CHESTER - Friday's feature at Mountaineer Racetrack, the $37,100 Welcome Back Dash, began woefully for Jasizzle. Exiting the starting gate, the 4-year-old gelding got solidly thumped and squeezed between two other horses.
But in the late stages of the race, Jasizzle took the lead, and then held off a powerful late charge by the 2-1 favorite Voodoo Storm to prevail in a photo finish.
"It wasn't exactly a dream trip," said Jasizzle's breeder/owner/trainer, Tommy Ray Mills. "But, on occasion, something that starts off bad turns into something good."
DOWN THE STRETCH — Jasizzle, under Luis M. Quinones, outgames Voodoo Storm by a head to win the Welcome Back Dash at Mountaineer Friday.
Jockey Luis M. Quinones put Jasizzle into a stalking position shortly after the break, holding third position while the front-runners Time for a Winner and Aly's Reward set opening fractions of :22.32 for the quarter and :46.65 for the half.
The Mountaineer track condition was rated "good," but it was also deep and tiring. Midway through the stretch, Aly's Reward was fading. And so was Time for a Winner as he approached the wire.
With a sixteenth of a mile to go, Jasizzle had the lead and drew clear. To his outside, Voodoo Storm under Deshawn Parker was closing ground. At the wire, Jasizzle held on by a head. Two strides beyond the finish, Voodoo Storm was in front. But it was just a touch too late for him.
Jasizzle, the second betting choice in the field of nine, returned $7.20, $3.80 and $3.40 across the board. His final time for the five furlong Welcome Back distance was 1:00.28.
His winner's share of the purse was $21,889, which brought Jasizzle's career earnings to $145,208. He has made 17 career starts, from which he has gained five wins and five placings.
"Jasizzle's got more heart than I do," said Mills, and I like to think I've got a lot."
The 50-year-old Mills describes himself as "a basic trainer. I'm not Todd Pletcher or Bill Mott," he said. Mills lives in Versailles, Ky., headquarters his stable at Keeneland's Thoroughbred Center. In speech, manner and appearance he is a contemporary version of the "Kentucky hardboot," a revered designation in the horse world.
He has a seven-horse stable, and a multitude of friends - many of them also train small, unheralded outfits, and enjoy seeing one of their brethren do well.
"Before Jasizzle had cooled out on Friday, there were 30 texts and at least 10 missed calls on my cell phone," said Mills. "And it was like that all during the trip back to Kentucky."
That trip started shortly before midnight.
"I've got a 3-year-old filly, Storm of Energy, in the eighth race at Turfway Park on Saturday," he said, "and I need to be there. The last time she ran she won by a head, and the next two horses dead-heated for second."
Mills is thinking about running Storm of Energy in the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway on March 23. And he's also giving serious consideration to sending Jasizzle postward in the Grade 3 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland on April 13.
Right now, Mills is on a good run, probably his best ever. And, when that's the case, keep running.
"If you win a race at Keeneland, everybody takes notice," Mills said. "And to win a graded race on Blue Grass day - I'd love it for Jasizzle. And I would especially love it for me."