Unfortunately, this year’s sophomores have not given me many
reasons to stay optimistic toward the future. Every time I found a horse I liked, I did not get to enjoy
the best they had to offer before injury or illness robbed them of their
potential. Perhaps I was spoiled
after 2011 when I got to see many of my favorites return as 4-year-olds and
improve upon their talent they showed the previous year. But this year, like many fans, I was humbled.
So when I find a horse that meets my hopes as a racing fan,
I have learned to become cautiously optimistic. But no matter how much my head tells me to tread lightly
onto the bandwagon of another upcoming prospect, my heart overrides. When I find myself heartbroken over the
early departure of racing talent, I am left with a void that must be filled.
This weekend I watched a horse that left me with a little
less vacancy. Nonios has been one
I have kept my eye on throughout the year, but has always been in the shadow of
someone bigger. Before the
Breeders’ Cup, I was at the rail at Golden Gate Fields with HRN’s own Don August
(Bay Area Backstretch), and asked him who his hopefuls were for the upcoming
races at Santa Anita. We went
through to common marquee names, but then came across hometown hero,
Nonios. We spent some time
discussing whether he best fit in the Dirt Mile or the Classic. At the time I considered him a
possibility to have some influence, but not a major player.
Perhaps I was nervous to let my brain latch on to another
three year old. There was some hesitation to admit the obvious talent of
another three year old. After
Saturday’s Native Diver, I not longer need to rely on my head to make a
conscious decision. My heart has
made it for me. Nonios is now one
of my top hopefuls for the handicap division moving into next year.
Nonios, by Pleasently Perfect, out of the Touch Gold mare
Stylish Manor has become a late blooming dash of hope to save the “glass
bottle” reputation of this year’s three year olds. Beginning his career at Golden Gate Fields for Jerry Hollendorfer, he showed promise with two wins and a show. It was then onto stakes competition,
stretching out for a win in the Affirmed Stakes. With no rest for the weary, Hollendorfer continued his
ascent in company with the Swaps Stakes followed with 4 straight grade ones.
The first grade one was the Haskell, which will best be remembered
for Paynter’s dominance. Poor
Gemologist was tag teamed for nearly a mile with Paynter on the outside and
Nonios on the inside. After
Paynter made his move to the lead, I was surprised at how much Nonios was opening
on the rest of the field. He
showed his resilience to a fast pace and constant pressure.
Following his career worst 5th place in the
Travers, the Awesome Again Stakes showed that Nonios can bounce back as an
undiscouraged fighter. There was
no catching Game on Dude that day, but for his first crack at older horses,
Nonios passed the test with flying colors. Again he separated himself from rest of the field, finishing
4 ½ lengths clear of 3rd place closer Richard’s Kid.
Having not visit the winners circle since the Affirmed, I
find something in Nonios that I saw in the recently retired Shackleford. \He may not win every start, but when he
runs, he leaves it all on the track. There has never been a circumstance when I can say Nonios didn’t show up
to compete. He doesn’t quit. And
in his latest start he showed a new characteristic: toughness.
In the Native Diver I watched Game on Dude bust through
Nonios like a fullback throwing a lead block. The contact between Game on Dude and Nonios made me
cringe. Granted, it was not
violent shove, but I instantly had a flashback of every three year old that had
departed the sport far too early. But to my surprise, Nonios only seemed to be infuriated by the bump and
battled for the next mile only to come up short at the finish.
Nonios is still young, never raced as a 2 year old, and after 10 races in as many months,
he has shown steady improvement and gained the experience he needs to become a factor
in the handicap division. Game on
Dude may have had his number this year, but I am willing to bet it will take
more than pushing and shoving to remain the king of So Cal in 2013.
Photo Courtesy of Benoit Photos