Mary Jo Lohmeier heard the talk.
The owners of Richter Scale, the potential star of her stable, were considering retiring the horse to stud. She told them that the decision was theirs but that the determined Richter Scale was doing better than he had ever done.
The owners listened. They chose sportsmanship over almighty breeding dollars and kept the horse training. Tomorrow, Richter Scale could reward them handsomely by winning the prestigious Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park.
The winner's share of the $300,000 purse would be welcome, but the greater reward would be capturing a Grade I stakes. That would elevate Richter Scale's reputation and his value at stud.
"We've been looking at this race a long time," said Lohmeier, the 37-year-old trainer of Richter Scale. "It sure would be nice to get that elusive Grade I under his belt. It would be my first Grade I, too. I'd like nothing better than to get it with him."
Rated the nation's No. 2 sprinter by the Daily Racing Form, Richter Scale will be a solid favorite in the 6-furlong De Francis Dash. The race is one of only two Grade I 6-furlong sprints in the country. The other is the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.
The Sprint this fall is the ultimate goal - with retirement likely to follow. But for now the De Francis Dash is the target.
"He's got a well-documented history of feet problems," Lohmeier said. "His feet just have to be right. When his feet are right and everything else is right, he's a tough horse to beat. He just doesn't like to be beaten."
His problems have been primarily small cracks in his hooves, known as quarter cracks. And when his feet get sore, his trainer said, he tends to hurt himself in other places, such as his back or shoulder.
Still, Richter Scale has won 11 of 23 races and nearly $1 million. A California-bred son of Habitony, the 1977 Santa Anita Derby winner, Richter Scale is the most accomplished horse of the seven entered in the De Francis Dash.
Lohmeier began training him in late 1998 after his primary owners, Nancy and Richard Kaster, who live in Wisconsin, transferred him from Bill Mott's barn into hers. The Kasters had met Lohmeier when she worked as an exercise rider for Pat Byrne, who had trained Kasters' horses, including Richter Scale, before Mott.
By late 1998, Lohmeier had been training on her own for two years. Associated with horses nearly all her life, she graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1996 thinking she wanted to become a veterinarian. Instead, she started training horses and never made it to graduate school. She now handles 16 at Keeneland.
During the spring and summer of 1999, Lohmeier tried Richter Scale on turf to protect his feet. He won one of five races. Then she switched him back to dirt, and Richter Scale reeled off four impressive victories in a row. Three were Grade II stakes.
In his last start, the Grade I Metropolitan Handicap May 29 at Belmont Park, Richter Scale finished the mile race a distant sixth. In search of that elusive Grade I, Lohmeier was saddened.
"That was very disappointing to us," Lohmeier said. "When I was putting his bridle on, I noticed he was awfully quiet. I sensed that something was wrong. But what was I going to do, scratch him because he was acting quiet?"
At 4-1 odds, he labored home sixth, more than 10 lengths behind the winner, Yankee Victor. Afterward Lohmeier discovered mucus in his lungs. That lung infection has cleared up, and Richter Scale's feet seem to be doing fine, Lohmeier said, knocking herself on the head for luck.
She said keeping Richter Scale fit is a chore, involving herself as trainer and exercise rider Magdelano Nolazco as groom, Bob Boston as chiropractor, Dr. Chris Cahill as acupuncturist, Dr. Greg Fox as veterinarian, and Mark Dewey and Steve Norman as blacksmiths.
"I try to keep the horse happy," Lohmeier said. "I try to figure out what needs, and then I find the right people to provide it. It's a group effort. We all work hard on this horse, but it pays off."
She said that Richter Scale's owners, who include Nathan Fox, owner of Wafare Farm in Kentucky, will probably retire him at the end of this year. Richter Scale is 6 years old.
But Lohmeier already has put a bug in their ear about a certain race early next year. She pointed out that Big Jag, the California sprinter, flew to the Middle East in March and won the $1 million, 6-furlong stakes on the Dubai World Cup undercard.
"And he was 7 when he did it," Lohmeier said.
De Francis Dash
What: Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash
Where: Laurel Park
Distance: 6 furlongs
Post time: 5:23 p.m.
Favorite: Richter Scale