LOUISVILLE, Ky. — G M B Racing’s Lone Sailor has run well throughout his 14-race career to date, well enough to have earned $873,237. But until he won Remington Park’s $400,000, Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby on Sept. 13, Lone Sailor possessed a lone victory. While even that second triumph came in a three-horse photo, trainer Tom Amoss sees a lot to like heading into either the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic or $1 million Dirt Mile on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
“To the average handicapper, they’re going to see a horse that got up by a nose with two other horses on the wire in the Oklahoma Derby,” Amoss said last week at Churchill Downs. “They may rightfully question what makes him a horse who would demand any kind of attention whatsoever in a Breeders’ Cup race of any kind.
“I think you have to look beyond that. I’ve said it throughout the year that I’ve been looking for Lone Sailor to understand racing. The Oklahoma Derby was a race where he did not get a clean trip. He had to go around, and for him to fight to the wire like that is the first time I’ve seen him show a desire — a desire to win. He’s always had the talent. He’s a very good-looking athletic horse. I think he’s finally put the pieces together. I think it would be a mistake to just say, ‘Hey, he won a 3-year-old race by a nose and now he’s in the Breeders’ Cup. Let’s put a line through him.’”
During his 11-race skein between victories, Lone Sailor had five second-place finishes and two thirds. He was a troubled eighth in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness, losing the latter by a total of two lengths behind eventual Triple Crown winner Justify. He was second by a neck in $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans the day after the funeral for Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson, who campaigned horses with wife Gayle in the name of her G M B Racing.
“This was a big breakthrough for us,” Amoss said of the 1 1/8-mile Oklahoma Derby, in which jockey James Graham rode Lone Sailor. “We’re excited about him from that regard. Not only because whatever happens in the Breeders’ Cup, but really for his 4-year-old year. I think he’s a horse to contend with.”
“The Oklahoma Derby was a win that Lone Sailor and Tom certainly deserved getting,” Greg Bensel, senior vice president of communications/broadcasting for the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, as well as general manager of G M B Racing, said via email. “He has placed in many of the top level races dating back till the time he was a 2-year-old. He has faced off against the best – Justify, Bravazo and Good Magic, to name a few. We loved the horse and his ability to work hard in the morning and work equally hard in the afternoons. We are very proud of him.”
With the Saints 4-1 heading into Sunday’s NFL game in Baltimore and the Pelicans starting the NBA season Wednesday night, it’s a busy time for Gayle Benson and her team.
“We clearly have high standards in our building,” Bensel said. “That comes from our late owner Tom Benson and continues today with Mrs. Benson. We want to win and be competitive at everything we do, and we want to be good sportsmen doing it. We do not take any of our past successes for granted and continue to work hard at making our fans proud.”
G M B Racing has had one prior Breeders’ Cup starter, with the Dallas Stewart-trained Tom’s Ready finishing fifth in the 2016 Dirt Mile at Santa Anita.
Bensel said the G M B team hopes to make it to the Breeders’ Cup, but that could be a late decision with the Saints playing host to the currently 6-0 Rams the next day in a critical NFC matchup. (In a bit of taunting scheduling fate, the following week they play at the Bengals, only 100 miles from Churchill Downs.)
“It’s not that horse racing is on the back burner for them,” Amoss said. “Quite the contrary, they own a farm here in Kentucky. They’re breeding, they’re selling at the sales as well as buying. They’re actively involved in all aspects of thoroughbred racing, which is not only exciting for me but should be exciting for the industry. Because they could be a big player.
“They’re watching closely. They’re paying attention. Matter of fact, so are the football players. For the Oklahoma Derby, they’d just finished beating the Giants and they were on the bus heading back to the airport in New York to fly back to New Orleans, and they all watched the race on their phones.”
Lone Sailor prevailed on the equivalent of the last play of the game, prevailing by a nose over Believe in Royalty and Diamond King.
“Lone Sailor is a very fit horse. He’s run throughout the year and run at a lot of different tracks and in the highest competition of the 3-year-old division,” Amoss said after a recent work. “So he’s got a lot of constitution beneath him. He doesn’t need a lot in his training, other than to maintain kind of a quiet demeanor, which is why we work a lot of our horses in the first place. ”
Amoss said the decision between the Breeders’ Cup Classic or Dirt Mile, which is conducted around one turn, will hinge in part on the likely pace of each race. As a late-running horse, Lone Sailor’s kick is more effective the faster the leaders go early in a race.
While Lone Sailor’s last one-turn race was just under a year ago, that day he was second by only a head in Churchill Downs’ Street Sense Stakes at a mile. His maiden win at Saratoga came at seven-eighths of a mile.
Said Bensel: “Right now, he has given Tom every indication he will be ready for either race.”
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