Rice continues outstanding run at Laurel Park

April 27, 2017 08:39am
Trainer Linda Rice
Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

Her focus since she began training horses 30 years ago has been to win races, not count them. Though she knew she was doing well at Laurel Park’s current winter-spring stand, Linda Rice had no idea that success had her in striking distance of a meet title.
With seven days left in a meet that began Jan. 1 and ends May 7, the New York-based Rice –who for the first time has a string of horses at Laurel - has 21 wins, just four shy of co-leaders Claudio Gonzalez and Kieron Magee. Rice has two horses entered both Friday and Saturday at Laurel.
"I didn’t realize I was really in contention for that. I hadn’t given any thought to that, frankly. I’ve had my head down and trying to focus on the job at hand,” Rice said. “I grew up in the Mid-Atlantic area [and] I’ve raced horses at Laurel since I was a young girl. I’m very fond of Maryland racing, so that would be exciting.”
The numbers that Rice has put together at Laurel through the first four months of 2017 are staggering. Her 21 wins have come from just 41 starts, a 51 percent success rate. With six seconds and six thirds, her horses have finished in the top three 80 percent of the time. She leads all Laurel trainers with $711,180 in purse earnings.
Rice, 53, has recorded at least one win on 15 of the 23 days where she has run horses. Six times she has won multiple races on the same card, most recently with City Traveler and Totaled the Benz on April 8, and she had a streak of wins with six consecutive starters between March 25 and April 7.
Among Rice’s victories, two have come in stakes. Martin Schwartz’s High Ridge Road captured the Barbara Fritchie (G2) Feb. 18 and Lady Sheila Stable’s Matt King Coal won the Harrison E. Johnson March 18, the second of two victories during the Laurel meet before going on to finish second by a neck in the $1.25 million Charles Town Classic (G2) April 22.
“I’ve been pleased with that. Matt King Coal ran a terrific race at Charles Town and the races at Maryland he did come off another layoff and I was able to get a couple races back-to-back with him. I think he may go on and have a good year,” Rice said. “The Barbara Fritchie was a terrific win for High Ridge Road and Mr. Schwartz, to get a Grade 2 win for that filly and her broodmare value, as well. A lot of those things have turned out quite nicely for us.”
Rice earned her fifth career training title earlier this month, tying with Rudy Rodriguez for the top spot at Aqueduct’s spring meet with 12 wins from 34 starters. Her first championship came in 2009, when she made history as the first and still only female to lead the standings in the history of Saratoga Race Course.
Mary Eppler became the first female to lead the trainer standings in Laurel’s 106-year history when she captured the 2016 fall meet championship that ended Dec. 31.
A winner of nearly 1,600 career races, Rice was born in Madison, Wis. but grew up in Hershey, Pa., the only daughter of Clyde Rice, a perennial leading trainer at Waterford (now Moutaineer) Park and Penn National who passed away Jan. 30 in Ocala, Fla. at the age of 79. Linda Rice is a third-generation horseman whose brothers Bryan, Wayne and Curt all rode or trained.
Rice studied computer science at Penn State before turning to training full-time at the age of 23 in 1987. At first she also exercised her own horses until the stable became too large, racing on the Mid-Atlantic circuit until moving her operation to New York in 1992.
Rice’s first stakes winner was Double Booked, whose six stakes wins for her included the Dixie (G2) and Riggs Handicap (G3) in 1991 at Pimlico Race Course. Other Maryland stakes wins for Rice include the 2001 Chick Lang with City Zip and the 2014 Private Terms and Federico Tesio with Kid Cruz.
In 2015 Rice trained her first Eclipse Award winner, La Verdad, named champion older female sprinter. Rice’s Grade 1 winners have been Princess Violet (2015 Madison), Palace (2014 Forego, A.G. Vanderbilt), Lucifer’s Stone (2004 Garden City Breeders’ Cup), City Zip (2000 Hopeful), Tenski (1998 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup) and Things Change (1998 Spinaway).
With 61 wins from 191 starts this year, more than one-third of Rice’s victories have come at Laurel. Her go-to rider is Horacio Karamanos, aboard for 18 of her 21 local wins including High Ridge Road and Matt King Coal in the Harrison Johnson.
“Linda Rice is a very good trainer and she’s got some nice quality horses. She does a good job, and we have had some good luck,” Karamanos said. “We got together and we always run first or second or third or fourth. We make a good team. I feel comfortable with her because she doesn’t give me much instructions. Sometimes she’ll say to go to the lead or stay a little bit behind, but she lets me do my thing. There’s no pressure at all.”
Her recent success has led Rice to establish a string at Laurel for the first time, currently consisting of a dozen horses. It is part of the evolution of Rice’s overall stable that has taken place over the past few years.
“We tried something new. I changed my business model in the winter to stay out of Florida and that was a very positive change for me about three or four years ago,” Rice said. “In this business you constantly have to be changing. I think you have to take a look at your circumstance and try to make positive changes at all times.
“One of those for me was when New York went to racing four days a week and then three days a week in March, I had a lot of horses, young horses, various horses off of layoffs, they needed to run and I needed to find enough opportunity for them,” she added. “I decided to start shipping some of them to Laurel and I’ve also moved a division to Laurel, as well, because frankly it’s gone very well. The results have been good and my clients have been happy.”

Source: Maryland Jockey Club


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