Mass-Bred Legend Dr Blarney Wins at 10, but Retirement May Be Near

Dr Blarney | S V Photography

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It was starting to look like time had finally caught up with the old war horse Dr Blarney (Dublin). He came into an allowance race Monday at Finger Lakes having lost six straight, understandable considering the horse is 10 and made his debut in 2015 at Monmouth Park. But the pride of the Massachusetts breeding program was back on his game, winning by a length under jockey Jackie Davis. It was the ninth straight year in which he had won at least one race.

“He's stayed relatively sound all these years,” trainer Karl Grusmark said. “We've had some issues with quarter cracks that pop up once in a while, but other than that he's been a very healthy horse.”

With there being no racing in Massachusetts, the state's breeding program is verging on extinction. In 2013, the year Dr Blarney was born, the Massachusetts foal crop consisted of 41 horses. In 2021, the latest year available through The Jockey Club Fact Book, that number was seven. In 2022, only one mare was bred in the state.

Dr Blarney is one of only five horses bred in Massachusetts who have raced this year.

But the breeding program could always depend on Dr Blarney for some needed doses of spirit-lifting good news. Bred by his owner, Joseph DiRico, he broke his maiden in his first start, a July 12, 2015 $30,000 maiden claimer at Monmouth for then trainer Thomas McCooey. He lost his next two, including a start in the Tyro S. at Monmouth, but soon found his element. McCooey shipped him to Suffolk Downs to take on fellow Mass-breds in the Norman Hall S. He won by 10 that day, the first of 15 state-bred stakes he would win from 16 tries. His only loss against Massachusetts-breds came in a grass race.

He ran in his last Mass-bred race in 2020, a year after Suffolk Downs closed down for good. Fort Erie offered some races for Massachusetts-breds and it was there that Dr Blarney won the Rise Jim S. for the fourth time. From there, he had to run exclusively against open company and he has held his own. He's won six more times, including a win against open stakes company in the 2020 Last Dance S. at Fort Erie, his second stakes win against open company. He also won the Governor's Day H. in 2018 at Delaware Park.

With the win this week at Finger Lakes, he upped his career record to 27-for-44 with earnings of $787,393. That doesn't include the $181,338 he's taken home in Mass-bred incentives and awards.

“It's like having an ATM machine in the shedrow,” said Grusmark, who took over the training of Dr Blarney from McCooey at the start of the 2017 season. “When he's right, he can compete. We won a stakes race at Delaware Park with him and we've run him at a lot of tracks. He's better against Mass-breds because of the competition, but he's a quality horse. He's a good honest horse that can win against good horses.”

Dr Blarney's best year earnings-wise was 2018, when he earned $188,570, but much of that was made beating up on inferior competition in state-bred races. He's made just $22,175 so far this year from three starts, but Grusmark believes there is plenty left.

“I think right now he's as good as he's been in a couple of years,” he said.

DiRico attributes Dr Blarney's longevity to how he's been handled throughout his career.

“Every winter we send him to a training center in South Carolina for three, three-and-a-half months,” he said. “Not racing during the winters has helped. He's also been racing in a lot of Massachusetts-bred races and in those races he really didn't have to extend himself. We've taken good care of him.”

So while it appears that Dr Blarney could keep going for a while, that's not the plan. With his win Monday, he passed Ask Queenie to become the leading all time Mass-bred money earner. But there's one more goal that DiRico wants to accomplish. Dr Blarney is tied with Ask Queenie and Rise Jim for most career wins ever by a Mass-bred at 27. Rise Jim is arguably the best Mass-bred ever and is a back-to-back winner of the Tom Fool S., winning the race in 1992 when it was a Grade II and again when it was a Grade III. A 28th win by Dr Blarney would mean that he had nothing else to prove.

“Mr. DiRico would be thrilled to see him become the leading Mass-bred winner of all time,” Grusmark said.

Grusmark said that Dr Blarney will likely be retired after his next win and that, win or lose, he will not race as an 11-year-old.

DiRico is already searching around to find a home for his gelding following his last race. He said one option is to give him Jessica Paquette, the announcer at Parx who worked at Suffolk in a number of roles before that track closed. She has offered him a home.

In the meantime, DiRico is making plans to say goodbye to a horse that has been so good to him.

“Since he's been stabled at Finger Lakes, I don't really get much of a chance to see him,” DiRico said. “I have a house at Saratoga for the summer and this year when I go up there I'm going to make sure that I go to Finger Lakes and see him and feed him carrots. When he's retired, I'll have to deal with that when the time comes. He's been very special.”

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