Fair Grounds news feature by Kevin Kilroy (Hodges photo of Happy American winning 2023 Louisiana Stakes)
New Orleans, La (Feb. 4, 2024) – With 19 of his barn’s 22 horses up for auction in the Lothenbach Dispersal of Horses of Racing Age sale, trainer Neil Pessin saw to it that five would be returning to their stalls at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
A longtime conditioner for Bob Lothenbach, who passed away Nov. 14, 2023, Pessin purchased Happy American, Flatter Me Silly, Ready to Pounce, Hogslayers R I P, and Churning Berni. With races circled for their next start, Pessin breezed each of them on Saturday, Feb.3.
“Now I just have to find investors,” Pessin said. “I’m just trying to decide if I should do it individually or as a group. Four of the ones I bought, I was targeting (in the sale). Three of the ones I bid on and didn’t get, I was targeting. I was the underbidder on two of them. Minnesota Ready, I was the underbidder on him. Straight and Level, I was the underbidder for him.”
A horseman with a heart as big as his best Thoroughbreds, Pessin acknowledged the emotional difficulty of seeing the others go.
“I’ll miss Minnesota Ready and Baseline Beater the most,” Pessin said. “There were only two that I wasn’t overly attached to because they had been (in my barn) less than a month. Other than that, you get an attachment to all of them. I hate to see them all leave.”
Over the years, Pessin and Bob Lothenbach had a lot of success, including Eden Prairie, Audry’s Time, and the five-time graded stakes winner and multimillionaire Bell’s the One.
“The Derby City Distaff (G1) was the most exciting race we had together,” Pessin said. “That was when Bell’s the One beat Serengeti Empress by a scant nose. Serengeti set the pace, we came from last, we hooked up at the 1/8th pole and they were head and head from the 1/8th pole to the wire. It was a battle.”
The versatile daughter of Majesticperfection made a name for herself early on at Fair Grounds, backing up her win in the 2018 Letellier, a juvenile dirt sprint, with a turf route stakes victory in the 2019 Allen “Black Cat” LaCombe Memorial.
“I knew (Bell’s the One) was good before I ever ran her,” Pessin said. “A lot of times you know if they’re good or not, but just not how good. Are they grade 1, grade 2, or grade 3? I told Bob she’s definitely a stakes filly, I just don’t’ what kind of stakes filly, yet. She won her first four. She won short, long, turf, dirt, poly. I don’t know what more you could ask from a horse.”
Along with Pessin and Lothenbach’s success came a strong relationship as friends.
“We had so many good times,” Pessin said. “We became pretty close, not just as an owner (and a trainer) but as friends. Even his brothers and I got to be friendly. Bob and I were pretty tight.”
Having never wanted to grow his barn bigger than the 22 stalls he’s allotted at Churchill Downs, Pessin now has room for new additions from owners who seek him out.
“I’ve never asked people for horses and I’m not going to change that now,” Pessin said. “If people send me horses, I’ll take them. I really don’t want to get above 22 because I don’t want to grow out of one barn. So 22 is my max assuming I get my barn back at Churchill.”
As far as the Lothenbach five returning to their barn at Fair Grounds go, Pessin targeted them in the sale for a reason and offered details on when we’ll see them race next.
With $630,216 in lifetime earnings, the 6-year-old gelded son of Smile Happy boasts the 2023 Louisiana Stakes Presented by Relyne GI By Hagyard (G3) and 2022 Tenacious on his resume. Exiting a third-place finish in each of those stakes this year, Happy American’s next start will be in the $250,000 Mineshaft (G3) on Feb. 17.
“He breezed a little slow early in the work this morning, but he finished off really well. Next week we’ll get Jareth on him to breeze and get a good five-eighths in him.”
Hogslayers R I P
Seven races in and still a maiden, the 5-year-old son of Union Rags finished second in his first two efforts.
“Maiden thirty on the turf. We haven’t dropped him. He was fifth last time. He’ll be salty in that category.”
Ready to Pounce
Having twice flirted with stakes company, the 6-year-old by More Than Ready has a lifetime record of 15-3-1-0 with $211,777 in the bank.
“If nothing pops up for him in the book, I’ll nominate him to the Colonel Power (Feb. 17). If I have to, I’ll run him in there just to get a race in him. I’d like to get at least one in him before heading back to Kentucky. He can run on turf or dirt, it doesn’t matter.”
Flatter Me Silly
With both her wins coming locally, the 6-year-old mare by Flatter is nominated for the Mardi Gras Stakes.
“There was a 5 and 1/2 “two-other-than” but no one else entered, so they’re bringing it back in the next book. I was going to run her short first time just to get a race in her. Now maybe I’m going to let her run long, let her make her run to see if I’ve got her tight enough or not. I think she’s going to be okay, though. I think I can get blacktype on her. She’s just been unfortunate to not have won more races with the trips and stuff that she’s gotten.”
The sophomore filly by Bernardini made three starts as 2-year-old, including a sixth-place finish behind Perfect Shot on Churchill’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” card.
“I think she has a lot of upside to her. She’s always shown a lot of promise but has never really ran like it. She seems to have turned the corner in the last thirty days. Next time she runs, I think you’ll see a different horse.”