If it was Joe Cirasuola who looked into a crystal ball last year, he would have balked at the very idea of believing a grey horse would bring him good fortune. For most of his career, the harness racing trainer admittedly wasn't a fan of grey horses.
But the words of a psychic and Ruff Me Up, a pacer on a six-race win streak, who’ll contest the $30,000 second leg of the WEGZ Series on Saturday evening at Woodbine, has definitely changed his mind.
Cirasuola still marvels at the way the mother of one of his workers can walk down his shedrow, analyze a horse’s current physical state, and be bang-on in her assessment.
So, when the woman told Cirasuola a grey horse would one day win a lot of races and money for him, he didn’t pass up the opportunity, just 48 hours later, when he had the chance to purchase Ruff Me Up, a pacing son of, in 2011.
It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight.
“I never really liked grey horses and when we got this guy, the first three months, he couldn’t get out of his own way,” recalled Cirasuola. “He had issues his entire life, all kinds of things, and he just couldn’t seem to put it all together.”
Cirasuola then considered selling Ruff Me Up.
“I was going to sell him for $4,000 last fall at Sarnia after he didn’t fare well,” he remembered, of the horse that was originally a $61,000 purchase at the 2005 Lexington Select yearling sale. “But it didn’t happen, so we just moved on from there.”
Not long after, Ruff Me Up showed signs he was getting things on-track, punctuated by a strong second-place showing at Flamboro Downs on November 6, in a time of 1:54.2, after leading the field through a half-mile in a scorching :52.4.
An eight-length romp in his next start, at Windsor, was followed by a fourth at the same oval. After another win there on December 11, he finished second at the border track, a head loss, one week later.
Then, Ruff Me Up hit his best stride, literally.
A nearly 14-length score at Sports Creek Raceway in Michigan led to five more trips to the winner’s circle, one coming at Windsor, one at Western Fair, and the past three at Woodbine.
He’s been the favourite in just two of those six victories, including a 9-1 triumph at Woodbine on January 28.
“Shame on the public,” quipped Cirasuola. “His last effort (a two-length score in the first leg of the WEGZ Series), that’s the best he’s ever come out of a race. Ever since that second at Flamboro, he’s just been better and better each week.”
Ruff Me Up is also enjoying the fruits, so to speak, of his winning ways.
“He’s a really cool horse,” praised Cirasuola, of the lifetime winner of 20 races from 71 starts who has earned $212,166, for owner Shirley Halas of Northville, Michigan. “He’s got a great personality. Everyone comes over to see him and bring him carrots. He knows he’s doing well.”
And Cirasuola knows luck has smiled on him.
“I like grey horses,” he said. “I really do.”
Joe Cirasuola didn’t need a psychic to tell him that.
Ruff Me Up, with Keith Oliver in the bike, will leave from post four on Saturday evening, in race nine on the programme.
Ashley MAYOTTE & Chris LOMON