Southern California-based Dan Blacker wrapped up his first decade as a trainer in 2021 with a first-ever Grade 1 win and a career high in purse earnings.
A 39-year-old native of Oxford, England, Blacker earned his first top-level victory in March when Hit the Road won the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. The 5-year-old horse by More Than Ready, who had to be scratched from last year's Breeders’ Cup Mile when spiking a fever the week of the race, is expected to make his long-awaited return in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) at Gulfstream Park a week from Saturday.
Hit the Road signaled his readiness for the Pegasus last weekend when blitzing five furlongs over the Santa Anita turf course in a swift 58.4 seconds.
“I needed him to show me that he was ready. So we tested him a little bit in that last work and he worked great and came out of it great,” Blacker said. “Everything just needs to go smoothly over the next week or so before we make the flight.”
Blacker, who operates a modest-sized stable at Santa Anita that currently numbers 21 horses, also reflected on his 2021 season as part of this latest Horse Racing Nation Barn Tour.
“Yes, I won a Grade 1 and that was a great milestone for me, but I try not to worry too much about statistics and my records,” said Blacker, who is married to TVG analyst Christina Olivares. “I just try to focus on each horse and going race by race. The idea is to train these horses to the best of my ability and give the owners a great experience.”
Hit the Road. Prior to being scratched from the Breeders’ Cup, Hit the Road was a troubled third behind Mo Forza and eventual BC Mile runner-up Smooth Like Strait in the City of Hope Mile (G2) at Santa Anita. In the City of Hope, a keen Hit the Road wound up last early when wrangled back, then on the second turn, he got cut off along the rail just as he was gathering momentum.
After the Breeders’ Cup scratch, and adding to Hit the Road’s star-crossed campaign, he was set to contest the 1 1/8-mile San Gabriel (G2) on Dec. 26 as a prep for the Pegasus at the same distance. But again he was scratched when the race was rained off the turf and moved to dirt.
“The last few months things did not go to plan,” Blacker said. “He had just a terrible trip in (the City of Hope) and then having to be scratched in the Breeders’ Cup was really disappointing for the horse. We were campaigning for that race after he won the Grade 1. So to get that far and have him doing so well leading up to that race at our home track, it was really frustrating. You don’t know when you’re going to get a chance like that again.”
Blacker said if Hit the Road continues to do well in training this week, he is set to make the cross-country trip to Gulfstream Park on Tuesday. The Pegasus would be his first test at nine furlongs.
“You don’t know until you try it," Blacker said of the distance. "But he’s been training super and fitness isn’t going to be a problem. I think he’s ready as far as that goes. It’s just a matter of whether he’s going to be as good going a mile and an eighth as he is at a mile. We’ll just have to see.”
Hit the Road, who finished off the board in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, has a record of 12: 6-0-2 with earnings of $563,751.
Issa Court. As a trainer for Harris Farms, Blacker figures to have his share of California-breds, and this emerging 4-year-old filly fits the bill.
A homebred by Acclamation for Harris Farms, Issa Court broke her maiden going a mile on turf at Del Mar in November. She came back last to win an entry-level allowance on dirt against Cal-breds at Santa Anita.
Issa Court was the second winner from six starters for Blacker at the current Santa Anita meet.
“It’s kind of unique when you get a horse that runs well on both surfaces, and at the allowance level, which is not common,” Blacker said. “It’s a testament to John Harris and Harris Farms for breeding a talented, solid racehorse. She just tries really hard, and I am thankful for getting the opportunity to train her. She’s a pretty nice one, hopefully.”
Blacker added that rather than stepping up directly into a Cal-bred stakes, Issa Court most likely would try another first-level Cal-bred allowance on dirt. In California, horses are eligible to win a first-level allowance on both turf and dirt.
“That’ll be the most likely spot for her next, but I’m hoping she’ll be a Cal-bred stakes filly. Hopefully she keeps improving,” Blacker said.
Big Shamrock. This California-bred took a big step up in class when trying the Kentucky Oaks trail in the six-horse Santa Ynez (G2) on Jan. 8 at Santa Anita and promptly beat just one horse to the wire. Blacker said she exited the race with an injured knee and is sidelined until an expected return in late spring or summer.
“We took a shot because it was a short field and she’s a nice filly,” Blacker said. “But unfortunately she got a chip in that race. She’s had surgery. She’ll come back and hopefully we’ll be back at the race with her in the summer.”
Toeris. Bred and campaigned by the high-profile partnership of Gary Barber and Team Valor, this 3-year-old filly by Tourist earned her diploma at Del Mar in October and came back to be third a month later in the Jimmy Durante (G3).
She has not worked since that effort but is slated to start gearing up soon.
“There weren’t a huge amount of opportunities for 3-year-old fillies at this time of the year and the big races aren't until a bit later, so we felt she could benefit from a break,” Blacker said. “I’m just grateful to have patient owners like Team Valor and Gary Barber and that they were willing to give her a break. Hopefully we’ll have her coming back guns blazing for the big races later this year.”