Given the choice of shipping his horse to Texas or Southern California to catch the Tex Sutton flight to South Florida, Hone opted for Dallas after indulging himself in a moment of folly.
Black Hills, a 7-year-old gelding who broke the Sunland track record in his most recent start on Jan. 8, will also be a long shot when he runs in Saturday’s Classic, in which he’ll clash with First Dude, the multiple Grade 1 stakes-placed 4-year-old who finished second in last year’s Preakness; and Duke of Mischief, a two-time Grade 2 stakes winner, among other graded-stakes performers in the nine-horse field.
“We thought about it a couple of weeks ago. We were playing it by ear, waiting to see how he came out of his last race and see how he trained. He was doing very well, so we decided to come,” Hone said. “This might be the best group of horses he’s run against in a long time, but I feel he’s doing so good. Also we think there is a little bit of speed in the race, so that should help us.”
Class Racing Stables’ Black Hills had beaten the odds in the past, particularly when he returned to the races in 2008 after being out of action for 21 months due to a suspensory ligament injury. The son of Judge T C, who had been trained in Southern California by Jeff Mullins, was sent to Hone at Sun Ray Park in New Mexico shortly after his return to the races. Hone had helped Class Racing’s Tom Arndt become a horse owner in 1989 by claiming a horse for him at Turf Paradise for $5000.
“The people really had high hopes for him up until he got that problem,” said Hone, whose gelding had broken his maiden at Hollywood Park in a maiden special weight race on Nov. 26, 2006. “They said to run him cheap and probably get rid of him.”
Black Hills won at first asking for Hone, winning a $15,000 claiming race at Sun Ray Park, where he returned to capture a $12,500 claiming races for non-winner of three lifetime races while going unclaimed.
“I was a little scared the second time to run him for a price and thought we might lose him. But he got sick in between races and so there was kind of a gap in his form,” said Hone of the three-month hiatus that may have indicated a more serious condition to those with an interest in making a claim. “There were people looking at him that day we ran him back for $12.500.”
It would be the last chance to claim Black Hills, who went on to six of his next eight starts, including victories in a $100,000 stakes at Sun Ray and a $200,000 stakes at Zia Park in 2009. He was named 2009 New Mexico Handicap Horse of the Year.
After winning the $50,000 Winsham Lad Stakes in his 2010 debut, Black Hills’ suspensory problem flared up, sending him to the sidelines again for 11 months. He finished third in an allowance race at Sunland Park in December, before returning to peak form in a successful title defense in the Winsham Lad with a track-record clocking for a mile and 70 yards.
“He’s come back very, very healthy,” said Hone, who saddled Big Sky Chester for a fifth-place finish in the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita.
The father of two girls, Hone grew up in a ranching community in Idaho, surrounded by horses since he was a 2-year-old. After a failed attempt to ride at 16, he took out his trainer’s license at 17.
“I was a junior in high school, and my mom and dad got five race horses, put $500 in my checking account and said, ‘Have at it,’ for the summer,” said the 52-year-old trainer, who saddled 116 winners from 523 starters last year.
He’s been training horses with success ever since, having made stops in Nebraska, Colorado and Minnesota before putting down roots in Glendale, Ariz. – although he now spends most of his time in New Mexico due to the slots-infused purses at Sunland and Zia Park.
Hone, whose eastern-most stop until this week had been to Churchill Downs a few years ago, has given the mount aboard Black Hills to Sunland-based Miguel Hernandez, a brother-in-law to Gulfstream jockey Jesus Castanon.