Day At The Track

Connections find 'Fountain of Youth' with Like Old Times

07:04 AM 05 Feb 2016 NZDT
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Keith Ross, owner and breeder of Like Old Times
OHHA President Kevin Greenfield presents the 2015 Ohio Horse of the Year award to Keith Ross, owner and breeder of Like Old Times.
Conrad Photo

Louisville, KY --- For two Ohio gentlemen rapidly approaching octogenarian status, it appears that harness racing owners Don McKirgan and Keith Ross have discovered the ever elusive Fountain of Youth. Contrary to popular belief, the “Water of Life” is not a liquid and is not presented in a golden chalice. The key to eternal vitality presents itself in many different forms and in this case, it just happens to be a horse. In what is a certainly not a twist of fate, this equine vessel’s name is Like Old Times and she is the Buckeye State’s 2015 Horse of the Year.

“(Driver) Ronnie (Wrenn Jr.) has done a terrific job with her,” said Ross when he accepted his homebred’s divisional hardware. “He told me good horses improve his talent, but I think he is being modest.

“There was one occasion where Ronnie could not drive her and Donnie asked me who I wanted to put up on her. I told him to put himself up and he said, ‘What should I do?’ I told him to just ask Ronnie who said, ‘Just drive her like I do and she will win.’ When Don said that to me it was right before the race and I just walked away. When we were in the winner’s circle he asked me why I did that and my response was, ‘Don, we have been together more than 40 years and you have never done anything that anyone told you to do.’

“I know it shows how old I am, but I am old (79).

“That win probably makes Don the oldest trainer and driver (at age 75) to win a race here in Ohio, but age is just a number because it has been one of the best years of my life. I think this filly has added on at least another four years for both of us.”

Like Old Times is a daughter of Chip Chip Hooray and the Royal Troubadour mare Royal Two. She has performed on 25 occasions in her two-year career under McKirgan’s watchful eye and compiled a record of 14-6-2 with a bankroll just under $315,000.

She served notice she was a force to be reckoned with on Aug. 22, 2014 at Scioto Downs. After competing in a mile where she never even caught a glimpse of the fence, Like Old Times hit the wire first in 1:57.1, which was a track record. She completed the season with a slate of 10-3-2-2 and just over $64,000 in purse money.

“We always knew she was a very nice filly,” Ross said. “Her dam is a 100 percent producer and she has thrown two other horses that made over $200,000 (Cool Colby and Lucky Colby, both by Jailhouse Jesse).

“Royal Two only raced once as a 2-year-old and she won a Pennsylvania Sire Stake race in that start. Unfortunately, she broke a bone so we had to retire her, but she has been nothing but good to us and Like Old Times is definitely the best horse from the 11 foals she has produced.

“In nearly all of her races as a 2-year-old she was parked out wide, but when Dan Noble drove her in the Ohio Sire Stakes final he said if she had not been so far back she would have won. She was third by a head and we were happy with that. We just wanted to protect her and still do.”

In 2016, Like Old Times amassed just under $251,000 and did capture the $225,000 Sire Stakes final in a romp. In 15 trips to the gate, her picture was taken on 11 occasions and the other four appearances were second place finishes.

“How can you ever think to even complain about that kind of year?” Ross said. “I think her total margin of defeat in those races was by a total of three lengths. We were so lucky to have her and Ronnie always drove her just enough to win. He took care of her and we are so grateful for that.

“For example, look at what she did at Delaware (County Fairgrounds in the Ohio Breeders Championship). She was second by a nose and her and Ronnie both thought they won. She came back to the barn not ever knowing she was beaten. Also, the one we lost to was Dan Ater’s horse (Honey B) and if we are ever going to lose to somebody, I would rather it be him.”

McKirgan heartily concurs with Ross’ assessment of this filly, but adds an additional component to why Like Old Times is so successful.

“She is the best horse I have ever had in my barn,” he said. “She has perfect manners on and off the track. She is also very intelligent and enjoys her work. When it comes to trotting fillies they can be difficult and have a lot of bumps in the road. This one has never had an issue. She is beautifully gaited and although I put headpoles and a hood on her ears as a 2-year-old, I don’t think she needs them. I just never wanted to change anything since she has done so well. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. That is one thing I’ve learned over the years.”

Although all her appearances were within the confines of Ohio’s state lines, Like Old Times will be venturing into new territory in 2016.

“I had her eligible for a late closer race at Lexington last year,” Ross said. “I’m glad we did not end up racing her there because all it did was rain. We really think she will like a big track, but we also think she adapts herself to any kind of environment just because of how much she loves to race. Her personality is like no other horse I’ve ever had and I’ve had several that made it to the Hambo. Our goal was to just take care of her.

“She is in training now and we are putting her in some of the bigger races this year. The first one we are pointing to is at Miami Valley on May 8. She will compete primarily in Ohio and at The Meadows. We look forward to seeing how she does this year and I will be there to watch her every time she races.

“I may be old, but this one makes me look forward to putting my head on the pillow so I can wake up in the morning and I think she has done the same for Donnie.

“Also, I never expected her to win Horse of the Year. I was just tickled she won 3-year-old filly trotting champion. I was amazed and humbled by the fact people voted for her. I can’t thank them enough. Especially with all the tremendous Ohio horses that raced this year.”

McKirgan clearly has the same confidence in this state champion that Ross possesses.

“She is training well and we just hope she can come back this year in the same form,” he said. “She seems to be, but you never know until it happens. Also, this a year where she will take on older mares, so you have to take that into account, but if anyone can do it, this one can. She just loves being out there, is easy on herself and does everything on her own. It has been a pleasure to watch Mr. Ross enjoy here and she has probably added at least another four years on to my life. She makes you want to get up and come to the barn each morning to see her.”

by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

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