‘Dave’ Keeps His Fans Bubbling at Saratoga
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) _ If the trees that shade Saratoga’s paddock could talk, they’d speak in reverent tones of Man o’ War, Whirlaway, Native Dancer, Kelso, Secretariat, Affirmed, Fourstardave.
Fourstardave, or just plain ″Dave,″ as he is known to his legions of fans. Although his name doesn’t exactly ring with racing history like some of the storied thoroughbreds that have graced this 129-year-old track, those that know Dave know what he does best: win at Saratoga.
And win, and win, and win.
Dave has won at least one race in Saratoga in each of the past seven years, five of them stakes races. On Thursday, he won the West Point Handicap, a race he has won twice before, but was disqualified and placed fifth for a bumping incident in the stretch.
He finished second and first in two outings earlier in Saratoga’s five-week meet.
Dave’s disqualification was all the more disappointing because he stumbled coming out of the gate and fought back to win in a photo finish.
″He fought too hard for the win to have a two-step brush cost him the race,″ said jockey Richard Migliore. ″He gave me something I didn’t know he had, but he found it somewhere inside him.″
″He’s got the biggest heart I’ve ever seen in a horse,″ said a disappointed Leo O’Brien, Fourstardave’s trainer. ″He didn’t get beat. The stewards beat him.″
The disqualification is unlikely to diminish his stature among the Saratoga fans.
″He’s what the $2 bettor believes in,″ said John Fitzgerald of Springfield, Mass., among those who lined up four and five deep outside the paddock before the race. ″Horse-racing needs something like this.″
″People could be in this business all their lives, and spend millions of dollars and they’ll never find a horse like this,″ said Richard Bomze, owner of Fourstardave. ″They’ll never get a horse to win at Saratoga seven years in a row.″
Fourstardave has won more than $1.5 million in purses, more than any New York-bred ever, off a record of 20 wins, 16 seconds and 12 thirds in 83 career starts.
Bomze says in light of Fourstardave’s Saratoga record, it’s time a race was named after the 8-year-old gelding.
″How about the West Point? ... a New York-bred turf stake like that would be perfect to name after him,″ he said
″He loves Saratoga,″ says O’Brien. ″He’s very happy when he’s here. Saratoga brings out the best in him.″
Part of the reason, O’Brien says, is Saratoga’s setting. In the noisy environs of Belmont and Aqueduct in New York City, Fourstardave is a nervous stall pacer. At Saratoga, he spends his time in O’Brien’s barn on the Oklahoma Training Track looking out the stall’s back window at the traffic, admiring the steeplechase horses being put through their workouts, and, well, just chillin’.
In the paddock before the races, the horse likes to strut his stuff.
″He’s a bit of a showman, too,″ O’Brien said. ″He’ll stop and look around and takes everything in. He poses a little bit.″
Forget Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Sea Hero. Fourstardave is the media darling here. The local papers all do ″Dave″ stories, and ABC did a segment on his Saratoga record. He even has his own groupies, including a guy from New Jersey who comes to see him no matter where the race is held, and a woman who owns a T-shirt with Fourstardave’s picture on it.
″It kind of tickles me to have a horse that’s like that,″ O’Brien said.
O’Brien, a former steeplechase jockey from Ireland, was handling five horses when he began training Fourstardave. Now he conditions 30 horses, including a stable of 22 at Saratoga.
″He’s made our whole stable for seven years,″ O’Brien said. ″He was winning good races, and when you’re winning good races everybody wants to give you a horse.″
″Leo truly loves this horse and it shows,″ Migliore said. ″Another horse, you might have to deal with all his expectation, his quirks, his bad habits. Not with Dave.″
Though he’s getting on in years, Bomze said Fourstardave will keep plugging as long as he’s healthy.
″When he tells us it’s time to quit, when his coat doesn’t shine any more, then we’ll stop on him,″ he said.
O’Brien says he’s considering giving Fourstardave a shot at steeplechase racing when his career on the flats is over. The former steeplechase jockey has run the horse over the training jumps and says he seems to like it.
Whatever happens, O’Brien says Dave’s retirement plans will include trips to Saratoga for rest, not racing.
″I think he’s rather earned it, don’t you?″ O’Brien says.
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