Ribo Bobo won the Icecapade Stakes on Sept. 2, his seventh win of the year (Photo courtesy of Equiphoto).
If anyone can pry themselves away from all the turkey and leftovers during the next few days, a surprisingly large number of stars will be in action at Thoroughbred racetracks across the country this weekend.
In California, Betfair Hollywood Park will play host to its Turf Festival, which includes two Grade 1 stakes on Sunday (the Matriarch and Hollywood Derby) as well as the Grade 2 Citation on Friday and the Grade 3 Generous and the Miesque.
There could be championship implications tied to a couple of those races, yet if you’re looking for an uplifting, feel-good story during a period of giving thanks it might be wise to turn to Penn National in Grantville, Pa.
On Wednesday night, another chapter in the amazing and improbable saga of a bona fide underdog could be written in the Fabulous Strike Handicap. The $250,000 six-furlong stakes attracted a field of seven with a morning-line favorite whose presence in a stakes race would have seemed more comical than an episode of “Modern Family” at the start of the year.
Go back to Jan. 9 and on that day Ribo Bobo was running in an $8,000 claiming race at Gulfstream Park. Having run for three times that claiming tag a few months earlier, he looked so good in that spot that he was sent off a 4-5 favorite and was claimed by Ron Lombardi’s Mr Amore Stable and trainer Jason Servis.
It seemed a pretty nice claim that day as Ribo Bobo won by four lengths, though what happened next was absolutely amazing.
Since that Jan. 9 win, Ribo Bobo reeled off eight straight wins and will head into the Fabulous Strike as the 2-1 morning line favorite while trying to match Bo Derek and make it a perfect 10 in 2013.
For Lombardi and Servis as smart as it was to claim Ribo Bobo on Jan. 9, it was sheer genius to re-claim him two starts later.
RIBO BOBO AT GULFSTREAM IN 2010
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
You see, when Ribo Bobo carried the Mr Amore colors for the first time on Feb. 21 he ran for a $6,250 claiming tag, won by six lengths and was claimed by trainer Donna Green. On March 8, Green entered Ribo Bobo in the same $6,250 claiming race, picked up a 7 ¼-length win and lost the horse to Lombardi and Servis who were savvy enough to re-claim him.
They brought Ribo Bobo back to the races a month later in a starter allowance race – where he could not be claimed – and have been rewarded with six straight wins, including stakes victories in the Icecapade at Monmouth and the Maryland Million Sprint, which isn’t worth $1 million but did account for about $60,000 of the $197,435 Ribo Bobo has earned in 2013.
On Wednesday, the Fabulous Strike could tack another $150,000 on to that total while adding even more emotion to an already powerful story about an underdog beating the odds in an almost unfathomable manner.
“In his last few races he has beat some really good horses, and his win in the Maryland Million was terrific,” said Servis, the older brother of John Servis, who trained 2004 Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner Smarty Jones.
As unusual as the saga of Ribo Bobo may be, in some ways it’s par for the course for Lombardi and Servis. Earlier this month, they sent out Tightend Touchdown, who finished in a dead-heat for second in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Like Ribo Bobo, Tightend Touchdown was claimed, lost and re-claimed for $35,000 by Mr. Amore and Servis.
Also among Lombardi’s 40 or so horses in training is Ju Ju Eyeballs, who was claimed for $15,000 last December and has won five of nine starts this year, including a pair of stakes at Monmouth, and earned nearly $170,000.
Still, in a sport where you could pay millions for an unraced horse who never makes it to the races, the idea of having an $8,000 claim turn out so phenomenally well is the dream of everyone who signs their name on a claim slip.
It doesn’t happen too often, yet when a horse like Ribo Bobo comes around and shows how those dreams can indeed come true, you get a better understanding of how emotionally rewarding the tale of underdog can be – even if he’s a favorite on the toteboard.