It’s Stars and Stripes Day at
Arlington Park this Saturday, and since the turn of the 21st century, no horse
has demonstrated the courage needed to perform at the top level necessary for
Arlington’s traditional mile and a half marathon than S J Stables’ Cloudy’s Knight.
The chestnut gelding, born
during Kentucky Derby week in the year 2000, had already grown to enormous
proportions by the time he made his career debut at Arlington
on Aug. 16, 2003, and immediately he attracted a large local fan following
because of his size and demeanor.
One of his first fans was
Christine Gabriel, Arlington’s television personality at the time, who was
instantly taken in by the horse’s magnetism and habitually commented on it
during her paddock show whenever he was about to run.
“I was so captivated with the
horse, I went up to (owner) Shirley Schwartz in the paddock one day and asked
her if, many years later when his racing career was over, she’d think about
turning him over to me as a riding horse,” Gabriel said.
That turned out to be eight
years and four renewals’ of the Grade III Stars and Stripes starts later for
Cloudy’s Knight, who made his first foray into the marathon in 2004 against
Sidney Port Trust et al.’s Irish-bred Ballingarry, who was winning the race for
the second straight year that season. As a 26-1 long shot, Cloudy’s
Knight finished a well-beaten sixth.
By the time the 2005 Stars and
Stripes rolled around on Fourth of July weekend, Cloudy’s Knight’s heart had
grown to match his size. The Lord Avie gelding finished second that year
to Live Oak Plantation’s Revved Up, to whom he was giving three pounds.
Injuries sidelined Cloudy’s
Knight in the summer of 2006, but in 2007 on the Fourth of July, Cloudy’s
Knight made the pace throughout in the 12-furlong run only to be caught by a
nose in the last jump by the British-bred Always First, owned by Merriefield
Despite that nose loss, 2007
proved to be Cloudy’s Knight’s best season. He went north to Canada
later that fall, won Woodbine’s
Grade II Sky Classic Stakes and then scored the biggest win of his career by taking
down the win in the Grade I Canadian International.
Cloudy’s Knight’s final Stars
and Stripes appearance came once again on America’s Birthday in 2008, when he
made a mild late rally after racing six-wide and improved position to finish
However, his career was not
over. In September of 2009, Cloudy’s Knight made his first
start of the year by capturing the Grade III Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky
Downs, went on to win the Grade III Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland that October
and then suffered another second-place finish by a nose in that year’s $500,000
Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Santa Anita. Even then, his year was not
done. He rebounded to win Woodbine’s
$150,000 Valedictory Stakes in early December and closed out his 2009 season
with a clear victory in the Grade II William L. McKnight Handicap at Calder on
the day after Christmas.
Following one start in late
2010, when he finished second in that year’s Kentucky Cup Turf, the decision
was made to retire Cloudy’s Knight. Shirley Schwartz remembered Christine
Gabriel’s dream of years before, contacted her at her Inverness, Illinois,
home and asked her if she was ready to adopt him as a riding horse.
Gabriel has housed her dream
horse at Country Ridge Farm in Mundelein,
Illinois, since the middle of
May, and with the assistance of hunter-jumper trainer Laura Stern, is teaching
“Cloudy” his new career.
“I am constantly amazed by how
smart he is,” said Gabriel. “He seems to anticipate whatever lessons we
are trying to teach him, and he’s a very fast learner.”
Another longtime member of the
Cloudy’s Knight crew is Nancy Knott, a veteran equine masseuse who is still
keeping the horse as a patient throughout his two careers.
“I’m so happy Christine and
Shirley still include me in ‘Cloudy’s’ life,” Knott said of her frequent
professional visits to the Mundelein
farm. “He’s been like family to me for nine years, and now I’m so happy
he’s still part of my family.”
Gabriel, on the other hand
offers this humorous update.
“He’s doing just great these
days,” said Gabriel. “I’m going broke feeding him carrots, but he doesn’t
seem to mind that at all. He’s just loving it.”
HEADS 2011 STARS AND STRIPES PROBABLES
Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone’s Winchester,
who won Arlington’s Grade I Secretariat Stakes
in 2008, breezed five furlongs in 1:03.60 Sunday morning at Belmont
Park and will be vanned to Arlington
this week to contest Saturday’s Grade III Stars and Stripes, according to Arlington
stakes coordinator George Berry.