Not surprisingly, Bob Key is once again a presence at this year’s Breeders Crown, and his trainers want to win for the 85-year-old owner/breeder as much as they would like to win for themselves.
Norm Parker conditions Renaissance Lady K, a 2-year-old filly pacer who enters her Breeders Crown elimination Friday with three wins and two seconds in eight races to earn $53,929. Charlie Norris trains Mass Fortune K, a 2-year-old male trotter who has earned $108,001 as he enters his Crown elim, also Friday. His seven races include two wins in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and a third in the Peter Haughton Memorial.
Both trainers have so much respect for Key they refer to him as “Mister.” His dedication to the Grand Circuit is unquestioned and while he may not always succeed, he’s never afraid to try, and his name can be found among the sport’s top money-winning owners on an annual basis.
Key has two Breeders Crown wins, including one in the event’s first year in 1984, and seven second-place finishes. He has staked a lot more than that, as last year he had three in the event at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino and came up empty. He returns this year, undaunted. In addition to his two hopefuls Friday, he has the Parker-trained Looking For Zelda in Saturday’s eliminations for 3-year-old female trotters.
“There’s probably no one any more committed to our sport than Mr. Key,” Parker said. “Yeah, he has all homebreds, but he stakes them all with the idea that he wants that next world champion. He’s been fortunate enough over the years to come up with a few. He’s had a lot of really good horses, but a few major stakes winners. That’s what he shoots for.”
And his trainers won’t argue with those goals.
“You can’t really ask for anything more than that -- for a guy that’s behind you and wanting you to do good and giving you the opportunity to do good,” Parker said. “Obviously, paying the payments is a big step for a lot of people. I know there are a lot of owners that don’t get horses put in races because they don’t want to pay these payments. But he’s never gun shy if he feels like we have any shot at all.”
Norris feels such devotion should be rewarded.
“That guy should be a Hall of Famer,” he said. “He has total confidence in his horses and puts up a lot of stake horses and he loves the game. He is one of the best owners for this business because he loves the horses. He stakes them to a lot and has total confidence in his horses that he breeds.”
Parker recalled one occasion, while looking at a stakes list, that he saw 19 of 44 eligible horses were Key’s.
“What’s going to happen if he’s not here supporting these stake races like he does?” Parker wondered. “I don’t know that every owner would take the chance with a horse like Renaissance Lady K, but he’s willing to, and I’m happy about it. Put it this way, I wouldn’t have went if I thought she wouldn’t be competitive or be able to go with these fillies. Beating them, that’s another story.”
Renaissance Lady K is, indeed, in an extremely tough division that includes Warrawee Ubeaut, the fastest 2-year-old pacer in history; Tall Drink Hanover, who won the She’s A Great Lady Stakes; Kentucky Sire Stakes champion Beautyonthebeach; and New York Sire Stakes champion Money Shot Hanover, plus stakes-winners Zero Tolerance and She’s Allright.
“Top-notch competition, obviously,” Parker said. “She’s going to have to put together an improved race again, which I think is in her. That’s one of the reasons we’re up here. I think she won’t embarrass herself and if the trip works out good and she steps up a little bit, maybe we’ll have a chance to slide in there.
“She’s in very steep; I’m well aware of that. We know it’s a tall order, the best fillies. But it’s going to be interesting; like a barometer to see where you’re at with horses like that.”
Renaissance Lady K, by Well Said out of Lady’s Portrait, is from the family of Key’s first Breeders Crown winner, the award-winning female pacer Amneris. Renaissance Lady K will be driven by Brian Sears, who in her most recent start guided the filly to a second-place finish in a division of the International Stallion Stakes. Parker says she can race from the front or behind, and is happy with how she is heading into the Breeders Crown.
“She always had talent, but she had some growing pains when she first started out this year,” the trainer said. “I had to manage her kind of slowly, work through some things. We finally got a couple nice wins, got her kind of ironed out. She seemed to take off from there. It’s a big order for her but she’s got a really good attitude and we’ll give it our best shot.
“She’s improved greatly in the last six weeks. Mr. Key is a firm believer in staking his horses and when you get one that’s maybe on the upswing -- by finishing second (in her last start) she kind of paid her own ticket in there. So, you take a shot.”
Just as Key is taking a shot with Mass Fortune K, a son of Muscle Massive out of Ice Fortune K who will be driven by Matt Kakaley.
“He drives him when I don’t,” Norris said. “Matt Kakaley is probably the most underrated driver out there right now. He’s young but he’s very professional and very good with the horses. Especially a horse that’s a little aggressive.”
Mass Fortune K was scratched from his most recent start due to sickness, but Norris said he seems fine heading into the weekend. The horse had a temperature and was slightly colicky, but his blood work looks good and he trained well during the week.
“He’s healthy, it was just like a two or three day thing,” Norris said. “Hopefully he’ll be all right.”
Like Parker, Norris feels his horse can race either way, although he has had to make some equipment changes due to some overly-aggressive starts.
“The last start at (Harrah’s Philadelphia) I had him a little too calm and I was just trying to teach him how to race,” Norris said. “I’m still working with him. Mentally he’s a very good horse, he likes to race.
“Mr. Key asked me if I would take three or four for him, and this horse has been absolutely awesome from the first day I got him. I got him probably before the first qualifier that I qualified him, and he dropped eight seconds in about a month. He showed a qualifier in 2:01(.2). I had him five days, he qualified in (1:57.3), went his first start (a win in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes) in 1:57. He’s just really coming into his own. He can go, he’s a good horse.”
Norris has a second horse in Friday’s Breeders Crown eliminations, with 2-year-old filly trotter Conway Kellyanne, who he trains and drives for owners Carrie Norris, Acadia Farms, and G And B Racing.
“She was kind of, not really a head case, but a special filly,” Norris said. “But I’ve kept her calm all year and she came out early, she was a gang-buster. I just wanted to keep her manners great. The last good Conway (Hall) filly I had was Win Missy B, she was a little aggressive. My owners are patient with me driving her, especially my wife. She’s turned into a good filly and turned in two terrific efforts in Lexington.”
Elimination winners, in an order determined by lot, draw for post positions one through five for the finals. Racing begins at 7 p.m. (EDT) Friday at Pocono. For the night’s complete entries, click here.