanted to give him a sharp half-mile workout to sharpen his speed. But you couldn't see anything that day. My horse and Indian Blessing both worked that morning. Baffert and I were like a sniper team," with one of them timing the work while the other yelled when a furlong pole was passed.
Harty watched the race with Jimmy Bell, who oversees Sheikh Mohammed's Darley USA.
"With my myopic vision, I watched the race in the jock's room. I was very happy with his position at the top of the stretch, and as he started drawing off, Jimmy Bell was slapping me on the back saying, 'You're going to win. You're going to win,' " Harty said. "Usually when somebody says that, it's the kiss of death. Something drastic happens. A horse bolts. The jock falls off. But it all worked out. It was a great feeling."
After winning, Harty was ready to party. Trouble was, he had an early flight the next day, and his entourage was spent from their revelry earlier in the evening.
"You're ready to get started," Harty said, "but everybody else was so [messed] up they just wanted to go to bed."
Cue Pink. Harty and Well Armed are ready to get this party started again.