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Inherit The Gold has plenty of options

Inherit The Gold Wins 2011 Excelsior
Photo: NYRA

When Inherit the Gold swept across the finish line a 6 ¼-length winner of the Grade 3 Excelsior at Aqueduct on Saturday, the victory meant more than just the first graded stakes score for the 5-year-old New York-bred gelding.

It kept alive the lifelong dreams of Inherit the Gold’s trainer, Jim Hooper, and co-owner, Susanne Hooper, Jim’s wife.

“Without him,” said Jim Hooper of the homebred gray, who is owned in part with Glas-Tipp Stable. “I don’t know what would have happened.”

A little more than two years ago, things were going pretty well for the Hoopers on their upstate New York horse farm, Haven Oak, which they had purchased in 2000 to fulfill Hooper’s longtime ambition of raising and racing thoroughbreds. Along with the horses, the couple also worked on the farm with at-risk youth in conjunction with an Arizona-based company, the funds from which helped support their growing horse business.

“We probably spent more on horses than we should have,” said Hooper, 54, a Navy veteran who later worked as a consultant with various companies. “But I think that’s fairly common among horse people. When you get a little extra money, get another horse, right?”

Among the dozens of thoroughbreds foaled on the farm in 2006 was a dark gray son of Gold Token, whose eyes were ringed with white, leading Susanne to dub him “Harry” after the bespectacled hero of the Harry Potter series.  Sent to trainer Charlton Baker, the now officially named Inherit the Gold (“Inherit sounded pretty close to Harry,” explained Susanne) was patiently handled and did not make his debut until age 3. He broke his maiden at the Big A in his second start, and finished out the year with a 1-3-0 mark from six starts.

But during that time, in addition to a shaky economy cutting into the Hooper’s’ horse business, the Arizona company fell on hard times, and the kids and the funds stopped coming to the farm. After plowing more than a half-million dollars into Oak Haven over the years, the Hoopers were loath to let it go at a bargain-basement price. They cut back on the number of horses they raised and raced, and sold off 20 acres of the farm. Finally, last summer, no longer able to afford to pay Baker, Hooper took out his own trainer’s license and came to Belmont Park in the fall by himself with Inherit the Gold, who was recuperating from a knee injury, and a handful of other horses.

“All I did,” said Hooper, who considers Inherit the Gold to be more a family member than a racehorse, “was to stay out of Harry’s way. It’s a good thing he’s smarter than me. He trains himself.”

On October 21, Inherit the Gold made his first start for Hooper, coming off a nearly six-month layoff to post a one-length victory in a state-bred allowance at Belmont Park. After finishing third, beaten less than a length, in an optional claimer at the Big A a month later, Inherit the Gold made the first of his five consecutive trips to the winner’s circle, in another optional claimer against state-breds. On January 13, in open company, he came from sixth to score by three lengths, and next posted a mild upset in the Mr. International overnight stakes on January 26.

Toting high weight of 124 pounds, Inherit the Gold upset 9-10 favorite Yawanna Twist in the Kings Point on March 12, and lived up to his role as the favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Excelsior, stalking the early pace before taking over at the top of the lane for his dominating win.

“I just think he’s growing into himself,” said Hooper. “I think it’s a matter of maturity. Charlie [Baker] did a wonderful job with him early on, taking his time and not rushing him. He put on weight between the Kings Point and the Excelsior, and it seems like he’s just getting better. It’s hard to tell where he’s going to stop.”

In the meantime, Inherit the Gold – who now has his own Facebook page – has not only saved the Hoopers’ farm, he’s breathed new life into their business.

“Now, it’s just the opposite,” said Hooper, standing outside Inherit the Gold’s stall and patting the personable gray gelding. “We’ve got people talking about investing in our farm, and building us a training track on the farm, and trying to go back and do a non-profit like we did with the kids, we rehabilitation with kids with drug and alcohol problems.

“Now, we might be able to go back and give back some of that,” he added. “We’re talking about trying to get inner-city kids from New York to come up to the farm and do apprenticeships, vocational training and recreational experience; combine all of them for kids that don’t get the opportunity to be around horses or a farm.  We’ve really gone full circle with that. He’s the only one who’s been writing the checks.”

While a possible berth in the Breeders’ Cup has been bandied about, Hooper is letting Inherit the Gold pick his own path.

“I just try to keep him happy and healthy, and stay out of his way,” he said. “In the fall, we’d like to think about New York Showcase Day. And one of these days I’d like to try him on the grass, but I can’t switch him when he’s winning everything in sight on the dirt. But he’s something special, all right. We are so fortunate to have him.”



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