BY JIM WELLS
Young horses are often a handful_ fractious in racetrack parlance. Difficult in the barn, or the paddock or the gate.
Now meet the morning line favorites for the $85,000 Minnesota Oaks and the $85,000 Minnesota Derby, Dazzlingsweetheart and Smooth Chiraz, a couple of three-year-olds who not only defy such descriptions but are quite the opposite.
“She’s a real sweetheart,” said Barry Butzow, who owns the Oaks favorite with his wife, Joni.
“He’s very kind and quiet. You don’t even know he’s in the barn,” said Francisco Bravo, trainer of Smooth Chiraz.
There’s a simple explanation for Dazzlingsweetheart’s easy-going demeanor. It’s a difficult assignment to unnerve a horse who experienced the worst and then some as a weanling.
She was in a barn that was destroyed by a tornado. “She should have died,” Butzow said, “but somehow she survived.”
Butzow said he choked up when he got this response from the breeders after purchasing this daughter of Dazzling Falls:
“You just paid for our new barn,” he was told by the breeders, Mary and Eric Von Seggern of Pilger, Nebraska.
“That tornado took their whole barn,” Butzow said.
If there is an equine equivalent for PTSD, Dazzlingsweetheart might have contracted it. Regardless of the explanation, she was slow to mature and didn’t hit the racetrack until this year, her three-year-old season.
The Butzows sent her to Florida as a yearling, to a handler they use there. She wasn’t ready yet at age two so they held her back until May 21st this year when she broke her maiden in Shakopee. She won both of her starts thereafter, including the $60,000 Frances Genter Stakes her last time out.
She is 3-for-3, the only unbeaten filly in today’s race.
And that personality?
“We had 25 people at the barn last Sunday,” Butzow said. “A lot of kids. She simply loves kids.”
She loves winning, too, and is a 9/5 morning line favorite among eight rivals in today’s race, including Honey’s Sox Appeal, a 5/2 choice who ran second to the presumptive favorite in the Frances Genter. Joe Sharp will saddle Dazzlingsweetheart today and Chris Rosier will ride.
Then there is Smooth Chiraz, a gelded son of Chitoz, who won the Victor S. Myers Stakes in commanding fashion the same afternoon the Frances Genter was run. This fellow is two-for-four this year and four-for six lifetime with earnings of $128,884.
“Usually a horse like this comes back from a workout and can be kind of mean to handle. He’s big and he’s strong, but he’s really mellow,” said Bravo.
The hotwalkers love this guy despite his size because of that attitude. “His mother (Memory Divides) was the same way, really easy going,” Bravo added.
Smooth Chiraz won the Victor S. Myers in his last out by seven lengths and will face some of the same competition today, namely Smooth Stroke and Pensador.
Despite his relaxed demeanor, there are specific occasions when his blood pressure rises.
There are times when you have to watch yourself around him. “The only time you have to be careful, ” Bravo said, “is when you are coming off the race track with him and he hears horses behind him. He either wants to run with them or away from them. He’s very competitive.”
Equally so at dinner time, or any other time for that matter. “He loves to eat,” his trainer said. “He eats constantly. But he sits back in his stall without a fuss.”
Chiraz, with Dean Butler in the irons, will be the favorite in today’s field of 11 for the Derby, and rightly so. Yet Bravo, naturally, is not taking anything for granted.
“Not ever,” he said. “You never know.”