Scrappy T doesn't sound like the name of a horse that gets draped in roses in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May. It's more like a wise guy's long shot in the fifth at Laurel Park.
Robbie Bailes, 40, is a trainer who has always done nice, unassuming work with a small stable at the dilapidated Bowie Training Center, but no one mistakes him for Nick Zito, Wayne Lukas or Shug McGaughey.
Sun King, with Edgar Prado riding, is among trainer Nick Zito's contenders for the Kentucky Derby. Zito's Bellamy Road is a 2-1 favorite in the Wood.
(Bill Denver -- AP)
Sometimes in horse racing, though, the latent goodness coursing through unfashionable bloodlines asserts itself.
This afternoon, Bailes will send out Scrappy T, likely the best horse he has ever had, against some of the biggest names in racing in the 81st running of the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. The top finishers board a van bound for Louisville and a run in the Kentucky Derby.
As the 15-1 morning-line long shot in the field of eight, Bailes will need to hope for a little magic from the bloodlines -- Scrappy T's and his own -- to get the job done.
Rabid racing fans who consider Secretariat the greatest horse of all time might recognize the name Bailes.
"My father was the first man to put his leg over Secretariat's back," Bailes said recently after finishing morning work with the string of horses he has been running in New York out of Belmont Park.
Bailes's grandfather, Bob, was farm trainer at Meadow Farm in Doswell, Va. His father, Meredith, took over the job when his grandfather died in 1970. That was the year Secretariat was born there, and it was Meredith's job to break the young horses and get them used to a saddle and rider on their backs.
At the time, under the management of Helen "Penny" Chenery, the place brimmed with famous horses.
"We lived at the farm, and I tell everybody we had First Landing on one side and Sir Gaylord [Secretariat's half-brother] on the other," Bailes said. "I was about 9. I wish I had been a little older back then."
Bailes picked out Scrappy T at a sale in Florida last year and bought him for $35,000 for owner Marshall Dowell of Mechanicsville, Va. Another horse on his list to buy that day was Bellamy Road, the fleet 2-1 favorite in the Wood for Zito.
Scrappy T, after breaking his maiden at Delaware Park, has received no respect in New York and makes bettors pay every race he runs. He finished second in his New York debut at odds of 23-1 and two races later won the Count Fleet Stakes at 11-1. In his most recent start, the Whirlaway Stakes on Feb. 12, he raced uncharacteristically off the lead and dug down in the stretch to finish third, missing first by 1 1/2 lengths.
Bailes kept Scrappy T out of the Gotham Stakes, the following step in New York on the road to Kentucky, to wait for the Wood. The New York 3-year-olds have been virtually inseparable at the finish line -- less than two lengths separated the top four finishers in the Gotham -- and Bailes figures Scrappy T is as good as any.
"I think he's up to the task," he said. "I told the owner, if he's going to do it, it's going to be Saturday."