Monday, December 29, 2008


For many people, New Year’s Eve presents an opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and perhaps to make plans for the coming year.

For Thoroughbred owner and trainer Gary Katz, it’s a chance to take a deep breath and marvel at life’s funny twists and turns.

Wednesday afternoon at Aqueduct Racetrack, Katz will be saddling his five-year-old gelding Critical Acclaim in the $75,000-added Gallant Fox Handicap, a one mile, five-furlong marathon that is the final stakes race of the year in New York. The race, which drew a field of 10, will be Critical Acclaim’s last start for some months as Katz, 55, also takes a break to return his other full-time job as a practicing attorney.

“I really don’t know how I got myself into this situation,” said Katz, laughing, from his home in Wilmington, Del. “Life takes strange turns – this wasn’t anything I planned on doing.”

An accomplished horseman – he was on the Cornell University polo team as an undergraduate – Katz received his trainer’s license in the early 1980’s, at about the same time he was admitted to the bar. But rather than give one up for the other, he simply decided to do both.

“I never wake up in the morning and wonder what I’m going to do that day,” said Katz, who also wrote The Equine Legal Handbook. “Training horses is something I really wanted to do, and the horses have been really good to me.”

Case in point: Critical Acclaim, who will be making his 48th lifetime start in the Gallant Fox, having finished no worse than third in 21 of those, with earnings of $188,660. His last three races have been at the Big A, where he finished third in a one-mile starter allowance on October 31, seventh over an off track on November 9, and third to Lorccan on December 3 in the Coyote Lakes, the prep for the Gallant Fox.

“He’s got to like this distance – he’s only run two times, and won once and finished third the other time,” said Katz, who currently has two horses in training. “I don’t think the jockey really knew how much horse he had the last time. I think he’ll be competitive with most of these, and I’m hoping for a better result.”

Heading the field is distance specialist Delosvientos, the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap winner who is undefeated in four lifetime starts at a mile and one-half. Owned and trained by Giuseppe Iadisernia, the five-year-old gelding will be making his first start since winning the 12-furlong Point Given at Monmouth Park on September 21.

Another with a winning record at the distance is Lianna Stables’ Lorccan, who took the 1 5/8th-mile Coyote Lakes earlier this month. Trained by James Ferraro, the four-year-old colt is 4-2-3 from 14 starts this year with earnings of nearly $200,000.

Lord Kipling, second in the Coyote Lakes, returns for the Gallant Fox, which also drew the Nick Zito-trained Amped; Canela, winner of Turfway’s Prairie Bayou Stakes on December 13; Irish Majesty, second in a claiming race at Aqueduct on December 7; Jade’s Revenge, who is 1-1-0 in two starts at the distance; Stymie Handicap winner Malibu Moonshine, making his first since July, and Senior, third in an allowance at Laurel last month.

Following the Gallant Fox, Critical Acclaim will rest up at a Maryland farm while Katz devotes most of his time to his law practice.

“I think it’s good for horses to get time away and it’s good for me, too,” said Katz. “When I practice law, it’s like a vacation. But I enjoy doing both – I know I haven’t made as much money as a lot of lawyers, or been as successful as a lot of trainers, but I am living my life doing something I am passionate about. All in all, I can’t complain.”

The field for the $75,000-added Gallant Fox Handicap

PP Horse Wgt. Jockey Trainer
1 Lorccan 118 Jeffrey Sanchez James Ferraro
2 Irish Majesty 112 Mike Luzzi Dennis Duggan
3 Delosvientos 124 Eddie Castro Giuseppe Iardisernia
4 Critical Acclaim 114 Sheldon Russell Gary Katz
5a Lord Kipling 114 Ramon Dominguez Gary Contessa
6 Jade’s Revenge 118 Jeremy Rose H. Graham Motion
7 Senior 113 Richard Migliore Joseph Delozier
8a Malibu Moonshine 116 Channing Hill Gary Contessa
9 Canela 119 Alan Garcia Michael Maker
10 Amped 114 Jorge Chavez Nick Zito

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