CHESTER - The feature race on Friday's season-opening card at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort could set up well for Voodoo Storm. The five-furlong, $37,100 open allowance has lured multiple runners with early speed and Voodoo Storm is a sprinter who closes.
"I wish the race was a bit longer, and we'd be happy if we got some rain," said Joe Woodard, who trains the 5-year-old horse for Billy, Donna and Justin Hays.
"I think he's better on an off-track. Regardless, we've done well at Mountaineer over the years. And I think we'll do well on Friday."
Woodard, who turns 45 in a month, did well at numerous tracks last year. His 175 wins ranked seventh among North American Thoroughbred trainers. His win ratio was 26.2 percent and win-place-show ratio was 58.8 percent. Part of a trainer's job is to pick appropriate spots for his runners. Woodard was a master at it last year.
And Woodard had been adept at doing this in prior seasons, too. He has won multiple training titles at Turfway Park and River Downs, and has also led the standings at Beulah Park.
At the Churchill Downs spring meet in 2005, Woodard won a record 10 consecutive starts with 10 horses. The streak began with a three-length score by Lehigh Grad in Churchill's seventh race on May 13 and it culminated with a half-length triumph by Buba's Caper in the fourth race on June 2.
The other eight horses were Funky Pirate, Soaringwitheagles, Term in Office, Dayton Flyer, Mean Kisser, Cowboy Hardware, Native Bull and Quick Blend.
For 21 calendar days, Woodard, literally, couldn't lose. Eight of the winners were claimers, competing for tags that ranged from $5,000 to $20,000. The mix also included a starter allowance winner and a horse who won in allowance company. Nine of the horses were owned by Billy Hays, a Louisville automobile dealer. Woodard, a Louisville native, began training in 1992, and Hays has been his major client since 1997.
"I didn't know we were in line for a record until the sixth win or so," Woodard said. "Then the media caught on and the story gained legs. The previous Churchill record was nine straight (set by Patrick Byrne in 1997). I guess I'll remain in the record book until somebody wins 11."
On Nov. 13, Woodard won Mountaineer's $85,000 Sophomore Sprint Championship with Captain Genius. It was Woodard's ninth career stakes triumph, and his third at Mountaineer - he also took the 2001 West Virginia Governor's Handicap with Winning Connection and the 2011 Senator Robert C. Byrd Memorial Handicap with Tend.
Voodoo Storm has a career resume spanning 18 starts and three victories, five placings and purse earnings of $145,923. He has exceptional breeding. Voodoo Storm is by Storm Cat, the world's most prominent thoroughbred sire of the past two decades (his stud fee reached $500,000).
And Voodoo Storm's dam, Voodoo Dancer, is a daughter of Kingmambo, who was thrice a Group 1 winner in France. Voodoo Dancer was a multiple Grade 1 winner on grass surfaces and accumulated a career bankroll of nearly $1.47 million.
Bred in Kentucky by Green Hills Farm, Voodoo Storm was consigned to the 2009 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Bidding for him reached $375,000, but that was short of his "reserve" (the minimum price for which Green Hills was willing to sell him), So, he was brought home and sent to hall of fame trainer 'Shug' McGaughey.
Hays subsequently purchased Voodoo Storm in a private transaction. Granted, the horse has yet to perform to his lineage. But he hasn't been a bust. At age two, Voodoo Storm won on the grass at Saratoga. At age four, he won on the grass at Keeneland.
His third win came via his most recent start, on Feb. 9 in a 6-furlong allowance/optional claiming event on Turfway's synthetic surface. In sixth position, trailing by five lengths, at the head of the stretch, Voodoo Storm closed strongly on the outside to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
In the morning line for Friday's Mountaineer feature, Voodoo Storm is the 6-1 fourth choice in the field of 10. He'll be partnered in the race by Deshawn Parker, who's a plus factor every time he heads postward at Mountaineer. Woodard sees this as the right spot. Those odds look generous.