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For a horse with a very noticeable hitch in his giddy up, Riversedge Racing Stable's Stone Carver sure hasn't let it hamper him in any manner.
This past Sunday Stone Carver, who has a condition called Stringhalt, which is described as a spasmodic contraction of the lateral extensor tendons of the hind legs, won his second stakes race in a row at Century Mile when he very easily went wire to wire to win the seven furlong $50,000 Spangled Jimmy.
When he's running he's fine but when he walks or backs up it looks like he's lame and that there is no way in the world that he can run let alone win a race because his right hind leg exaggeratedly jerks upward with a high spasmodic motion - almost hitting his belly - before he slaps it down heavily on the ground.
"He's had it from day one," said Norm Castiglione, who owns Riversedge with Robert Vargo. "He had it when we bought him in Florida as a yearling. It was obviously a concern but we watched him on the track and he was just fine. It was a risk but it's been proven to be a good risk. The main thing is that it doesn't bother him at all when he is running. As soon as he runs it goes away."
"When he is walking it almost looks like he has a broken leg," said Alberta's leading trainer again, Tim Rycroft of a neurologic problem that has left veterinarians baffled. "Watching him walk you think this horse has no chance. Yet he's got beautiful action when he's running - a beautiful stride," said Rycroft.
With rain pouring down that beauty was on display again in the Spangled Jimmy. "He jumped out pretty nicely," said Castiglione. "He was two lengths a head of everyone else after half a furlong. Then he basically said 'Hey, I'll just stay at this pace.'"
Breaking from the rail, Stone Carver did just that and surprisingly no one else challenged him. Explode, who won the 2019 Canadian Derby, finished second. "Explode made a run at him but there was no way Stone Carver was going to let him go by," said Rycroft.
The first quarter went in a quick 22.32 seconds. The second quarter was almost identical with half a mile reached in 44.63 seconds. Six furlongs went in 1:08.33. "Enrique (Gonzalez) gave him a perfect ride," said Castiglione after Stone Carver crossed the finish line a length and three-quarters on top getting the seven furlongs in 1:21.43 which was just a whisper of a breath off the track record of 1:21.35 set by Got My Mo two years ago.
"Enrique still had lots of horse coming home. He was still very strong at the wire. There was still lots left in the tank. Not to take anything away from the others but he did win pretty easily," agreed Rycroft, who also credited Gonzalez.
"Enrique is riding so fricken good right now. He's got a lot of confidence. He can win on the front and he can most certainly win from behind because he's such a good stretch rider. He's been a real nice addition to the jock's room."
Now six-years-old, Stone Carver is well travelled. He's run at Tampa Bay, Gulfstream, Assinboia Downs, Woodbine, Vancouver, Balzac and Edmonton. Moreover, he's run well just about everywhere he has competed.
The only exception was Toronto's Woodbine racetrack where he was sent last fall to see what he could do. But two starts there resulted in a tenth and last-place finish in an optional claiming race and then a fourth when he was entered in a $25,000 claiming race. "Some things happened to him down there but it shows you just how tough Woodbine is. They've got some real nice horses in Toronto."
Sunday's win was the eighth of Stone Carver's career in 29 starts. Along with those wins he also has five seconds and three thirds for earnings that are now just under $200,000. "He gives you an honest effort all the time," said Rycroft. "He's always in the race."
Six, six-and-a-half or seven furlongs fits Stone Carver perfectly - especially the latter given that he has now won three of the four times he has gone that distance. "He hasn't performed as well at a mile or more but the way he ran Sunday I think he would have handled a longer distance had he been asked to go that far. He was really good. He put the others away very nicely."
Rycroft said Stone Carver's resume is all business: "Especially when he is on the lead. He lays it all on the line; he tries hard every time he runs. He runs his eyeballs out." The son of Birdstone - a horse that won three of New York's most historic Grade 1 races: the Champagne, Belmont (defeating Smarty Jones) and Travers - has also shown an affinity for Century Mile where he now has six wins, two seconds and two thirds in 12 appearances.
In his previous start Stone Carver won the Journal Handicap for the second straight time. He did that in track record time over a lightning fast surface winning in 1:07 2/5. "People said with the problem he's got he wouldn't amount too much but he continues to prove those people wrong," said Rycroft.
Two years ago Stone Carver also won the Spangled Jimmy. Last year he was second in that stakes race finishing second a length and a quarter behind Deuces Are Wild. "That was probably my fault," said Rycroft. "In last year's running I told his jockey, Rigo Sarmiento to take a hold of him and sit just off the pace and make one run. In retrospect that was a mistake. I should have told Rigo just to let him roll. He should probably have won the Spangled Jimmy three years in a row."
Rycroft said his barn foreman, Gonzalo Anderson, deserves a lot of the credit. "Gonzalo does a great job with him in the mornings. He back tracks him; he takes his time with him. He lets Stone Carver stand by himself and just watch what is going on around him. It can take Gonzalo half an hour just to gallop.
Because Stone Carver is so special he gets treated specially. "He really gets spoiled. As well as giving him time to gallop he gets hand walked and brushed a couple of times a day," said Rycroft. "And he gets lots of treats - peppermints, carrots… Just about any thing. But that's what you do with good horses. Especially the older ones. You let them enjoy the few minutes they get when they are out of their stalls. You let them feel special. And that's what Stone Carver is - he's a very special horse."
STOCK REPORT - There are two one-mile stakes races this Sunday at Century Mile: the Sonoma for three-year-old fillies and the Count Lathum, a key race for three-year-old Canadian Derby prospects where the sensational Tony's Tapit will try and win his fourth in row after completely dominating his opposition in one race in Phoenix and then his last two at Century Mile.
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