Billy Boniface gets quite animated, even over the telephone, recalling the stretch run of Irish Forever three weeks ago in the Salem County Stakes at The Meadowlands.
"She was hopelessly trapped behind three horses . . . the horse in front had opened up such a big lead it was impossible to catch her . . . I was just hoping she'd get by those three . . . she passed them and caught the leader in a burst of speed. . . . people were amazed . . . the jock [Jorge Chavez] hopped off and said 'Champion.' "
It's obvious that the trainer, who became something of a Maryland legend when he won the 1983 Preakness with Deputed Testamony, thinks he has another good horse.
He just hopes the 2-year-old filly duplicates that Meadowlands effort today at Laurel in front of the home folks. She is expected to be the favorite in the $100,000 Grade III Selima Stakes, where she faces seven other fillies, including Grade I Canadian winner, In My Heart; Makadir, winner of her only start, from the Shadwell Stable of Sheik Hamdan al Maktoum of Dubai and two fillies, Proud Angela and Nutmeg Mills from the barn of Vinnie Blengs, who upset last year's Selima with the maiden, Booly.
Boniface will be seeing action on a lot of different fronts over the weekend. In addition to starting Irish Forever in the Selima, he'll run Jim Ryan's Caveat's Image today in the $120,000 Lawrence Realization Stakes at Belmont Park. Tomorrow he's taking a flier on two maidens, Broad Stitch and Reverend R.D., who he thinks will like the grass and the distance, and is running them in the $100,000 Grade III Laurel Futurity.
Irish Forever is the kind of horse who keeps people in the game.
Small, with a blemish (a bony growth called a splint) on a foreleg, she was overlooked last May in the Timonium 2-year-old sales and was purchased for $8,500 by Boniface for his clients, Roger and Jackie Schipke, whose stable is called Colts Ltd. Roger Schipke, former chairman of Ryland Homes, is president of the Maryland Million.
Now that Irish Forever has won three straight turf starts, the Schipkes have turned down $225,000 for the horse and given Boniface a blanket order: "She's not for sale, period."
Schipke, who is now chairman of Oster-Sunbeam Corp., is moving himself and the company's corporate headquarters to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. That means, for the first time, Boniface is taking a string of grass horses, including Irish Forever, to Florida this winter.
He thinks the horse to beat in the Selima is Makadir.
Defending champion Blengs thinks it's "the Boniface horse."
"I had better ammunition last year [with Booly and Morphonyess], but it was also a tougher race," Blengs said. "Proud Angela is 100 percent sound, is bred to run all day and worked super on the grass last week. Nutmeg Mills has a great grass foot and is coming up to the race in good shape. Take Boniface, throw the rest in a hat, pick one and you'll come up with the horse that finishes second."