In most respects, Kindest Cut typifies the thoroughbreds trainer Scott Regan describes as "the blood and guts of the industry" -- cheap claiming horses who will be bought and sold, who will move from stable to stable, who will run and run until their infirmities stop them.
Trainers don't often talk about these horses in terms of their talent and accomplishments. They describe them by their ailments. This is Regan on Kindest Cut: "He's got a lot of little problems. He's old and arthritic; he's got chronically bad feet and he's got problems with his knees and ankles. He has problems in his hind end because he compensates for the front end by throwing his weight behind. He's in worse shape than the basic claiming horse; he has to stand in ice for three hours a day."
Improbable as it may seem, Kindest Cut has become a star of the Maryland racing circuit, albeit a low-budget star. When he won an $8,500 claiming race at Pimlico last week, it was his eighth victory in a row -- an extraordinary feat for a horse of his type. Among the backstretch people who deal regularly with claimers, he couldn't have earned more respect if he had won the Kentucky Derby.
Kindest Cut had an ordinary career until this spring. Bought as a yearling by a fashionable stable for $35,000, he quickly established that he was nothing more than a claiming horse. He managed to win once in his first two seasons of racing. The top price for which he ever won was $18,000.
Regan regularly trains horses like Kindest Cut, and he saw enough virtues in the 6-year-old's record to claim him for $8,500 in February. For a while, he thought he had made a bad mistake. Kindest Cut ran two dismal races, but Regan figured later this may have been a blessing in disguise.
"The harder horses run, the sorer they get," Regan said. "But because Kindest Cut hadn't been extending himself, he got almost completely sound." Entered April 1 in a $5,000 race -- his lowest level ever -- Kindest Cut won, leading all the way. He hasn't been beaten since.
After Kindest Cut had won three in a row, advancing to the $8,500 level, all his physical problems began to reappear. Regan had to give him more time between races and to treat him gingerly.
"We're lucky Kindest Cut is easy to train and keep fit," he said. "You don't see any workouts in the Racing Form for him. When it took a month to get him back to the races, Clem Florio's comment in The Post was 'No works?' but the most he had done was go a mile in 1:57. If he'd trained fast he'd be just as sore as he would after a race, so it's not worth it."
Because Kindest Cut's ailments are no secret, and because other trainers probably figure he has about passed his peak, Regan has been able to keep him at the $8,500 and $11,500 level without having him claimed. That has contributed greatly to his success. And the success has begotten further success.
When stables enjoy winning streaks, there often is an understandably human reason for it. Winning energizes the people who work for a trainer; they do the little bit extra that can make the difference between success and failure.
Regan is convinced the winning streak has changed the horse. "In most cases," he said, "horses know when they win, and when they win consecutively, they start to improve and overcome things that they couldn't have overcome before. When Kindest Cut was going for his seventh in a row, Crafty Exchange looked like he was going to beat him. Our jockey, Larry Saumell, had done everything he could. But then Kindest Cut said, 'I'm going to dig down and get something more.' Nobody else gave him that extra oomph -- he did it himself."
Regan hopes to pick Kindest Cut's next races judiciously enough to extend his winning streak to 10, but he knows it can't go on much longer. "Realistically," he said, "I'd expect that after he loses a race he'll lose four or five in a row. Horses get good, and then they get bad."
If Kindest Cut were a stakes horse, he would be allowed to rest on his laurels after such a streak and eventually would be retired to stud. Regan would love the old campaigner to have a cozy retirement after all he has done, but at this level of the game -- where most owners are lucky if they can break even -- it isn't likely to happen. For claiming horses like Kindest Cut, laurels are few and rest is far between.