Friday, August 6, 2010

When the dream is worth more than the dollars

Within the hour, a filly with an emotional back-story will be front and center at Saratoga, in the toughest test of her young racing life.

Few horses who've stacked up a three-race win-streak at Finger Lakes to start their careers would get so much attention. But few horses have a story like Lisa's Booby Trap, not to mention an owner/trainer in Tim Snyder whose handling of the horse has spurred debate, at least in the Twitterverse.

Snyder's been a race-tracker since his birth in the first aid room at Scarborough Downs, where his mother went into labor after his jockey dad won a race. He met the love of his life -- late wife Lisa -- on the back side at Finger Lakes in 1993, after a runaway horse Snyder was riding ran her over. Snyder got the horse under control, then hurried back to see if the girl was OK.

Lisa died of cancer on Christmas Eve a few years ago, and a devastated Snyder took three years away from racing, the only world he's ever known. Snyder finally went back to work for a longtime friend, trainer John Tebbutt. The barn was wintering in Florida when a guy who owed Snyder a favor offered him a horse for $4,500 -- $2,000 down and the rest "on the cuff."

Snyder named his new charge in honor of his late wife, who'd "sworn up and down" she would someday come back as a horse.

But the filly hardly appeared to be a bargain. She's blind in her left eye. She has a flat right front foot and and a left front that's a bit of a "club." And she initially refused to change leads at a gallop.

"I had my doubts," Snyder admitted. "I thought I got took."

"She was a bit gawky, but a good-looking filly," Tebbutt said. "But when we took her to the training track, it wasn't encouraging. She couldn't outrun a fat man ..."

Snyder decided the filly wasn't changing leads because she'd hit her own ankle when she tried. He "made some adjustments," including switching a back shoe to the front, and the difference in her action and attitude were astounding.

Tebbutt said that in her first timed work after the changes, "she was a different horse."

"When I saw my stopwatch," he recalled, "I thought she missed a pole. ... And she did it so effortlessly."

The first three races for Lisa's Booby Trap were much the same -- virtually effortless victories among clearly overmatched company. She didn't just win by daylight, with a 17 3/4-length maiden score, it was like she finished by lunchtime, while the also-rans were straggling home in time for supper.

Offers of up to $500,000 rolled in for the fleet filly. But Snyder wasn't selling. After all, it's only money.

"Whaddya gonna do?" he asks on camera, to nobody and to everybody. "I love the business. I love the horse."

So Snyder decided to step her up in class -- way up, with an entry in the recent Coaching Club American Oaks-G1 at Saratoga -- and that's where the Twitter debate began. While I'd keep the horse, just has Snyder has, pals of mine online were flabbergasted that he wouldn't take the money and run.

"It's like winning the lottery and not cashing the ticket," said one.

Or like getting the first three questions right on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and believing you can go all the way and cash the million, I replied.

I was surprised at the ... well, I can't call it "hostility," but ardent opinion ... that Tim Snyder was out of his mind not to accept a six-figure offer for a horse who (as this game sometimes goes) might never win again, nor even race another step. And they thought he was a fool for throwing her to the Grade 1 wolves, like Devil May Care.

But I shouldn't be shocked. That's the nature of this game.

Horse racing attracts equal parts dreamers and cynics, sometimes in the same person. And probably nobody on the outside understands us at all.

The gambler inside us is always looking for ways to beat the favorite, even sentimental ones. And I get that it's hard to understand how a guy who has been living in the dorms at the track would refuse a half-million bucks for a $4,500 horse.

But many of us have walked into the grandstand on a race-day thinking, "If I can just hit this trifecta in Race 1, I'll be able to fund that Pick-6 ticket the way I really wanna play it, not on the cheap."

If you hit that early "tri," the smartest play might be to shove the payout in your wallet and leave the track before Race 2. But who does that?

You let it ride.

Tim Snyder decided to let it ride. With over $33,000 banked already, the filly named for his beloved, late wife has more than paid him back. In his heart and mind, she owes him nothing. And if he can keep her running like she has been, she might earn him more than $500,000 anyway. Hey, it could happen.

Snyder ultimately scratched Lisa's Booby Trap from the CCA Oaks, citing track conditions, but I wonder whether he didn't just heed the critics and decide to give her a lesser "next" challenge. She's entered in today's Loudonville Stakes, still a big step up in class -- she's 12/1 on the morning line and by far the longest odds -- but a more reasonable task.

Whether horseman or horseplayer, we're all in this game for the same reason. As Jackson Knowlton said after he and his "little guy" partners in Sackatoga Stables won the Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide, it's all about "a dollar and a dream." None of us would be here -- toiling on the backstretch or gambling on the front side, up on a horse's back, or up in an owner's box -- if we weren't occasionally a dreamer. The risks of horse racing, financially and emotionally, are too great unless you're striving for far greater rewards, however improbable.

For some of us, the dollars are the dream.

But Tim Snyder has his dream horse. And you can keep your money.

(Watch TVG's feature on the pairing.)

Update: Big congrats to Tim Snyder and Lisa's Booby Trap, off-the-pace, six-length winner of the Loudonville in 1:09 3/5, in what was mostly a hand-ride. (Video via Thoroughbred Times.)


  1. I watched her in the Loudonville today, and visually, she was AWESOME looking. Not only did she "inhale" the other fillies, but on the simulcast, she looked like she was taller and larger than the other runners. Not quite Zenyatta like, but significantly larger.

    After the race, Desormeaux was hugging her and patting her. And then he really surprised me. He took off the saddle, but the stuff in his arm to get weighed, but instead of walking to the scales, he started scratching her where the saddle was and giving her a ton of affection. If Desormeaux is in love with this horse, then look out world, because when he tries his hardest, he's the best in the game for my money.

    Thanks for the heartwarming backstory, Glenn.

    David H.

  2. She is big for her age, by all accounts. Sure wings that "clubby" left front. But it looked like she had more in her if she'd needed it today, and the ability to go further. I don't know about 9f or 10f, but a mile or a mile and a sixteenth might be her wheelhouse.

  3. There are no perfect horses..except those with heart...

  4. Sorry for the slow confirmation of your comment, Greg. I thought I got it done from my new smartphone last night and almost 24 hours later, it was still listed as unmoderated. ... You're right, the heart is where the ultimate strength is found.

  5. If I had a horse like that, I wouldn't sell her either. Having a top horse in your barn is a million-to-1 shot, and all the money you might make from a sale is no guarantee that you'll get another one. I'd enjoy the ride for as long as the horse is healthy - economics be damned.


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