Past The Wire, Weekly Column by Jonathan Stettin — July 7, 2014

Past The Wire

By Jonathan Stettin

California Dreamin’

With the two premier summer racing meets – Saratoga and Del Mar – just about here, it is an exciting time in the sport of kings and one filled with anticipation. This couldn’t be any truer for one young rider, in particular, who has ventured out West to turn his dream into a reality.

One of the great things we all enjoy about horse racing is the chance to fulfill dreams. Those dreams come in many forms: Hitting a pick-6, training a Grade 1 winner, breeding a stakes-class homebred, picking out that 2-year-old destined for the classics, claiming a runner you knew could do so much better or riding that first stakes winner. We all come together with our various dreams in this sport we love, which is a great equalizer. The game is generous too, as we’ve observed that these dreams have been fulfilled with regularity by various people over the years. It keeps us all coming back, working hard and believing.

What could be more exciting than being a young rider and starting out your career by  heading out West to one of the premier race meets on the biggest stage in the game? Carson Sullivan, a young apprentice rider, is living that dream today and is determined to turn that dream into the career he and his supporters believe he can have. Just pulling into the Santa Anita backstretch with your tack as an unknown young man and getting on horses for the trainers who compete there is an accomplishment. Taking that to the next level, riding in the afternoon and winning is what it’s all about – it’s what young Carson is there for and will work to achieve.

Carson comes from a racing family and some good stock, at that. His great grandfather was Carson Kirk, who rode back in the 40’s with guys like Eddie Arcaro, Bill Hartack and Willie Shoemaker – not a shabby group by anyone’s standards. Carson learned how to ride bareback and break yearlings from his grandfather James C. Kirk. His mother Christine, who he counts as his biggest supporter, has worked for Jack Van Berg, D. Wayne Lukas and recently Nick Zito. Those three know a thing or two about training a winner and running a shed row. Carson himself worked for John Servis until he started riding. Servis was actually Carson’s dad’s agent when he rode.

With a small enough physique to be a rider, this young fitness buff developed his dream very early and has been working toward it longer than his age would indicate. Having grown up around the game, he dreams of winning the big races all riders do, both young and old. In a recent conversation for this edition of Past The Wire, Sullivan mentioned one of my personal favorite races as one he’d especially like to capture: The Travers. We can all guess the others on his list.

Kelly Breen is another trainer who has helped the young jockey and put him on horses in the morning. Carson was thrilled to work stakes horse Pants on Fire for Breen, as well as some nice runners for both Wesley Ward and Nick Zito. Although his work ethic seems inherent, being around these types of horsemen has certainly honed it. All the pieces are in place and it will be exciting to watch how this young man puts it all together.

Carson spent the winter at Gulfstream. Toward the end of June he said his goodbyes to the friends he had made there and advised them of his desire to head out to California, where he’ll have his book handled by agent Mike Ciani. This was a strategic decision by Sullivan’s team, which is led by “Jockey Agent Lou,” who is about as fine and knowledgeable a mentor a young rider can have. They mapped out a patient plan for Carson, which they hope will have him steadily advancing and competing regularly on the big stage pretty soon. He has arrived in California and has been getting morning business and meeting a lot of the outfits.

He rode Papa’s Paisly for Adam Kitchingman at Oak Tree at Pleasanton in the 10th race on Sunday and looked good, finishing second to Russell Baze – a jockey who has just a tad more experience and happened to have had a little more horse too. So far in his young career, Carson has won 11 races, finished second 24 times and third 27 times. He also has the benefit of being mentored by hall of famer Kent Desormeaux, who has experienced something of a career resurgence since working with Jockey Agent Lou and returning to the West Coast.

It will be exciting to watch this young rider develop and improve and start to win races regularly. Past the Wire will be following his career and progress and doing updated columns as we chronicle this jockey running down his dream. Good luck and stay safe and focused, Carson.

With the successful return of 2-year-old champion Shared Belief to the stakes ranks, it certainly opens the door to discussion of who the best 3-year-old is in the country and who it’ll be by the end of the year. We have three nice horses in position to take that title and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Tonalist, who handled California Chrome and the “Test of Champions” at Belmont in just his fifth start, seems to get the least respect of the three. Not in my book, however. This is a really nice horse who is still developing. I think he’ll prove strong as the year progresses, especially at a mile and a quarter. California Chrome has probably shown us his best early in the year. He couldn’t hang with Tonalist in the Belmont Stakes and we’ll have to wait and see how he comes back from what proved to be a grueling campaign. While his early season accomplishments, which include the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, may have him in the lead with some, there is plenty of racing left this year. Shared Belief is showing the benefits of patient handling by master horseman Jerry Hollendorfer, who skipped the Triple Crown races and now has a fast and fresh horse who will be the first of the three to tackle older horses in the Pacific Classic.

Just when you think you have things figured out, this game will teach you that you don’t. I always tell people not to develop biases and to avoid making decisions before actually handicapping. Just about every public handicapper conceded the two turf stakes at Belmont Saturday, The Belmont Oaks and Belmont Derby, to European imports. This, of course, is the fashion of late. I have been a fan of European imports since the 70’s when they were not very popular, yet still won often. But again, it has never been with any bias or by having formed opinions before handicapping. In the morning, I tweeted that I did not think a “Euro” would win either race, despite my being in the minority with that opinion. First, I liked Mr. Speaker in his race and Sea Queen in hers. Second, the rails were down so they were racing over a fresh and hard turf course, which was not nearly as wet as people thought. I tweeted that as well, as the course did not favor the imports the way many people were expecting.

In contrast to the shrewd and savvy campaigns of Tonalist and Shared Belief, we still have the connections of Ria Antonia and Social Inclusion vying for most mismanaged horse of the year. Neither of their connections listened to Past the Wire when we wrote what was needed for a strong second half of the year. Both horses need a freshening and subsequently a confidence builder or two. Neither the Woody Stephens nor the Iowa Oaks serve as confidence builders, and the Ohio Derby against colts for a struggling filly yet to win this year surely doesn’t either. Both are talented horses that could do so much better.

Congratulations to Mark and Norman Casse on a well-deserved win in the Queen’s Plate with Lexie Lou. She dominated the boys to give Team Casse it’s first win in the prestigious event. Mark and Norman are fine horseman who do a fantastic job day in and day out.

See you all next week.

High Five:

The first goes to all my followers who listened and bet Mr. Speaker. How we got 23-1, I’ll never know. Between him and Tonalist in the Belmont, it’s an Ok summer. The second goes to Martin Panza and the NYRA for another world class card on Saturday.

Low Five:

The low five goes to all the workout experts who ignored and failed to discuss trainer Bob Hess’ comment on HRTV that he tranquilized a horse for a workout to slow him down. This warrants a serious look in my opinion and has a myriad of issues attached to it.

Horse to Watch:

Wonder Gal

This flashy filly from Leah Gyarmati, who gave us Sweet Reason last year debuted in a small stake and trounced the field looking like an experienced race horse.


Jonathan Stettin is a profesional handicapper and contributor to He currently resides in Florida. He has several large Pick-6 scores to his name, including one for $540,000+ on August 8, 1994, at Saratoga. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin

One thought on “Past The Wire, Weekly Column by Jonathan Stettin — July 7, 2014”

  1. This is a great game. Unfortunately with small fields good mounts are limited. To any young rider I say don’t worry about it if you don’t win immediately. Make good decisions in races & people will notice. Best of luck.

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