There’s a well-worn line at the track that asks, ‘How do you make a million dollars in horse racing?’
The answer? Start out with five million…
Conditioner Steven Chircop is looking to avenge that stereotype in Sunday’s $1 million dollar Woodbine Mile with Kara’s Orientation, a horse he claimed for just $20,000 a little more than a year ago.
“It’s almost like a dream,” says Chircop, while standing in the stall belonging to his star pupil. “People might think this is crazy, but, deep down, I always thought the horse had this much talent.”
The four-year-old Orientate-Crissy Aya colt broke his maiden in a cheap dirt race at Calder as a two year-old in December of 2009, and followed it up with another victory a month later as a three-year-old, for then trainer Michael McDonald. The sequence piqued Chircop’s interest.
“I always like a horse that breaks his maiden and can come right back against winners and win again,” nods Chircop.
McDonald brought Kara’s Orientation up to Woodbine in May of 2010, following a string of subpar efforts at Gulfstream and Tampa Bay. The colt would finish fourth in his Woodbine debut, a protected allowance route, just a few lengths behind Big Red Mike who would go on to win the Queen’s Plate.
Kara’s Orientation was dropped in for $20,000 in his next start, and Chircop filled out the claim slip on behalf of owners Max Berketa and Pinnacle Racing. Despite being left at the gate, the colt rallied gamely to finish second and Chircop walked the horse back to a new home on the Woodbine backstretch.
Chircop knew the horse had talent and went to work on polishing up his diamond in the rough.
“At the time I picked him up, I had a small stable so I was doing all the work myself,” said Chircop. “There are a lot of horses that have the potential, and small things, in the right environment can turn a horse around.”
First item on the agenda for Chircop was to help his horse get out of the blocks a bit better. Kara’s Orientation, somewhat like a kid reluctant to wave good bye to his parents on his first day of school, hated his morning education at the starting gate.
“It was a complete nightmare,” recalls Chircop. “They had to rig the horse and tie him into the gate so he couldn’t flip. The horse was going ballistic in there. It was so bad, I was telling the guys to please let him out. But they said to just leave him and keep bringing him back.”
After several sessions, the nervous fellow finally made peace with the scary, metallic contraption.
“After that first visit, he was so washed out, I thought he wasn’t going to eat for a week,” says Chircop. “But I kept bringing him back and let him know that no one is there to hurt him. After the fifth time going there he was a completely different animal.”
Medidocihospisurg, another horse claimed by Chircop, won the Elgin Stakes
Kara’s Orientation blossomed for Chircop with immediate effect. The colt finished second behind well-regarded So Elite in his first start for Chircop, and followed that effort with a five-length romp in a Polytrack route.
In July of 2010, Chircop entered Kara’s Orientation into the nine furlong Toronto Cup over Woodbine’s E.P Taylor Turf Course for his stakes debut. Sent to post at odds of 15-1, Kara’s Orientation pressed the pace and finished just a half-length behind multiple stakes winner Stormy Lord.
The result was a revelation for Chircop. His $20,000 claim completed the 2010 campaign, a handful of starts later, with $137,190 in earnings for his appreciative owners.
“The group at Pinnacle sent me a Christmas card with a nice bonus saying thank you for the year, and we appreciate what you’ve done for us,” recalls Chircop, adding, “I wrote them back a letter to say thank you very much, and hopefully next year we’ll get to our main goal, the Woodbine Mile. That was written in December of 2010 and now we’re here.”
To get to the Woodbine Mile, Kara’s Orientation has made five starts this meet finishing in the money on four occasions. The best result of the bunch being his most recent effort, when he opened up a 17-length lead in the ten-furlong Grade 2 Sky Classic. The hard-trying horse galloped under the wire a two and a quarter length winner under jockey Emile Ramsammy.
“To see him in front like that by 17 lengths, if you had a video camera on me, I had my head in my hands,” laughed Chircop. “I think he went 25 to the quarter, but he picked it up and hit the half in 48 and change, it was gruesome. At the top of the lane, Ramsammy hadn’t moved on him yet, and I knew he was running against good horses, but he was moving so easy and he’s such a gutsy horse. I was concerned, but he was so relaxed.”
Where did he go? The Trackus chicklets can't keep up with Kara's Orientation
That the high-strung horse, claimed on the cheap, has come to enjoy his job on the racetrack reflects well on the young conditioner. Chircop believes the time he was able to spend with Kara’s Orientation last year, when he was running a small outfit, helped move his horse forward.
“I was able to spend so much time with him and take him for a pick of grass. It’s small things that I think made a difference because me and the horse bonded,” states Chircop.
Kara could win by a neck...
That bond between horse and trainer can be so critical when taking a high-strung animal from training track to competition.
“He’s just come to be able to trust me,” says Chircop. “The horse is so smart, it’s unreal. When I come into the barn in the morning, before he can even see me, I don’t know if he can smell me or what, he comes to the front of his stall knickering.”
And the bond is important enough to Chircop, that he’s not about to change things now.
“From the day that I got the horse until now, I’ve been the one to groom the horse,” says Chircop. “At the start, it was because I didn’t have any help and now that I have help, I don’t want to change anything.”
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With so many great horses currently on the grounds, I took a quick walk around the backstretch this morning and snapped a slew of photos. As always, double-left click the photo to enlarge it and use your 'Back' button to return to the photo blog.
Will Courageous Cat claw his way to victory in the Mile?
Riding the River can hear the wide guy chatter
The handsome Turallue
Turallure might sing good night to the field
Courageous Cat strikes a pose
Anna Sophia would like to have her picture taken after Saturday's Natalma
Dayathespa has some work to do in the Natalma
The sly eye treatment from Dayatthespa
Say 'Salut' to Zagora (FR)
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Check out the official Woodbine Mile site for more information on the contenders for Sunday's million-dollar event.