Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stachys streaks to Derby win

Last-turn breakout catapults gelding past favourite, field

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Environment Canada said we hit a scorching high of 29 Monday afternoon.

But not everyone believes Environment Canada these days, especially Eddie Martin Jr. "This was like a cold front for me," he said from the winners circle at Assiniboia Downs yesterday. "I'm from Louisiana, and its 100 degrees down there right now. The weather here wasn't a problem at all"

Martin was as cool as they come in the eighth race, as he bided his time behind a wall of horses to guide Stachys, a Kentucky-bred bay gelding to victory in the 62nd running of the $75,000 Manitoba Lotteries Derby.

Stachys finished the mile-and-an-eighth a length ahead of Cherokee's Goal and the 3-1 favourite Chief Counsel. Martin said he knew he was on a great horse, but wasn't counting his winnings until they crossed the line.

"Believe me, if you start thinking you are going to win it before that, that's when you get beat," he said. "We really didn't have much strategy, just break and go, man. I had the best horse, and when you have the best horse, you can do what you want."

Still, Martin, trainer Michael Biehler of Oklahoma and owner Al Ulwelling of Minnesota had concerns going into the race.

"When we nominated, were weren't thinking we'd have to run against the Woodbine horse (Chief Counsel)," said Biehler. "I was a little bit worried about the pace, and traffic trouble in the turn, but I knew that if we could be head-and-head with the favourite, turning for home, I had the confidence that Eddie could get the job done, and he did."

"You are always nervous," said Ulwelling. "I mean you always want to say your horse is best, but we knew coming in that we were in a tough race. If you looked at it on paper, Chief Counsel was definitely the horse to beat."

Martin also had some concerns while the race was in progress.

"I was on the inside and kind of trapped behind all of them, and I had to kind of wiggle my way out (late in the last turn). By the sixteenth pole, I found a gap and when I went around and (Stachys) went 'whisssssst', and I pushed the button. All I had to do from there was just guide him home. The horse can run, man. He didn't even take a second breath."

Biehler claimed Stachys for Ulwelling and his brother Al out of a $30,000 maiden-claiming race at Remington Park in Oklahoma City last October. The horse wasn't rushed into action after the purchase, though.

"We saved him," said Ulwelling, "and Mike's trained him proper. He didn't burn him out, but he put him in races where he needed to be. If you look at his record he ran five furlongs in 57.4 seconds, so we were going to head him towards the Kentucky Derby, but Mike said, 'that's too fast. We have to take him out, settle him down, and give him three months off.' So we sent him back to Mike's farm in Oklahoma."

After a few conditioning races this spring in Louisiana and Iowa, Stachys began to come around, and on July 4, he won the $35,000 Dean Kutz Stakes at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota on turf, over a solid field.

"This is a nice animal they claimed down in Oklahoma last year," said Martin, who raced Stachys for only the second time Monday, but has galloped him several times earlier. He's just stepped right on up the ladder."

At 4-1, Stachys paid $10.80, $6.00 and $2.80. Cherokee's Goal (7-1), with Juan Crawford aboard, paid $7.20 and $2.90 and Chief Counsel, with Gary Baze up, paid $2.10.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2010 C1

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