Monday, June 15, 2009

Daughters of Biancone, Wolfendale score first wins: Young trainers had good, and bad, examples to follow

Like father, like daughter. Or in one case, let's hope not.

Sunday was the day for first-time winners among the second-generation trainers' ranks. Both Marie Biancone, daughter of conditioner Patrick Biancone, and Maggie Wolfendale, daughter of trainer Howard Wolfendale, collected their own first victories as trainers on June 14, 2009.

In another interesting parallel, both women's horses won the seventh race on the card at their respective tracks.

Ms. Biancone scored at Arlington Park in only her third race after hanging out her own shingle. The French-born Biancone collected a long-shot win in Arlington Race 7 with Grand Symphony, a 4-year-old Stravinsky filly who won drawing off by four in a six-furlong maiden-claimer on Polytrack.

Ms. Wolfendale, still just a senior at Towson University in Maryland (majoring in broadcast journalism) took the the seventh at Colonial Downs with Gulch Fever, a gelding formerly trained by her father. Unlike the Biancone winner, Gulch Fever was sent off as the 2.70-to-1 favorite, and he won just as handily, clear by 4 1/4 in the one-mile turf claimer.

Maggie Wolfendale's feat is particularly impressive to me. While still a year away from her college degree (an accomplishment in itself) she has seven horses in training at Colonial Downs. And it's pretty apparent she's learned a thing or two from her father, who won his first race as a trainer at Laurel Park in 1977 and his 1,000th at the same track some 28 years later, in 2005. Howard Wolfendale was named the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association's top trainer for 1989.

Maggie's horse skills have been well-honed through the years. She has ridden dressage and even ponied horses in the Preakness post-parade. Now she sometimes combines her broadcasting and journalism skills with her knowledge of the horses to write an occasional column at and to offer her picks via the Colonial Downs JumboTron between races.

And as if a winner's circle photo of your very own horse wasn't already a beautiful thing, it can only get better with the 2008 Miss Preakness as your trainer (pictured).

Marie Biancone, meanwhile, emigrated to the U.S. from France in 2004 and has served as an assistant to her father since then. And that isn't necessarily all positive. During her time as an assistant to Patrick Biancone, Marie's father was suspended for a year by Kentucky stewards in 2007 after three vials of alpha-cobra toxin -- that's snake venom, apparently used to deaden sore joints on horses that should be resting, not running -- were found in his barn at Keeneland.

The elder Biancone claims the contraband wasn't his. Indeed, it was contained in a red bag labeled with veterinarian Rodney Stewart’s name and phone number (Stewart got a five-year ban). But the stuff was in the Biancone barn's refrigerator, which makes it also his responsibility, and Biancone's prior record makes it difficult to believe he follows nothing but the straight-and-narrow these days.

The now-57-year-old Biancone was heralded for winning back-to-back runnings of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1983 and 1984 (with All Along and Sagace), but after leaving his native France to train in Hong Kong, Biancone was suspended from that Asian jurisdiction when two of his horses tested positive for banned substances. Biancone had been fined in 1997 when more than 20 of the horses in his care tested positive for banned substances. The 10-month ban for the second series of Hong Kong violations prompted Biancone to relocate to the States.

During 2007 alone -- the year that eventually ended with Biancone's 12-month suspension (technically shortened later to six, albeit with the agreement from Biancone that he wouldn't reapply for a Kentucky license for another six months) -- Biancone had his hand slapped for two other violations. About a month before the cobra venom was found in his barn refrigerator, Biancone completed a 15-day suspension (ending Sept. 19, 2007) for a medication violation stemming from a May 3 race at Churchill Downs. Only days earlier, on Sept. 5, 2007, he was fined $10,000 by California stewards and received a stay of a 15-day suspension for a violation that occurred Jan. 7 at Santa Anita.

That's a rap sheet covering a decade-long span and multiple jurisdictions all around the world. It's a black mark that is embarrassing particularly to American racing, where Biancone proves a trainer can get caught and accused and caught again and keep getting re-licensed eventually. And it's a record that unfortunately will follow Biancone's name, which is also his daughter's, in the minds of the horse racing public unless and until she proves to be a winner without all the incidents and accusations of doping.

I really hope that's exactly what Marie Biancone does -- win plenty of races, without a hint of impropriety. That isn't just what the Biancone name needs for some redemption, it's what all of racing needs, from every trainer.

Meanwhile, sincere congratulations to both women on their first victories as conditioners. May your racing lives be filled with many more happy moments like those.

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