Hopetown Hero is aiming for his fifth consecutive victory in race two on Saturday afternoon.
A fetching 4-year-old gelding by Orientate out of the Southern Halo daughter Hopetown, Hopetown Hero has made this year a memorable one for his trainer, Manuel Uriza, and his Phoenix based real estate broker owner, Karen Petersen.
Manuel Uriza, is the grandson of trainer Laz Barrera, who guided Affirmed to his Triple Crown Victory in 1978.
Uriza, like his grandfather, is not interested in personal fame and glory. He is an artist and horses are his canvas.
Uriza keeps a small, tightly run stable where he can literally have his hands and eyes on the progress of his charges all of the time. He listens very carefully to his good instincts and what the horses tell him.
“My goal is to take a horse and make him better”, said Uriza. His true love is working with “babies”. “If you botch them up when they are young, you have only yourself to blame,” Uriza states frankly.
Hopetown Hero is a prime example of Uriza’s artistry. Besides becoming stronger and sounder since entering Uriza’s tutelage, he has become a happy and relaxed horse. He developed his big heart early this year, but became a “bully” prior to entering Uriza’s Stable. With all of the individual attention Hopetown Hero has received from Uriza and his morning exercise rider, jockey Jocelyn Kenney, he has become a “big lap dog” “He is very smart and is willing to learn almost anything,” said Uriza.
Success holds true with another horse Karen Petersen owns, Mr. Playwright. Mr. Playwright won a stunning 30-1 victory in a tough mile turf allowance race on June 19. Mr. Playwright was trained by Uriza his freshman season and did quite well in allowance and stakes races.
Playwright was shuffled through several barns until Ms. Petersen claimed him this past spring and gave him back to Uriza. Once back in Uriza’s care, Playwright was back to his old winning form.
Hopetown Hero broke his maiden at Tampa for $50,000 in 2006. He went downhill from there. He had a dismal 2007. In late ’07 he came down with pneumonia, which lingered into ’08 and Hopetown Hero almost died. Petersen bought the skinny, still coughing 4-year-old “for a song” in late January of this year.
Says Petersen, ” I had not owned race horses in almost twenty years. I have been battling a life threatening disease myself, so I felt compassion and camaraderie with this withered horse, win or lose, I felt an obligation to buy him.” “And he had that Seabiscut look to his eyes…so willful!”
Petersen loves nicknames. Hopetown Hero became known as “LeBron” to Karen and his caretakers. ( He does not know how to play basketball. yet…)
His first out this season, after over a two and one half month layoff at Turf Paradise, he finished second by a nose, after forgetting to get out of the starting gate. His next three races were all victory romps! “He loves to run and he loves to win,” boasts Petersen.
In his fourth consecutive win and his first start at Canterbury on June 22, he struggled a bit at the top of the stretch, yet held on to get his picture taken in the winners’ circle once more.
What next for Hopetown Hero? Nominated to the Claiming Crown he would likely sprint, while his stable mate Mr. Playwright may try the Claiming Crown Emerald on the grass. Uriza and Petersen are looking to make it six in a row for Hopetown Hero if they can beat a salty bunch here on Saturday.
Hopetown Hero’s future? “We are not going to race him into the ground”, states Uriza emphatically. “When I think it is time to retire him we will turn him out and let him run and play for a while, then he will come back to the racetrack as my training pony.”
“Right now, we want five wins in a row. If we get that we will probably shoot for six victories. Will we look for seven? We will let Hopetown Hero tell us what he wants to do. He is a very social, communicative individual”, says Uriza.