Top statebreds buoy stables
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.”
Unrideabull, so named because he was difficult to break, will run in the West Virginia Lottery.