Repeat champion of the What A Summer Stakes. Fan favorite. Retiree. Newly minted millionaire. Veteran racemare Silmaril was all of these things and more after her impressive last-to-first victory in yesterday’s featured What A Summer Stakes at Laurel.
Post-race, trainer Chris Grove simply said, “That is how true champions go out.”
And indeed it was. A sizable crowd of punters was on hand to welcome the local star, the 17th Maryland bred to attain the $1 million mark, and just the fifth female. I’d blogged about — and jinxed! — her two prior tries at millionaire status; she’d come up short as the overwhelming favorite both times. Yesterday, though she was the second choice, her victory was a popular one.
But rather than trying to explain or dissect her popularity, I’ll give the floor to someone who loves this horse almost as much as her connections do: my wife, Erin, who had forbidden me from blogging about this race (and jinxing the horse!) beforehand.
Take it away, Erin…
The reason I love Silmaril is simple: she’s the horse who changed me from a person who mostly cared about betting into a true fan of the game and the horses.
It happened on May 20, 2005, the day before the Preakness. One of that day’s races, the Grade III Pimlico Breeders’ Cup Distaff Handicap, had enticed champion filly Ashado, from the powerful Pletcher barn. (Ashado later sold for over $9 million at auction, a world record for a broodmare prospect). Between Ashado’s entry and the long day of rain, by post time there were only four runners: Ashado, defending Pimlico Distaff champ Friel’s for Real, Pleasant Home and Silmaril.
I had spent a good deal of time handicapping a pick four bet that included the distaff race. I had watched Silmaril win in many prior races (and had won betting on her), but I didn’t see any way she could win that day—Ashado was just overwhelming on paper. So, despite my mild affection for the local star, I had little trouble singling Ashado and spreading out in the rest of the races.
As post time drew near, Ashado loomed the odds-on favorite at 3-10. Silmaril, on the other hand, was the longest shot on the board at nearly 8-1. I hoped that Silmaril would outrun the other two horses and gain second
When the race started Ashado made the lead easily, dawdling through the first half in almost 49 seconds — what track announcer Dave Rodman called “an easy stroll.” At the top of the stretch, Ashado spurted 2 ½ lengths clear of her pursuers and seemed to be home and dry. I congratulated myself: still alive in the pick 4.
But, suddenly, unbelievably, a horse started to charge down the center of the track, gaining on the champion with every stride. Could Ashado be vulnerable?
I jumped to my feet, yelling at the top of my lungs, urging the horse forward, to keep coming, keep coming….
No, not Ashado, on whom I had a $48 bet. But Silmaril, the local filly, who rolled up outside and blew by Ashado in the final strides to win by ¾ of a length under jockey Ryan Fogelsonger. I ran down to watch the connections fill the winner’s circle, my losing bet forgotten, celebrating the upset victory of the local talent over the mighty champ.
That race marked a turning point for me and my involvement with horse racing. From that day forward, handicapping and betting became of secondary importance, and the sport, and its equine heroes, much more interesting and exciting to me. (I also have never bet against Silmaril again).
Today, I kept my eye anxiously on the clock, determined to watch Silmaril’s latest bid to become a millionaire. All she needed to do to achieve that mark was second place. But, Silmaril, all class, was not destined to retire a loser. With about a furlong to go, she drew off from her competition and won the race in style. Silmaril, as always, gave her fans her very best, and today her best was enough to allow her to retire a winner, with a $1 million in earnings to boot.
I jumped for joy at her victory. But I understood what Chris Grove felt, too, when he said he shed a few tears before the race, thinking that this would be the last time he’d tighten her girth before a race.
Congratulations, Silmaril. Thanks for the memories, and best wishes in your new career as a broodmare!