Hit the Bid was one of the most beautiful horses Gallo had ever seen: a dark bay with white sox below her knees. Physically, she was the perfect horse—superb conformation from her head to her tail. She was big for a filly at 17.2 hands, and now that she was a three-year-old, she tipped the scales at 1,215 pounds. When she ran, she was what trainers referred to as an “A” mover: a low, smooth stride with no wasted energy. Her limbs moved forward and back on a straight line, and when she navigated the turns on a course, there was no lateral movement in her body. She carried herself with a sense of majesty and had a great personality—often playfully nudging the grooms that worked in the stable and entertaining the patrons at the racetrack with the prancing dance moves she made on her way to the starting gate. The only problem with this horse was that she loved to run too much. Unlike Tackle Tim Tom, who had to be in the right mood to run his fastest, Hit the Bid never wanted to do anything except breeze at top speed.
As soon as she stepped on the racetrack, she began to dance, moving her hindquarters left and then right. Her head bobbed up and down, and her ears stood upright as though searching for the roar of an adoring crowd in the gallery. In the saddle was Jacinto Robles, a jockey that had never ridden the filly before and was scheduled to be in the stirrups for her first race at Saratoga just eight days away. Gallo wanted Robles to put her through an exercise run to see how she handled and to get a feel for her ability.
Hit the Bid had already achieved substantial success as a racehorse, having won several Grade Two and Grade One races. She was on the industry’s radar as an up-and-coming star, and Gallo’s goal was to prepare her to race on the biggest stages against not only other fillies and mares, but colts as well.
“Are you ready to go, Jacinto?”
“Sure, Mister Gallo. Boy, she is really a rambunctious filly. Is she always this excited when she gets to the track?”
“Yeah, but it’s excited in a good way. Here’s what I want you to do: let her cantor for a quarter-mile and then bring her up to a gallop. Don’t go faster than eighteen seconds per furlong. She doesn’t like to gallop—she wants to run, so she’ll fight it all the way. We have a heart monitor on her, and I don’t want her heart rate to get too high during the gallop. Once you’ve covered a quarter-mile at a gallop, back her up just before the three-eighth pole and let her breeze to the finish line. Make sure you get a running start at the three-eighth pole, because I want to see what her top speed is for the final three furlongs.”
“No problem, jefe. I got it!”
The jockey guided the horse away at a cantor, moving in a clockwise direction around the outer periphery of the track where horses could walk, cantor, or gallop. Once he had covered a quarter-mile at a cantor, he eased up a little on the rains and stood in the stirrups, raising his butt off the saddle.
Just as Gallo had predicted, Hit the Bid wanted to run, and Robles had to use his hands, arms, and knees to hold her back. When the filly passed the finish line—where Ritchie Gallo and General Custer were standing—Robles let her gallop for another minute before turning her around and moving her down along the inside rail. He asked her to run just before the three-eighth pole. He didn’t have to ask twice; in a matter of five strides, Hit the Bid was at top speed, hurtling around the far turn and approaching the top of the stretch.
Gallo clicked his stopwatch when she was at the pole, watching her make the turn through his binoculars. Every time he watched her run, he was astounded by the athletic grace of this beautiful lady. As thoroughbreds run through a turn, they generate a force on their legs more than eight times their body weight. Despite this physical pressure, Hit the Bid maintained her line as she ran through the turn and kept a constant distance from the inside rail on her left. Her strides were straight, smooth, and powerful, and her head was in perfect alignment with her body.
As she transitioned from the turn to the straightaway, she made a lead change to her right front foot and accelerated toward the finish line. When the filly crossed the line, Ritchie hit the stopwatch and immediately looked at the time. He shook his head and shared the good news with General Custer. “We got us one hell of a horse here, big guy. Three furlongs in thirty-four seconds after a mile-and-a-quarter gallop. Damn, she’s good!”
It took a concerted effort by Robles to bring the filly to a trot after her breeze, but he finally got her to slow down and turn around, moving to the outside of the track. When he met up with Gallo, Ritchie bent over and hooked a rein to the filly’s bridal so he and General Custer could walk her slowly back to the stables, allowing the jockey to relax in the saddle.
Once they got back to her stall, Gallo checked her nose for any traces of blood and then took the wraps off her lower legs to examine her knees, cannon bones, ankles, and feet. Everything looked good, so he had his grooms unsaddle the horse and walk her around a paddock ring to slow down her heart rate. After that, she would be thoroughly washed down, brushed, and given a breakfast of oats, hay, and a small amount of other grains.
“So, what do you think, Jacinto?” asked the trainer.
“At first, I think she got a problem because she dances so much, but once you ask her to run, she does everything right. She’s got heart—un gran corazón. I think she can win against the boys.”
“Yeah, me too. Okay, she’s entered in the American Oaks on July 22. It’s a Grade One race for three-year-olds and up. As far as I’m concerned, you’re my rider. That work for you?”
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