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HRN Original Blog:
Racing At The Jersey Shore

Imagine Winning a Breeders’ Cup Race with your First Horse

On the Friday before the 2012 Belmont Stakes, amidst all of the excitement of I'll Have Another and a potential Triple Crown, the featured 10th race was the grade two Brooklyn Handicap. A solid field included the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner, Eldaafer. Eldaafer had recently been returned to the care of trainer Diane Alvarado and the now seven year-old son of AP Indy had just turned in two impressive bullet works at Monmouth Park.
 
I met Diane Alvarado at barn 14 on the backstretch at Monmouth Park to try and learn about how she managed to win a Breeders’ Cup race with her first horse. A horse who had been claimed for only $20,000. 
 
Hanging on the outside of her barn is a big purple and white sign marking her barn as the home of a Breeders’ Cup winner.  Alvarado’s barn is a haven for animals and amongst the horses there are goats, cats, dogs, and even some exotic birds in her office. Alvarado is an animal lover and everyone knows that.
 
Alvarado grew up in Chicago and fell in love with horses at a young age. “I used to jump when I was younger with my mom, but I got older, so I went to the track to Arlington Park and trainer Noel Hickey sent me to his farm in Ocala, Irish Acres, and that’s where I started galloping horses.”
 
From there she became an exercise rider for Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, and Dallas Stewart. Alvarado moved on to training in New York. First she worked as an assistant in New York for Barclay Tagg and then for David Jacobson. It was while working for Jacobson that an owner asked her if she wanted to go out on her own.
 
The owner had claimed a few nice horses in Florida, but that left Alvarado with a big decision. She could go out on her own or go back and work for Tagg.  Clearly, it was a win-win situation for her.
 
“I wasn’t expecting it, the owner had claimed three horses in Florida that were nice, but I was scared, it was a big responsibility or I could go be an assistant for Barclay Tagg.  The owner said he had a horse named Eldaafer who he had claimed off of Kiaran McLaughlin and was supposed to be a nice horse.”
 
With the promise that she would get Eldaafer, Alavarado made the decision to go out on her own. That was in May of 2009, and just a month later as a four year-old Eldaafer would win the grade two Brooklyn Handicap and its $120,000 purse in his first start for her.  The Brooklyn Handicap would become a race that more than once would show that Alvarado is a trainer that understands the nuances of this talented but quirky horse.
 
 
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds because Alvarado had heard that Eldaafer hadn’t been training very well. She explained, “One day he would train well and the next day he would refuse to go to the track and back and forth and he pulled the same thing with me for awhile. I had to learn how to outthink him.”
 
Eldaafer knows his way around the track and he likes to do things his own way.  He knows where the finished line is and once he gets there he doesn’t like to run any further.  He knows what the distance poles mean and when it is time to start running slower or faster.  So Alvarado has to outthink him when she wants him to gallop more than a mile or to breeze a relatively short distance.
 
Alvarado has learned what Eldaafer likes and dislikes and he loves to travel, whether it is on an airplane or in a horse van. “He loves the van. You pull up the van and he starts whinnying and he drags you on to the van.”
 
Before the 2010 Breeders' Cup Marathon, Eldaafer was training brilliantly and Alvarado was the one riding him in his final morning preparations. “When I galloped him over the track (Churchill Downs) I wanted to gallop a mile and a quarter but I couldn’t pull him up after a mile and half.” It was then that she knew he was going to run a big race.
 

Eldafaar is an extremely versatile horse.  He won on dirt and turf and in 2010, including four races at four different tracks with four different jockeys. But on the other hand he can be extremely difficult. He will not run his best race if any little thing is bothering him. 
 
Eldaafer ran a distant sixth in his attempt to defend his Breeders’ Cup Marathon title in 2011. That year there had been a lot of rain and the Churchill Downs strip was very deep and muddy below the surface and he had not been training well on it. After that race the owners, who are based on the west coast, decided to move him closer to home. Two different trainers tried to figure out the puzzle that is Eldaafer. They tried three different tracks, three different riders, and three different surfaces out west, but the best result in 2012 was a fourth place.
 
Alvarado said it was very tough seeing the horse walk out of her barn, but she watched from a distance and hoped for that Eldaafer would do his best. She sincerely added that, “In the mean time you still love the horse.”
 
The last try was in the mile and a half grade three Tokyo City Cup at Santa Anita. At that distance Eldaafer has a lifetime record of 2-1-3 from eight starts. He finished fourth and it was then that she got a text message from the owners saying, “Find out when there’s the next plane coming out. It was bittersweet because if he doesn’t run good in that race I get him back. I was just hoping that he would come back sound because I never had any issues with him.”
 
Five days later he had returned to Alvarado’s care. She had to back off his training because he didn’t seem like himself for the first month. He didn’t breeze until they got back to Monmouth in May and then he turned in those two stellar works right before the 2012 Brooklyn. At 26-1 Eldaafer ran another big race to finish second behind the extremely impressive Redeemed.  Eldaafer beat the rest of the field by two and a half lengths while drawing away from Arthur's Tale.
 
After the Brooklyn, Eldaafer’s earnings hit $802,865 and Alvarado feels like it would be really cool if he could reach the $1,000,000 mark and make one more try at the Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Santa Anita in November.  One thing for sure is that nobody is going to take Eldaafer away from Diane Alvarado again because she seems to be the only trainer that knows how to outthink this long distance specialist. 

 

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Older Comments about Imagine Winning a Breeders’ Cup Race with your First Horse...

Alvarado says the Greenwood at Parx or the United Nations at Monmouth could be next for Eldaafer.
I will be rooting for him from now on. Great story!
Fred W. Hooper has Hoop Jr in the winner's circle at Chruchill in his first Derby http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoop_Jr.
Great story!!!
This is awesome! It's so cool to see a trainer and a horse have such a rapport like this.
Great story, Matt ... I'm glad that she was able to get Eldaafer in her barn again, sounds like the horse in back with the right person. I will have a little more rooting interest in this one from now on!

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Meet Matt Shifman

In the 70’s I was another one of those kids that went to the track with their fathers, and I immediately became enthralled with the excitement and challenges of handicapping.  And then the charisma and dominance of Secretariat gave me a hero to follow. To this day, I still get emotional when I hear Chic Anderson’s call of the 1973 Belmont, “Secretariat is moving like a tremendous machine”.

 
There have been many great horses run at the shore. In 1976 I watched Majestic Light win the Monmouth Invitational, now the Haskell, in track record time, defeating Honest Pleasure, the big favorite who was in from New York.  This was one of my first big wins at the track.
 
In the 80’s, as a disciple of Andy Beyer, I made my own speed figures because they were not available to the public. Needless to say I visited Monmouth frequently to test out the “figs”.
 
The 90’s allowed me to learn about the backstretch as a part owner of a few claimers that were stabled at Philadelphia Park.  Not a typical owner, I mucked stalls, cooled out the horses, and watched morning works.  Also, I met my wife and discovered that her grandfather bred, owned, and raced thoroughbreds on the West Virginia, Maryland circuit.  Today our office is decorated with winner’s circle pictures and a vast collection of Kentucky Derby glasses.
 
Today’s electronic age makes it so easy to gather information about racing.  I hope you use this blog to learn about Racing at the Jersey Shore.