Casual Lies: born under good sign? Low-profile trainer Riley breed apart at Preakness


It is the afternoon of the Kentucky Derby.

The sheiks are dining on Millionaires' Row at Churchill Downs.

Hammer is at the windows, betting with both hands.

Shelley Riley is in the stall with her horse, Casual Lies, singing him "My Old Kentucky Home."

Shelley, Shelley, Shelley.

This isn't Pony Club camp.

But, in her own inimitable way, Shelley Riley has added a sort of "My Friend Flicka" spin to the 1992 Triple Crown.

"I honestly feel this horse was born under a star with my name on it," Riley said yesterday at Pimlico Race Course, where she is preparing Casual Lies, alias "Stanley," for Round 2 of the Triple Crown.

Stanley is just a wee bit spoiled.

Riley, the horse's owner, trainer and groom, can't move two feet from his stall for a television interview without Stanley starting to strike the floor for attention.

Riley has to stop, pet him and then resume talking for the #F cameras.

He is also something of a chowhound. He can't be bedded on straw, because he eats it. He ate wood shavings at the Kentucky Derby and was almost poisoned. He'll eat the wood on the stall door, even the dirt on the floor. Riley carries a container of red pepper, spreading it here and there to make everything, even the dirt, taste awful.

"He'll eat anything that doesn't run from him," Riley said.

But no matter. Stanley has kept trim enough running and winning races for Riley and her husband, Jim.

They purchased the colt for $7,500 as a just-turned yearling at the Keeneland January Sales two years ago. He since has won or placed in six stakes, including a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, and earned $590,628.

It was the best finish by a Derby starter trained by a woman in the 118-year history of the race.

Along the way, the Rileys have seemed destined to own Stanley. They bid him back in at a 2-year-old in-training sale for $45,000. "We thought, at that point, he was worth at least $100,000," Riley said.

Then, after he started winning, Stanley was sold for $265,000. "But, at the last minute, the people couldn't come up with the money," Riley added.

Before the Derby, the Rileys refused an offer of $2.7 million.

"But that was a deal made in installments," Riley said, "$1.2 million down, another $700,000 later. Then the rest, who knows when. I told them you can't buy flesh and blood in installments."

The Rileys and their horse have become something of equine cult figures.

Shelley and Jim Riley are small-time owner/trainers from Pleasanton, Calif. They started out training quarter horses. They condition their modest string of thoroughbreds at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, three miles from their home. Shelley is the tTC trainer. Jim, a former jockey, is the exercise rider and blacksmith.

They even met in a stall.

Casual Lies is their only horse. He won his debut at the Santa Rosa Fair.

"It's a nice story," Shelley Riley said. "We're a hard-working couple. We've paid our dues to get here.

"I think half the people in the country, because they are women, are rooting for me, probably 20 percent of the men and 100 percent of California."

The horse gets his own stack of fan mail.

"My mother is at home in Pleasanton, collecting it," Riley said.

Win or lose in the Preakness, Riley said she could go home now, "and realize I've already had the time of my life." She has no qualms about Stanley's future.

"He'll end up at stud in Kentucky," she said. "And be a king."

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