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Feature: Team Valor's Table Three Ten Earning Rave Reviews
In a restaurant on Short Street in the city of Lexington, Ky., hangs a nicely framed photograph of a nicely made racehorse. The runner is called Table Three Ten, and a look at the menu of this fine dining establishment confirms a title of identical name.
Table Three Ten the filly runs Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, at which point the proprietors of Table Three Ten the restaurant will be busy serving up tapas and wine – their usual fare – with little focus on events occurring in New Orleans. But a victory by Team Valor’s daughter of El Prado in the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (Grade III, 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles) would doubtless cause a stir among select residents of Lexington, leaving some of the opinion that a gathering of fans and followers of the horse might well be in order at the little establishment come spring.
“This race coming up Saturday is a big shot for her,” said Gary Biszantz, whose Cobra Farm bred the filly in partnership with his daughter, Suzanne Biszantz. “If she happens to win, I’d say she’s a big candidate for the Kentucky Oaks.”
The story behind the naming of the equine Table Three Ten, who is 5-1 on the morning line under jockey Javier Castellano for trainer Graham Motion, is one of slight superstition combined with solid past performance. Biszantz and his wife Betty named another thoroughbred after another restaurant – this one Old Trieste, a favorite Italian place in San Diego. Old Trieste the horse did pretty well for himself and his connections, galloping away to career earnings of $847,944 and bursting into the public eye before the 1998 Kentucky Derby when he recorded what was then believed to be the fastest pre-Derby work in history at Churchill Downs for six furlongs (1:09). He broke poorly and nearly fell at the beginning of the race, losing all chance and finishing 10th, but later won the Swaps Stakes by 12 lengths over Grand Slam, the Del Mar Breeders’ Cup Handicap, Affirmed Handicap, and the Californian Stakes. The son of A.P. Indy stood three seasons at stud at Jonabell Farm until January of 2003, when he passed away after contracting acute laminitis.
“We were pretty lucky with him, so we had a good precedent when we went to this restaurant for a glass of wine and a nice salad and said, ‘Hey, this would make a great name for a horse!’” Biszantz recalled. “Hopefully the system keeps working.”
Table Three Ten was one of about 30 horses foaled at Cobra Farm in 2009, a March 3 daughter of El Prado who was the first foal out of the More Than Ready mare Hopes and Dreams. Biszantz purchased a season to the son of Sadler’s Wells at a fundraiser auction benefiting the Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) and it ended up being the stallion’s last crop – he died of an apparent heart attack in his paddock at Adena Springs near Paris, Ky., on the morning of Sept. 21, 2009.
“The year that we bred to him, he got about 19 mares in foal and we were very fortunate to be one of those 19,” Cobra Farm manager Mike Owens said. “We’d raced the mare in partnership and always thought she was a nice one. She was stakes-placed herself and because of a little bit of bad luck she was about a head or a nose away from being a stakes winner herself; just a good, hard-knocking type of horse. Her first foal was born very correct, very attractive, and we always thought we had a nice package there. We loved her from day one.”
They took the filly up to Saratoga to sell at Fasig-Tipton thinking she would bring a very good price – “You don’t go with a horse unless you think you’ll get a couple hundred, at least $300,000, because it’s a very select sale,” said Biszantz – but Table Three Ten was to have none of the sales ring. She got cast in her stall and bumped her hip against the wall, and didn’t walk that well for prospective buyers who came by to examine her before the auction began. Biszantz scratched her out of the catalogue.
“I said, ‘I’m not even going to send her through the ring; she’s too good, I’m not going to give her away,” he recalled. “I’ve always been very high on El Prado because Sadler’s Wells gets distance horses and they have great stamina, so be brought her home and when she got over that little injury we put her back in training at Calumet Farm.”
By the time Table Three Ten was sent down to trainer Michael Stidham at Fair Grounds, she was still a little green and immature in a lot of ways.
“We weren’t in a hurry with her; we loved her pedigree, size, legs, she had it all,” said Biszantz. “We were thinking she’d run a mile on the turf in the fall of her 2-year-old season, but when Mike finally got his hands on her at Fair Grounds, it really seemed like the light bulb started to come on.”
Indeed, the 3-year-old filly’s debut had horsemen buzzing last November 25; she won a six-furlong maiden special weight by 5 ¼ lengths over a field of nine other fillies in 1:10.41, returning $11 on a $2 ticket.
“Michael called me one day and said, ‘Let’s enter her in the six furlong race, I don’t think it’s her best distance but I need to give her a race,’ so we put her in and it was just this incredible performance,” Biszantz recalled. “She broke out of gate and went right to the lead, was a couple lengths in front turning for home, then opened up three or four and won by five and a quarter. I started getting phone calls the next day from people around the country wanting to buy her.”
Although Biszantz was reluctant to part with the filly – “she could be anything, she could be a very, very good horse,” he said – Team Valor’s Barry Irwin finally offered enough in a private deal to entice him to sell.
“The bottom line is, I’m getting older,” remarked Biszantz, 77. “I won my first race at Santa Anita in 1956, had two horses in the Kentucky Derby, owned around 40 graded stakes winners… I respect Barry and his operation, so I figured he’d do well with her and I’d move on to the next horse.”
Biszantz still owns Hopes and Dreams, whose unraced 2-year-old colt by Aftermarket is on the farm and whose yearling filly by Indian Charlie sold as a weanling at Keeneland November for $180,000. After being left open for a season, the mare will be bred to Kitten’s Joy in about two weeks. Cobra Farm is also the breeder of $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap starter Nate’s Mineshaft, who will compete in the 1 1/16-mile event named after his sire after back-to-back victories here in claiming and allowance company in December and January.
“We’ll keep racing until the end,” Biszantz remarked. “But to succeed in this business you also have to sell some of your good horses. People won’t buy from you if they think you’re only selling your bad ones.”
Irwin, president of the partnership that owns 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, said he was attracted to Table Three Ten because of the remarkable way she won that sprint, drawing off at the end, when there are so few El Prado runners that win sprinting in the first place.
“Any time you buy a horse, especially for a lot of money, you worry about whether or not you’re making a mistake or maybe the fellow knows something you don’t know, especially on a horse like this that came out and ran so big first time,” Irwin remarked. “The real encouraging thing for me was that I’ve known Gary for a long time and I totally respect the guy. When you buy a horse from someone like him, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to spend your money, I can tell you that. You do it with complete confidence.”
Transferred to Motion’s care, Table Three Ten departed Fair Grounds for the British expatriate’s winter base at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida shortly after her maiden score.
“The one thing about this filly, her only negative, is she’s not an aggressive workhorse,” Irwin said. “She’s been outworked by every horse she’s worked against since we’ve had her, and she’s worked against good ones and bad ones. She just doesn’t put as much effort in during the mornings, so it was hard to judge whether or not she was really fit to run and if she’d done enough in her works. We held our breath and put her in the next race, not really expecting much.”
At Gulfstream Park on Jan. 27, folks were wise to the talents of the striking gray. They sent her off as the 3-5 favorite in a $75,000 allowance optional claiming race going 6 1/2 furlongs on the dirt, and after chasing the pace this time, she took over on the turn and edged away to earn the victory by 1 ¾ lengths.
“We’re as interested in watching her run as anybody this weekend because we have no idea what’s going to happen,” Irwin said. “We hope we see something good, hope we see the improvement you’d expect to see when she stretches out. She looks like one of those horses with tremendous ability who only does the minimum requirement, that’s the impression I get.”
Two-for-two and only expected to get better as races get longer, Table Three Ten shows tremendous upside heading into the Rachel Alexandra.
“We’re sending her back now to the track she won big on, and going around two turns should be good for her, she should love that,” Irwin said.