Those in attendance at Saturday’s Juvenile Showcase at Calder Casino & Race Course can be forgiven for at some point in the afternoon mistaking the festivities as Kathleen O’Connell Showcase, as the veteran conditioner will saddle seven horses on the 12-race card, six of which will come in stakes, including likely odds-on favorite Two T’s At Two B in the $125,000-estimated Affirmed Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes.
“This will be my biggest day as a trainer, at least when it comes to starting horses in this many stakes,” O’Connell said. “The day I won (the 1996 Dr. Fager) with Blazing Sword I was also second (in the Susan’s Girl) with Dance With Jean and third in a 3-year-old stake, but that’s really the last time I had a day anything like the one I’ll have tomorrow.”
The sheer number of O’Connell runners on the Juvenile Showcase card is a testament to the phenomenal year the Michigan native is enjoying with her 2-year-old horses, winning with 11 of her 32 juvenile starters at the meet in advance of Saturday’s card.
“With all respect to claiming trainers, that’s just never been what I’m about,” O’Connell said of her desire to excel with young horses. “With claiming horses, what you see is pretty much what you get, and there isn’t much you’re going to change with one. That’s why I love the babies; they’re an unknown, and it’s the whole developmental process that excites me, where one can always supersede expectations.”
And for O’Connell, those expectations begin to develop when the trainer first maps a course of action for one of the new youngsters that comes under her care.
“I find that it’s almost similar to coaching youth athletes,” O’Connell said. “Some horses are like gawky kids that need a lot of time and patience to grow, while others just have a natural ability and immediately seem to get things. And you can never force them; each has to develop at their own speed.
“For example, some horses go to the gate for the first time and have no problems. Then, the next day you take another to the gate, and he’s an absolute mess. So you have to know when to push forward with one and when to ease back with another; and every one of them is different.
“I view it kind of like a poker game. You have to know when to stay in and when to fold up. But you also have to be aware of everything going on around you, and you have to try and anticipate what is going to happen next.”
O’Connell will have little time for anticipation on Saturday, at least not when the stakes portion of the program nears, as she will begin her day by saddling first time starter Kanturk Kid in the sixth race before returning in the seventh race Seacliff with Mayberry Madness, the eighth race Lindsay Frolic with Brown Eyed Sue, the ninth race Fasig-Tipton Turf Dash with both Too Fast to Pass and Dan the Irishman, the tenth race Affirmed with Two T’s At Two B, and the 12th race Catcharisingstar with Mambo With Marilyn.
“The good thing is that everything tomorrow is going to happen so fast, I won’t have any time to get nervous between the races.”
10 HORSES NOMINATE TO DARN THAT ALARM
When nominations for the $75,000 Darn That Alarm Stakes, the featured event on the September 1 opening day of the Tropical Meet, closed earlier this week, 10 horses were nominated to the 1 1/16-mile main track test including Miami Mile Handicap winner Imperial Czar, recent Band Is Passing Stakes hero Cash Rules, Primal Stakes winner Numb Lips, and the three-time stakes winning filly Angelica Zapata, who was last seen winning the Nancy’s Glitter.
Entries for the Darn That Alarm will be taken in the Calder racing office on Monday, August 27.