Leo O'Brien is hatching an unorthodox plan, never before seriously contemplated in six previous runnings of the International Turf Festival at Laurel Race Course.
The 53-year-old former Irish steeplechase jockey, now one of New York's most successful trainers, is considering running the 5-year-old horse, Fourstars Allstar, in two Festival stakes races.
O'Brien nominated the horse for both races last week when preliminary entries were taken. At entry time today, when final lineups are announced, O'Brien said Fourstars Allstar will remain entered in both the $600,000 International Mile, run Saturday, as well as in Sunday's $200,000 Laurel Dash.
Such strategy is almost considered outlandish for the modern-day frail thoroughbred.
But, "it is a possibility," O'Brien said. "When I was 15, riding in Ireland, I finished second in my first race, a three-mile steeplechase, to a horse named One-Eyed Gunner. He won by six lengths. After the race, I was watching his people cool out the horse. Then they began to get him ready, like he was going to race again. I asked them 'What are you doing?' They said 'He's going back in the fourth [race].' And he won another three-mile chase by 10 [lengths].
"These horses are tougher than you think," O'Brien added. "They are born to run, and the good ones, that's what they like to do."
Fourstars Allstar is a good one. As a 2-year-old he won the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park and finished second in the Laurel Futurity.
The next spring, O'Brien conceived another unorthodox plan. He shipped the 3-year-old colt to his native land and won the Group I Irish Two Thousand Guineas, the first American-trained horse to win an Irish classic.
Since then the New York-bred horse has increased his earnings to over $1 million, but has been lightly raced this year, making only five starts.
"I treated him badly last year, ran him too often, and it was my fault," O'Brien said. "This year I've been easy on him."
O'Brien said the horse runs best with six to seven weeks between races. In his last start, he beat both Furiously and Cleone, the likely International Mile favorites, in the Saratoga Budweiser Breeders' Cup on Aug. 28 and has been pointed since then to Saturday's Laurel race.
"If I run him in both races, then that's it for him for the year," O'Brien said. The trainer is not keen on going to the Breeders' Cup Nov. 6 at Santa Anita Park. "I'm not in love with racing in California," he said. "It's going to be tough to beat Lure [in the Breeders' Cup Mile]. He loves the hard ground. The rest of us will be running for second money."
However, if the Laurel grass strip is too soft tomorrow when O'Brien arrives, he will shelve the duo-stakes plan. Then O'Brien could scratch Fourstars Allstar from the International Mile and run him only in the Laurel Dash. "That race would serve as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile," O'Brien said. "So I do have other options."
Accompanying Fourstars Allstar to Laurel will be his older brother, Fourstardave, who is entered in the International Mile.
"Imagine, if we won both races," O'Brien said. "It would be a first."
Myza defies strike
One French horse is on its way to Laurel for the Turf Festival despite an air cargo strike by Air France employees in Paris.
The 3-year-old filly, Myza, owned by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum and trained by Andre Fabre, was sent by van to Brussels, Belgium, yesterday and then put on a plane to New York. She is expected to arrive at Laurel today.
The filly, a daughter of leading U.S. sire, Danzig, is to run in the Laurel Dash on Sunday and then stay in this country for a late fall and winter campaign.
Hopkins committee meets
A committee formed to review how a $4 million state fund is used to help Maryland-bred horses held an organizational meeting at Laurel yesterday chaired by racing commissioner C. Frank Hopkins.
Three subcommittees were established to study similar breeding programs in other states and will report back to the group in early November.
The committee plans to send a questionnaire to state breeders, owners and trainers and later will hold a public hearing.