Caretaker Kim Watson is a long, long way from home, and having the time of her life. The 30-year-old Auckland, New Zealand native answered an ad in the Standardbred journal Harness Racing Weekly ten months ago, and today finds herself taking care of her first Breeders Crown contender, the 3-year-old pacing filly Shanghai Lil, for trainer Peter Foley.
"This is quite an experience," Kim said with enthusiasm. "I've been working with harness horses since I was 15 and have never experienced anything like this. The stake races over here are a way bigger deal in terms of the money the horses race for, and especially the hype and excitement associated with having a horse in the Breeders Crown."
Shanghai Lil comes into her Breeders Crown after finishing fifth on Oct. 9 in the $151,500 Garnsey at The Red Mile, clocked in 1:53.3 for driver Mike Lachance. In her previous start, however, she scored her career best mile, pacing to a winning 1:51.2 in the $101,500 Bluegrass Stake on Oct. 2 at The Red Mile.
"She's a very solid, honest filly; very professional on the racetrack and she always gives you a maximum effort in every start," Foley assessed. "She's not mean or cranky, but always feels good and seems to enjoy her work."
Foley's home base is the Henry Lunsford training center, located near Lexington, KY. The 60-year-old, Portland, Australia native has been training Standardbreds for four decades and to date has conditioned 278 winners to $4.5 million in earnings. He had his best year in 2008, when he harnessed 36 winners to $1, 128,435.
"She's fit and well right now," said Foley of the daughter of three-time Breeders Crown Champion Jenna's Beach Boy. "She's feeling very fresh and shipped up here well. We trained her on Monday and again today (Thursday) in 2:10 with a half in 1:10. It was nasty last week in Kentucky-raining and cold-and we weren't able to get in any good training miles down there."
Shanghai Lil won the $57,570 Simpson Pace in a romp by nearlyten & a halflengths over a rain-soaked Red Mile racetrack, pacing in 1:53.3, and also won a $33,403 Tompkin Geers at Tioga Downs in 1:54 and a $25,000 Reynolds at The Poconos in 1:51.4. She finished second in a pair of Kentucky Sire Stake Legs, finishing third in the $300,000 final, timed in 1:51.3.
"The track surface at Woodbine shouldn't be an issue for her, but I'm thinking there are a lot of speed horses in this race, and she's not a real ‘speed' horse," Foley offered. "She can leave the gate well, if the driver chooses to do so, but she's better off a trip, and can kick home pretty smartly."
Foley said breeder Carter Duer named the filly after a character in the 1933 movie Footlight Parade, where actor James Cagney plays a sailor looking for his Asian girlfriend of questionable background. Cagney searches through Shanghai bars and opium dens before eventually finding "Lil" and the couple expresses their joy at finding each other through tap dance.
This season Shanghai Lil has amassed $223,151, pushing her lifetime totals to $452,363 for the father and son partnership of John Como and John Como Jr. who race under the moniker of All Star Racing of Towaco, N.J. This family has owned horses since the late 1980s, and had their first Breeders Crown contender in Blue Claw in the 2008, 3-Year-Old Colt Pace.
Foley hooked up with All Star Racing through his longtime friend, Ron Pierce.
"We've been friends ever since I've been in the business," Foley stated. "And when they were looking for a trainer for someone to race the Kentucky Sire Stakes, Ron (Pierce) gave them my name. They buy yearlings and have mainly raceway horses. The All Star Racing people were in the container business and at one time they had big contracts with Bayer Aspirin and Clairol, but they sold their business a few years ago and now just concentrate on the horses."
Foley trains the 2- and 3-year-olds for All Star Racing, and then turns them over to conditioner Mark Ford to race them as older horses.
"This system has worked out well for all of us," Foley said.
It seems to have worked out perfectly for Kim and Shanghai Lil, too.
"She loves going for walks every day and usually gets down for a good roll in the grass," Kim said. "At times she can be a bit of a typical female, but overall, she's pretty sweet."
By Kim Rinker for the Breeders Crown