Alexis Annechino



     Called “The Lou Gehrig of Old Friends,” by founder and owner Michael Blowen, three-time Ohio Horse of the Year Catlaunch was euthanized at the farm on May 4th. While he was responding well to a rear-end nerve disorder in recent months, the condition returned and worsened quickly leading to the decision. “He was doing so well when we first started working with him,” said retired jockey-turned equine therapist Joe Steiner. “It was great to see him respond and enjoy his life on the farm again. He was a really cool horse and welcomed the attention. On a personal note, I will really miss him.”
Catlaunch was an accredited Ohio-bred by Noble Cat out of Skilaunch by Relaunch, owned and bred by O.T.B.O. Board member Ron Fields. His career began in 2003 and he was trained by Luis “Albert” Palacios until his untimely death in 2005. Fields entrusted the care of his homebred to Albert’s longtime assistant Ivan Vazquez who guided him through a total of 108 lifetime starts until his retirement in September 2013. The chocolate-colored gelding won 40 races – 24 of those stakes races – for career earnings of $1,122,309.

Portrait by Dagmar Galleithner-Steiner.

Daily Racing Form columnist Joe Nevills wrote a fitting description of the Ohio legend for the Old Friends commemorative magazine published by the Daily Racing Form.
Let’s be clear, a sport can’t survive without global superstars. Horses like American Pharoah and California Chrome are as critical to horse racing as Michael Jordan and LeBron James are to basketball.
That said, what makes any sporting endeavor truly enjoyable is the local legend – the competitor who goes almost unknown outside of his local sphere, but you look at him and say, “That’s my guy.”
     Catlaunch was “my guy” for many fans on the Ohio circuit, hitting each stop on the state’s handicap division schedule like clockwork over the course of a decade, and winning a lot of them. Of the Ohio-bred program’s three million-dollar earners, only one had his own T-shirt during his on-track career, and it wasn’t Harlan’s Holiday.
Catlaunch raced 108 times, with all but two of those starts coming in his home state, and won in stakes company up to age 12. In an era of superstar horses that are too fragile or valuable to run more than a carefully charted handful of times, Catlaunch was a local institution, and he continuously rewarded those who went along for the ride. That’s what makes “my guys” special. That’s what makes Catlaunch special.”
He will be missed, and his achievements not forgotten.


Never off the board in six career starts, Ron DeWolf’s homebred Charlee’s Magic stamped himself as a 3-year-old to watch on the Ohio racing scene with an impressive front-running win in the $75,000 6 ½ furlong Tall Stacks Stakes at Belterra Park on Kentucky Derby day.
Undefeated Buster’s Boy, an accredited Ohio-bred, came into the race with an unblemished 3-for-3 record including an impressive wire-to-wire win in the recent Howard B. Noonan Stakes over 11 foes at Mahoning Valley. In the Noonan, he finished 4 ¼ in front of Charlee’s Magic and was installed as he 4-5 favorite in the Tall Stacks – the tables would be turned.

Charlee’s Magic splashes home in the Tall Stacks. Photo courtesy Coady Photography

Charlee’s Magic, ridden by Irwin Rosendo, took the role as pacesetter at Belterra, but spent most of the race dueling by a head in front of Buster’s Boy. Those two put on a show, matching strides until the final 1/8th of a mile when Over Icce finally got out of trouble while being blocked in midstretch and rallied to secure the second spot by ½ length over Buster’s Boy. Cruising over a rain soaked wet fast track the final time was 1:18.40
O.T.B.O. member Ron DeWolf chose the stallion Jump Start as a match for his Lear Fan mare Mizz Charlee, a pedigree that suggests future success on the turf. Trained by H.B.P.A. Board member Mike Rone, the consistent Charlee’s Magic is now a stakes winner and two-time stakes-placed earner of $125,880 from only six career starts.
“You can’t win them without the horse and Mr. DeWolf breeds and raises good ones,” said trainer Mike Rone, who works double duty with his horses as their exercise rider. “I’m blessed to have had good horses for Mr. DeWolf over the years his horses give you confidence. We have a few more in the barn and a 2-year-old half-sibling to ‘Charlee’ should get his gate card this week.” Rone took the blinkers off Charlee’s Magic after his third-place finish in the Best of Ohio. “When I took them off he kind of looked at me as if to say – ‘Thank You’.” He closed out his juvenile season with an easy “blinkers free” romp in a $29,800 allowance win. Prior to his win in the Tall Stacks he was second in his seasonal debut in the Howard B. Noonan Stakes at Mahoning Valley.

A race named after a stalwart in Ohio breeding, Dr. Theodore F. Classen, produced a solid two-horse stretch run by two accredited-breds who shine a bright light on the Ohio Fund Program. True Cinder won this race last year and came into the race with $289,300 from 13 starts. Leona’s Reward, second in last year’s edition, had a bankroll of $424,356 coming into the race and was making her seasonal debut in the Kentucky Derby day test at 6 furlongs.

Leona’s Reward and Pablo Morales take 2018 Classen. Photo courtesy J.J. Zamaiko

Leona’s Reward with ten wins to her credit, surprisingly had never won at six furlongs. While she may blossom at the longer distances later in the season, O.T.B.O. past President Tim Hamm had her primed for a sprint with two bullet works at Tampa Bay Downs. That groundwork showed proof positive for the 5-year-old accredited mare. “It actually did not surprise me that she won sprinting,” Hamm stated. “She had gotten into a pattern where the riders were sending and sending her, so we switched to Pablo Morales who does a great job keeping her off the pace just a hair. Since then he has won on her in four of her last five starts.”
You have to play with the cards you get and Hamm and his partner Michael Friedman were dealt the perfect hand in the T.F. Classen. “We got the perfect scenario,” said Hamm. “Both of the speed horses were side by side along the rail and we were on the outside. They went head to head until the stretch when True Cinder started to edge clear and then Pablo went after her. After he switched sticks she really dug in and they timed it perfectly to the wire.”
Sent away as the odds-on favorite, Leona’s Reward was soundly bumped to the outside by Mygirlfriday at the gate break, but luckily it did not compromise the outcome. The one-length win in this race for Accredited Ohio-breds pushed her career earnings to $470,856. The now 5-year-old mare is a daughter of Parent’s Reward out of Prime Time Dancer by Montbrook. She was bred by Blazing Meadows Farm.

Not since the late, great Catlaunch, had a horse won the Edward Babst/Albert Palacios Memorial Handicap three times. Champion sprinter had emulated that feat of Catlaunch and seemed destined to surpass it this year. Trainer Chris Hartman had developed a recipe for success over the past three years. Start with a series of well planned works at Oaklawn Park, add a strong effort in a race at the Hot Springs oval and pour into a van headed to Belterra Park for a blue ribbon win.
All of those ingredients were in play entering this year’s edition of the race. He recorded a bullet work and an impressive win over a tough field at Oaklawn. Local riding legend Perry Ouzts was deputized to ride and since it was a Handicap he was assigned a 128 lb. impost – he won the race last year by 6 lengths while toting 129 lbs. The betting public made him a 3-5 favorite as they entered the gate for the 6-furlong challenge.
When the latch sprung, Altissimo went right to the front under Christian Pilares. After establishing the lead, Pilares gave his mount a bit of a breather while Rivers Run Deep was rated off his lead. At the half-mile marker, Ouzts asked the favorite for his patented winning move and while he responded, Altissimo was let out a notch to increase his lead. “I was the only real speed in the field,” said Pilares. “I knew Rivers Runs Deep was behind me and into the stretch I just tapped him (Altissimo) on the shoulder and he pulled away.”
From the half-mile to the wire there was no change in the field’s order, though Altimisso pulled away by six length lengths under a hand ride in 1:09.89. Rivers Run Deep finished 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Cake Pop. “After his last win in open allowance company there really wasn’t anything in the condition book for him,” said assistant trainer Stacy Dodge-McGirr. “We just put him through a series of strong gallops and two works and he was sitting on go today.”
Altissimo is a 5-year-old gelded son of Noble Causeway out of Great Goin Rose by Albert the Great. He was bred by Nancy Lavrich and Niknar Farm and is owned by Nancy Lavrich and Elizabeth Rankin. The Babst/Palacios was an exacta of sorts for Lavrich who is also the co-breeder of Rivers Run Deep with Walmac Farm LLC. Trained by Richard Zelinski, Altissimo now sports a record of 27-9-3-3 for earnings of $221,888.
WINNERS CIRCLE: Keeping tradition alive, direct connections to the stakes namesakes were on hand to present the winner’s circle trophy. Gayle Babst, former Executive Director of the O.T.B.O. represented her family, and Stephanie Miltenberger from Germany and Lori Meininger are niece’s of Gertrude “Traudy” Palacios. Traudy could not be at the race due to her health, but they all decided to keep her presence in the winner’s circle by wearing one of her many fashionable race day hats.

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