Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Kimmel Acknowledges Bittersweet Start To 2021

The racing results from Jan. 23 were bittersweet for veteran trainer John Kimmel. He sent out Pacific Gale to the first graded stakes win of her career at the age of six, but Kimmel was unable to celebrate the mare’s win with his close friend and her late owner, Mike Morton.

Morton passed away suddenly in December, collapsing in the middle of the night. He’d had horses in Kimmel’s barn for over seven years, and the two grew particularly close after the death of Kimmel’s own father in 2018.

“He was almost like a father figure for me in many ways,” said Kimmel, 66. “He had more experience than me in so many things, and he always had a story to tell. He loved talking, this guy, and we talked pretty much every day for the last seven years.

“You always knew it wasn’t going to be a short call when the phone rang, but he was such an interesting man. He grew up in the Bronx with nothing, came from pretty much nothing. Each of our conversations usually came accompanied by some sort of story of something he did as a kid, like being a bat boy for the Yankees, or having polio.”

Morton had purchased Pacific Gale for $72,000 at the 2017 OBS 2-year-old sale, and it took several years for the filly’s talent to show up on her resume. Racing under the name of Morton’s wife, Tobey, Pacific Gale usually finished on the board in her races but had only three wins from 27 starts entering Saturday’s contest at Gulfstream Park.

This time, however, the daughter of Flat Out stepped up to win the G2 Inside Information by 2 ¾ lengths.

“I’m sure he’s looking down and I hope he had a big bet,” said Kimmel shortly after the race. “He loved to bet on his horses and it’s a very generous price she has on the board (16-1). My congratulations to Tobey. I know it’s a difficult time but hopefully this filly can put a smile on her face.”

Later in the same afternoon, Kimmel watched via simulcast as his assistant saddled Chester and Mary Broman’s Mr. Buff for an easy win in the Jazil Stakes at Aqueduct. Now a 7-year-old gelding, Mr. Buff has won 16 of his 43 lifetime starts for earnings of nearly $1.3 million.

“He’s probably the winningest horse I’ve ever trained,” said Kimmel. “It’s a great story in its own right: I also trained his grandsire and sire, and for all the expensive stud fees Mr. Broman has paid in his breeding program, the fee to breed Mr. Buff was one dollar.”

Kimmel trained Friends Lake to win the 2004 Florida Derby, then his son, Friend or Foe, to win a trio of New York stakes races. Both were Broman homebreds, but the owner/breeder did not want to support another stallion in New York, so Friend or Foe was sent to a woman in Maryland to become a jumper on the condition that Broman could breed three mares a year to him for $1.

One of the first mares Broman sent to Friend or Foe was the graded stakes-placed Speightful Affair (Speightstown).

Mr. Buff was foaled in 2014, and while he’s yet to add a graded stakes score to his tally, the gelding is regularly competitive in the older dirt division. Kimmel thinks it’s just a matter of time before Mr. Buff wins his first graded race, but that it will require sticking to the race tactics that have worked for the horse.

“I think the main thing is that whoever’s ridden him on those days has been so concerned about being on the lead, but really the most important factor with him is that when he breaks he needs to find his own rhythm, really drilled it into (jockey) Kendrick (Carmouche’s) head. If you take him out of the comfort zone he seems to run out of gas, and he has a much harder time changing his leads.

“Last race he sat back, and his lead transition turning for home was perfect. I think in the future that if whoever’s riding him will apply that concept, he certainly runs races that are fast enough that he can be competitive in graded stakes races.”

Of course, Kimmel has been in the racing game long enough to know that talent isn’t always enough to win races. Still, he wouldn’t change his decision to abandon his veterinary practice for a trainer’s license 30 some-odd years ago.

“Unless you were actually involved in a specialty of some sort, like surgery or reproduction, working at the track as a vet just became extremely routine,” said Kimmel, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1980. “I could train my assistant to do about 95 percent of the work; there was very little challenge and very little reward.

“As a trainer, every day is different. There may be lots of disappointment, but there are also lots of rewards, lots of positive things that keep you energized and involved.”

Telling his father, legendary Thoroughbred owner Caesar Kimmel, about his decision to step away from veterinary medicine was another matter entirely.

“Jimmy Toner was training my dad’s horses then, and I think he wanted to test out my ability level before he even sent me a horse,” Kimmel remembered. “As time went on he got Jimmy to send me a horse he didn’t think much of, Chachi Man, and I won with him first time out at Calder. Eventually he started to believe I knew what I was doing, and we had a really good run for quite some time.

“It was quite an enjoyable thing to work with your father; I couldn’t get fired!”

Among the pair’s best horses together were G2 Pennsylvania Derby winner Timber Reserve, G1 winner Flat Fleet Feet, G1 winner Hidden Lake, and G2 winner Miss Golden Circle.

“He really enjoyed the horse racing business; it was his favorite thing to do,” Kimmel said of his father. “He used to sit in his office at Rockefeller Plaza writing names down that he thought he could get by The Jockey Club. Ed Bowen was over there, and they always had a funny relationship.

“They interviewed him on television one time, and they wouldn’t even let him say some of the names of his horses! It was a lot of fun back then, but it was a very different time, of course.”

One of the horses most often attributed to Kimmel’s father’s penchant for risque names is the filly Bodacious Tatas. In fact, she was actually owned by the younger Kimmel in partnership with Dennis Drazin.

“Dennis named that horse,” Kimmel said, laughing. “We put that name in at The Jockey Club for three consecutive years, and finally bingo, it went through.”

The 1985 filly was sired by Distinctive Pro, a son of Mr. Prospector in which the younger Kimmel and Drazin had purchased a share. The young partners had wanted to buy a share in Mr. Prospector himself several years earlier, but Kimmel had been unable to convince his father of the horse’s stallion potential.

“You see how that worked out,” Kimmel quipped.

When the chance to have a share in one of his sons arrived, Kimmel and Drazin jumped on it with both hands. They bought a few mares to breed to him, including the dam of Bodacious Tatas, Key to Paree.

Bodacious Tatas won her debut at Monmouth Park, encouraging Drazin to bring in a couple of his friends. They paid $100,000 for half-interest in the promising, provocatively-named filly.

“The first time the two new owners come to the races, of course it’s a rainy, horrible day,” Kimmel recalled. “Bodacious ran bad, and I remember jockey Craig Perret came back and said, right in front of the new owners, ‘Nope, it’s not the track, she’s just a piece of sh*t.’

“She ran one bad race after another after that, and eventually the two owners wanted us to buy them out. We did, and then ended up sending her to New York for longer races with wider turns, and she must have won by 10 lengths the first time up there!”

The next year, Bodacious Tatas easily defeated the favored mount of Perret in Monmouth’s G2 Molly Pitcher Handicap at odds of 13-1. The filly wound up earning over $430,000 on the track.

These days, Kimmel’s numbers are down from the 100-plus horses he had in the barn 20 years ago, but he still maintains an active group of approximately 40 horses split between New York and South Florida over the winter months.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything, from breeder to pinhooker, vet, bloodstock agent, consignor, and even hotwalked back when I was a kid,” Kimmel said. “I like to be really hands on, and I think I have past performances that are not paralleled by too many people in the business, with 10 Grade 1 winners I developed.”

Perhaps part of Kimmel’s longevity in the Thoroughbred business can be attributed to his commitment to physical activity. His alarm goes off at 4:15 a.m. each morning, and he spends most of the day at the barn or riding the stable pony on the track. Still, Kimmel finds time to go biking or swimming several afternoons each week.

During the winter he spends dark days fishing on his boat, and he takes special care to plan an annual vacation that includes skiing by helicopter.

“I’m in my mid-60’s, but I think I have another trip or two left in my bones,” Kimmel said. “At a resort, you can ski fresh powder maybe one or two times before it gets all tracked up. When you’re going into untouched country by helicopter, you can ski powder run after run after run.”

Age is just a number, after all.

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Kimmel Acknowledges Bittersweet Start To 2021 appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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