Every race meeting produces at least one story-book finish. At Bowie this winter, that race was the Burch Stakes won by Knightly Marvin.
The bay colt is trained by Bob Braxton, whose most visible accomplishment around a track prior to the Burch was the holding of the microphone at Pimlico whiel the bugler played the call to the post.
"I'm the guard with teh security force in charge of the winner's circle over there," Braxton said. "Helping to get the bugle call over the PA system is one of the jobs. here at Bowie and at Timonium, I'm the security man in the paddock."
That's in the afternoons. In the mornings, Braxton trains a three-horse stable that includes "Marvin," the 3-year-old that ran down Do The Bump through the stretch on Feb. 12, completing six furlongs in 1:11 2/5. Braxton's colt was 27 to 1 in the mutuels but he was no longshot with his trainer.
"I had worked him over here, after he had been stabled a Pimlico, and he had shown me he was ready even though he had won only one of his three starts," Braxton remarked. "He was getting weight from the favorite (carrying 113 pounds to 124 on Do The Bump) and he had never embarrassed me in his earlier races. I knew he was a nice colt. Frankly, I wasn't too surprised when he won, but I'm a little disappointed with what's happened since that stake."
Knightly Marvin came out of the Burch in good shape. He rebucked a shin, however, in a workout last Saturday and will be forced to miss the Prince George's Stakes at Bowie.
"I got to cool it out and paint it," Braxton declared. "There is still plenty of time for him to be ready for the important races this spring, but I don't know exactly when that will be. Maybe by late March, at Pimlico. I had hoped to run him in the Gotham Mile (April 9) in New York. Maybe there's still time for that. Certainly he can make the Kentucky Derby if all goes all right. He is nominated to all the Triple Crown races."
Braxton could be accused of shotting a little high with Knightly Marvin. The colt is a 1,000-to-1 shot, judging by his parents' breeding history, to appear in any throughbred classic. Then again, the nation's 3-year-olds this winter are not impressive. So why not try?
In terms of breeding, "Marvin" is by a sire who failed at stud in Maryland out of a mare once considered impossible to get in foal. Knightly Manner, the sire, is now in Australia. Northern Niece, the dam, is a daughter of Northern Dancer who did not race. She was barren three consecutive years at Windfields Farm, then was held in a package deal as one of 14 "problem mares" for $1,000 apiece to Larry and Dan O'Brien of Richmond.
The O'Briens had enjoyed considerable success with Dr. John Gadd's deep-sture operation to correct chronic breeding problems in mares. Northern Niece responded to the surgery by getting in foal to Knightly Manner, a son of Round Table.
The O'Briens sold the colt she foaled for them at the Timonium auction of 2-year-olds in training last may for $12,000. Robert Harpe of Baltimore was the buyer.
Harpe campaigned under the banner of Two Boys Stable. "He has tow sons, Marvin, who is with the Navy in the Pacific, and Robert," Braxton said.
Braxton is one of the very few black trainers on the backstretch in Maryland - or anywhere."Marvin," he says, "is the first real chance I've ever had. I had nothin' until now to win with. And I'll tell you, good horses are what make good jocks or good trainers. Nobody wins without having the stock."
The trainers stakes success has not resulted in a startling overnight demand for his services.
"No one is knocking down the door," Braxton acknoledged. "I still have just the three horses, like I did before. I don't hear people talking about their being a Big Four now in Maryland instead of the Big Three."
Before that happens, Braxton will have to graduate from the track's security squad to spending his afternoon in the clubhouse dining room where the elite meet to eat. That is a difficult transition.
But it can be done. it takes only one horse to get there, sometimes, and who is to say that Knightly Marvin isn't the horse that will take Braxton away from his permanent position in the paddock and out of the job in the winner's circle? To Braxton, the winner's circle is a wonderful place to visit, but wouldn't it be wonderful if we didn't have to work there?