The bay 5-year-old gelding will never win a beauty contest. And he's cheap. As cheap as they come on the Maryland circuit. For $3,000 you can reach in and take him anytime.
Still, for all his lack of looks or regal blood, and despite the fact his knees come back a knockin' after every victory. A Second Spray is the horse of the year this season to thousands of area fans.
Somehow, some way, rather miraculously, the battered son of Salt Spray has successfully navigated through six races in a row at Timonium, Bowie and Laurel while scraping the bottom of thoroughbred racing's tightly stacked deck. His achievement, under the circumstances, is as impressive as the fact that his straight payoffs of $14.80, $3.40, $11.40, $8, $7.40 and $5, if put into a $2 parlay, would be worth $5.306.15.
"John Manfuso of Washington owned and raised A Second Spray." Jo Owens said yesterday morning outside Laurel's Barn 18, the horse's home most of this year." Mr. John had lost and claimed him back before, when he was younger, in the $4,000 or $5,000 claimers. Then he gave him a year off.
"A Second Spray had slab fractures of both knees," the wife of trainer Bill Owens continued, "Mr. John just said, when he turned his horses over to us, 'See if you can get him back to the races. He has the heart, if not the body.' Those were the only instructions."
Jo and Bill Owens brought A Second Spray back slowly. He finished last in his first appearance, July 1 at Bowie, beaten by nearly 20 lengths at 34 to 1. Then he showed early speed, two weeks later, but faded to fourth at 22 to 1.
At Timonium this summer. A Second Spray ran first, second and third before beginning his winning streak at the little track north of Baltimore Aug. 26. He won by a nose that day, then came back to score by a head, a length, a neck, by 4 1/4 and, in his most recent appearance, by a neeck at Laurel Nov. 14.
Only twice was he favored.
"That's because the bettors know $3,000 horses can'tkeep in top form for long." Jo Owens declared. "They win, maybe, two straight and that's it. Even the people who liked him the most were skeptical. After he'd won four and really caught on with the crowd, they'd come up to us and ask, 'Do you think he can do it again?'"
"Here we were, a little outfit like us, with 14 horses, and we were beating King Leatherbury. Regularly, King's leading all the trainers in the country this year, with more than 300 wins, and A Second Spray has beaten one of his $3,000 Maryland-bred claimers, The Treniers, three straight times, usually by narrow margins."
Rival trainers didn't claim A Second Spray because they were aware of his physical problems. The horse returned to the barn increasingly sore after each success. The trainers didn't want to have a $3,000 dropout on their hands. They knew he had to be "eased" in races before the Owens got him.
"David Myers, the exercise boy, would give A Second Spray special attention, and Rudy Turcotte, who rode him in his races, also knew him and like him a lot. He was so sore, he was tough to ride.' Jo Owens said. "The horse became a mini-celebrity, and we loved him.
"His name posed a problem, though, Mr. Manfuso names all his horses the same way. The first word is "A" and the last word is "Spray." So we had a nickname for A Second Spray. He was so ugly, and he looked like he belonged pulling an old beer wagon, so I called him 'Budweiser'.
"Well, the race before last, when A Second Spray was trying to win his fifth straight, I'm standing along the rail, yelling my lungs out: 'Come on. Budweiser!. Come on. Budweiser! You can do it! And this man standing next to me keeps looking down at his program.
"'There's no Budweiser in this race.' he finally says to me. 'Oh yes there is.' I assured him, and I kept yelling till Budweiser got to the finish first."
A Second Spray beat The Treniers that day. He had beaten The Treniers three weeks earlier. And he beat The Treniers again, three weeks later.
That was too much for Leatherbury, who trains The Treniers, Leatherbury is not accustomed to losing.
"I should have claimed A Second Spray the second time he beat me." Leatherbury said yesterday. "After the third time, I had to do it, even though it meant I was breaking all my principles of claiming.