I follow horse racing all over the country, and have my favourites both on the local circuit and in the wider scheme. However, my favourite thing about horse racing is seeing the horses in person. Here in Chicago, I’m spoiled: I have two thoroughbred tracks that are easy public transit rides from where I live, and between them they host live racing ten and a half months out of the year. As often as I go to the track, I have collected a long list of horses who I really like, and get excited to see race. The great thing about becoming a fan of particular horses on my circuit is that I can get up close to them in the paddock and see them run in person.
Dream Seeker has very quickly become a favourite of mine on the local circuit. On paper before his July 4 debut, he fascinated me: he was a five-year-old first-time starter in a $25,000 maiden claimer, six furlongs on the poly. You don’t often see first-time starters that old on this circuit except for a barn or two who are known to run some fairly hopeless older maidens. However, he was a heavy hitter on paper, running for connections who did not frequently debut five-year-olds. Dream Seeker was trained by Wayne Catalano, owned by Gary and Mary West, and by Smart Strike out of Minister’s Mom (Deputy Minister). They must have seen something smashing in him as a yearling: he was a $475,000 purchase at the 2010 Keeneland September sale. No matter how good they look on paper, though, I can’t get too excited about a first-time starter that old at any level until they walk into the paddock. My excitement was doubly tempered by the fact he was showing up in a claimer, instead of even trying special weight company in that first start.
I was not the only one wondering what was up with this horse that day. As the minutes to post ticked away, every other horse in the race had arrived but Dream Seeker. I was standing in the paddock, chattering with some people, and we were all wondering what this mystery horse would look like, and whether there would be some obvious physical reason he did not race until the age of five. The clock had ticked dangerously close to ten minutes to post, when they tend to call for riders up, and he still wasn’t there.
Suddenly, a horse entered the paddock, accompanied by a walker in a yellow 4 vest. The newcomer was big, brown, and radiantly shiny. He looked like a man among boys in that paddock. There was no question about it: that was Dream Seeker, and he looked way too good to be in that field. Whatever had stopped him from racing at two, three, or even four was not readily apparent in his frame or his gait. He looked like a winner.
Dream Seeker looked just as good on the track, just toying with the field. He let Erin Prairie set a slow pace early, and then shot up the rail approaching the far turn. He quickly caught up, split Erin Prairie and Mongolian Union, and was gone past the three-sixteenths pole. He won in hand by a widening six lengths.
No one claimed him out of that maiden effort. Three weeks later, on July 26, he took a step up in class. Catalano sent him out against allowance company, an open N1X at six furlongs on the poly. This was his test against far tougher company. Once again he looked very nice in the paddock.
Once again, he ran up to his looks. He was near the back of the pack early, but started to roll as the field turned for home. He angled in a bit, but got caught in traffic inside the final three-sixteenths. Despite his traffic trouble, he just missed catching the far more seasoned Radiant Day by the slimmest of noses. My Pick 4 was toast in the final leg, but still I had seen what I wanted to see. Dream Seeker wasn’t just another pretty horse. He could run a bit, and hold his own against far more experienced company in the allowance ranks. The way he split horses to get through that traffic trouble was exciting to see from a second-time starter, and it was thrilling to witness from right along the rail.
I waited to see him turn up in another N1X at Arlington. He had held his own, and I wanted to see him get another crack at the condition. He did finally turn up in another race on September 7, but it wasn’t at Arlington and it wasn’t an allowance. Instead, it was a $30,000-$25,000 N2L claimer at Churchill Downs. It was his first try on dirt, which was exciting. Still, it was a bummer that I would not get to see the race live. In just two races he had become one of my favourite local runners, and now he was running in Kentucky. Even more terrifying, he was running for a tag. I had heard some scuttlebutt to the effect of a little gentleman’s agreement not to claim Dream Seeker out of his debut at Arlington, but now he was a third-time starter at a different track. Even if that scuttlebutt were anything reliable (you never know with track gossip!), I doubted there would be any sort of implicit protection in place for him in this spot. This got me wondering if I’d be seeing him back on my circuit anytime soon.
Despite the change of surface, he ran like the Dream Seeker I knew and loved. The big brown horse got bumped around a bit at the start, but settled in a handful of lengths off the early frontrunners. He swung outside for the stretch drive, found his best just inside the furlong pole, and started picking off horses. He rolled past Metro Dreamer in time to win by 3/4 length. N2L was a thing of the past.
But, he was up for a tag. He was well-bred, physically gorgeous, and had two sharp races going into that one. It was a little different situation than his debut, because of those races. No matter what the backstory, it made plenty of sense that he wasn’t claimed out of his debut; good as he may look, a five-year-old first-timer sounds like the shakiest of claim-box investments. This time around, I was hoping he would not be claimed, so Catalano could race him back in my neck of the woods again. I knew it was likely he would be taken, though, because he had shown that he could run.
He was claimed Sunday, and now runs from the barn of Randy Morse. I cannot complain about the fact he’s entering the Morse barn; he is the same trainer who claimed Moonshine Mullin for $40,000 last November and has turned him into a Grade I winner. There’s a little part of me that would love to see Dream Seeker hold his own in stakes company someday, and maybe Morse will be the one to do it.
Still, though, I am sad because Morse does not regularly run horses at Arlington or Hawthorne. I got to see Dream Seeker in person just twice, and now he has been claimed into a barn where he will likely run at tracks like Churchill or Oaklawn. I will follow Dream Seeker from afar, I will watch his races…and I will hold out hope that I will get to see him race in person at least once more before his career is out.