Tyrone Nelson thinks there's something a little bit crazy about Thunderclap Newman -- and he should know.
Afterall, Nelson's the guy who was on the horse's back when the Kentucky-bred gelding won the second and third legs of the Assiniboia Downs Marathon series. The Jamaican-born jockey will be in the saddle on closing day (Sept. 22) when the fourth and final leg goes to post.
Nelson is also of the opinion, however, that a little bit crazy isn't always a bad thing.
"He's a little bit on the crazy side sometimes but I really like him," said Nelson. "He can run but he's a little bit head shy. When you go to hold him, he'll just flip right over on you. As soon as I see someone try to get on his head, I jump off.
"But this horse was bred (Thunder Gulch, out of Silent Siren) to run all day and he's been training really well since Tom (trainer Gardipy Jr.) claimed him."
"This is what we claimed him for," said Gardipy, who paid $2,500 on Aug. 2 on behalf of the horse's new owners, Lynn and Marie White and William Bochinski. "We wanted a horse for the marathon series."
With the option of having to run in only one of the first two races of the series, Gardipy chose let the chestnut horse sit out the first race. The 2009 ASD trainer of the year turned him loose on Aug. 9 in the second leg, and with Nelson in control he won handily over a mile and a quarter in front of Swift Progress and Sir J. Windsor. On Labour Day Monday, he won the mile-and-a-half third leg, again ahead of Swift Progress and Sir J Windsor.
Both Gardipy and Nelson are confident that, crazy or not, Thunderclap has what it takes to make it three in a row in the final leg, which stretches out to a mile and three quarters.
In his two marathon wins, Thunderclap trailed the field early but took over in the stretch to claim the lead. That style doesn't worry Gardipy.
"He likes to be way off the pace," said Gardipy, "but it also depends on what horses will be in the race. I believe he will win the final race, but Swift Progress and Sir J Windsor could still be a factor. With the right trip, either one of those two horses could win. You can't overlook last year's winner, Farm Hand, either. He likes the added distance but I noticed on Monday that he didn't have a very good trip. I think he broke away too early but that's just my opinion, so I'm not ruling anything out. Long shots do come in."
Nelson, who got off to a late start this year due to problems with his immigration paperwork, has made up quite a bit of ground with 36 wins, including stakes victories in the Wheat City on July 6 (on Pleasant Closing), and Aug. 16 in the CTHS (on Zdeno).
It's the longer races he feels are his specialty.
"I think I do much better in route-of-ground races," he said. "A lot of the riders here, they ride the same way, but the route races are more of a patience game, so the more you keep patient and save ground, that is the key (to winning)."
In dealing with Thunderclap Newman and his "craziness," Nelson says, "The most important thing is to keep him relaxed and try to save as much ground as possible. The first day Tom claimed that horse he was a little bit on the rough side and I tried to get him to settle in. He's doing better now."
In actuality, a mile-and-three-quarters takes about three minutes and 16 seconds. The last minute, however, can sometimes, seem like hours. Nelson says when that happens, he has no problem sticking to his game plan.
"The further the races go, the more confident I get. I think I am really good at that."
Gardipy says he is already looking into other marathon events for Thunderclap Newman.
"We're looking for another track that has marathons to send him to after this season ends. What he likes is the distance and he has run for $2,500, which is what we claimed him for. For most marathons you have to have started for a cheap tag and he would be eligible for that."
One stakes race is scheduled this weekend at Assiniboia Downs. The $50,000 Winnipeg Futurity for two-year-olds over six furlongs goes tomorrow. Post times tonight and tomorrow are 7 p.m.