Top state­breds buoy sta­bles

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - News - By Jim Dun­leavy Fol­low Jim Dun­leavy on Twit­ter @DRFDun­leavy

The West Vir­ginia Breeders Classics races, which will be held for the 31st time Satur­day evening at Charles Town, bring out the best state­breds in train­ing. This year the group in­cludes Un­ride­ab­ull, ar­guably the best lo­cal 3-year-old male, and Moon­lit Song, the top 3-year-old filly.

Un­ride­ab­ull is 5 for 7. He was bred and is owned and trained by Michael Ster­ling, who op­er­ates a small sta­ble and does all the work him­self.

Moon­lit Song, who is 8 for 11, was bred and races for the hus­band and wife train­ing team of Tim and Judy Grams. Tim Grams has been a top-five trainer at Charles Town much of the last decade.

Ster­ling, 55, and Grams, 54, have been based at Charles Town since they be­gan train­ing in the 1990s. Un­ride­ab­ull and Moon­lit Song are the best horses they have owned.

Grams worked as an as­sis­tant starter and out­rider at Charles Town be­fore switch­ing to train­ing in 1996. He has 39 horses at the track and an­other 50, in­clud­ing about 10 brood­mares, on the farm he and his wife own.

Moon­lit Song, a win­ner of seven of her last eight races, has earned $188,000.

“A horse like her means a lot to an op­er­a­tion like ours,” Grams said. “Of course, the more she wins the hap­pier you are, but what she has done is let us take care of some things, fi­nan­cial things, and they’re not there any­more. A horse like her is kind of a step­ping-stone to the next level.”

When Grams put Moon­lit Song in train­ing as a 2-year-old, he ini­tially was con­cerned with her per­for­mance.

“When she started off last year, she was a lit­tle slow to come around,” Grams said. “She was al­ways big and good look­ing, but she was a lit­tle over­weight. The first few times I worked her I thought, ‘I hope she gets a lit­tle bet­ter than this.’ But af­ter the third or fourth work, she re­ally started to im­prove.”

In her two most re­cent starts, Moon­lit Song de­feated 3-yearolds in the Sylvia Bishop Me­mo­rial and older ri­vals in the Sadie Hawkins.

Grams has de­cided to run Moon­lit Song in the $125,000 Cavada against older fil­lies and mares Satur­day in­stead of in the $75,000 Di­vi­sion of Tourism against her own age group. Both races are seven fur­longs.

“Be­fore she ran in the Sadie Hawkins last time, I told my wife this race will tell us which Breeders Clas­sic race we should go to,” Grams said. “When she won, the Cavada was it.”

Ster­ling is tak­ing a dif­fer­ent path with Un­ride­ab­ull and will keep him with 3-year-olds in the $75,000 West Vir­ginia Lot­tery at seven fur­longs rather than stretch him out to 1 1/8 miles against older horses in the $350,000 Breeders Clas­sic.

In his last start, Un­ride­ab­ull won the Frank Gall Me­mo­rial over 5-year-old Start Line. Un­ride­ab­ull has never raced be­yond seven fur­longs.

“I think he will go far­ther,” Ster­ling said. “It’s re­ally not about the dis­tance, it’s more about his age. We’ll have time to go longer against older horses later.”

Ster­ling, who has been train­ing since 1992, usu­ally has four or five horses. Un­ride­ab­ull’s three stakes wins are the first of his ca­reer.

“I have a farm in West Vir­ginia, and a cou­ple of brood­mares,” he said. “Pretty much I like to do my own thing. I’ve been do­ing this for a long time. It has its ups and downs, but I en­joy it.”

Ster­ling usu­ally owns the horses he trains, but on oc­ca­sion has out­side own­ers.

“The rea­son I do it my­self is that I have no one to an­swer to,” Ster­ling said. “If you have own­ers, they can get im­pa­tient some­times. They might want to go for the big­ger money in the Clas­sic, for ex­am­ple.”

Un­ride­ab­ull went 2 for 3 last year as a 2-year-old, in­clud­ing a win in the Henry Mercer Me­mo­rial. Ster­ling was in Florida at the time and Jody Cai­son trained him.

“My brother had a few horses, and I was over­see­ing their train­ing,” Ster­ling said. “Since he’s a West Vir­ginia-bred I sent him up to Jody, who I’ve worked with the last 10 years or so. He’s my right-hand man.”

Un­ride­ab­ull earned his name be­cause he can be head­strong. He races with an ex­ten­sion blinker over his left, or inside, eye.

“He was a lit­tle tough to break,” Ster­ling said. “He would do things, but it would have to be his way. He’s get­ting bet­ter. He’s ma­tur­ing. We’ve got him run­ning straight now.”

Un­ride­ab­ull has earned $125,000 for Ster­ling – im­por­tant money for a small out­fit. Ster­ling said he has made his liv­ing the past seven or eight years “strictly off the horses,” but there have been times when he has taken on other jobs, such as driv­ing a horse van.

“It means a lot to have a horse like this,” he said. “It’s good to see my work has paid off. It can be a lot of work for a small amount of re­ward.”

COADY PHOTOGRAPHY

Un­ride­ab­ull, so named be­cause he was dif­fi­cult to break, will run in the West Vir­ginia Lot­tery.

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