The Week in Review: From $1,000 Yearling to Stakes Winner, It's Sizzling Time Not Done Writing his Story

It's Sizzling Time (inside) outduels Double Crown to the wire in John B. Campbell Stakes | Jim McCue

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It's Sizzling Time (Not This Time) finished second in Saturday's $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial S. at Laurel, but trainer Valrie Smith wasn't about to complain. The gelding banked another $20,000, upping his career earnings to $327,766. Not bad for a horse who cost $1,000 as a yearling, which is what It's Sizzling Time sold for at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Fall Yearling sale

“If you had told me back then that he'd win all these races, win a stakes and make all that money, I would have told you you were being ridiculous,” Smith said. “I would have told you there was no way that could happen.”

But it did.

It's Sizzling Time has won seven races, including the John B. Campbell S., and has developed into one of the better older dirt horses on the Maryland circuit.

Smith and her husband Donnovan Haughton like to buy at Fasig Tipton's fall yearling sale and are always on the lookout for bargains. But the couple is not well off and they cannot afford to buy horses even in the four-figure range. Many of their purchases have been for $1,000, the lowest price a horse can sell for at a Fasig-Tipton auction.

Smith doesn't pretend that she saw something special in It's Sizzling Time or that she knew something the other buyers didn't. She also couldn't have predicted what was to come for the sire, Not This Time (Giant's Causeway).

Not This Time was second in the 2016 GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile and never ran again. Taylor Made took a chance on the horse and started him off with a stud fee of $15,000. He's since gone on to become one of the top sires in the sport, with a stud fee of $150,000. It's Sizzling Time is from his first crop.

None of that was part of the equation when Smith put in her $1,000 bid for the horse.

“We bought him because we thought we were getting a bargain,” she said.

But why did he sell for so little?

“I have no idea why. It was just our luck,” she said. “We were just lucky to get him. There was nothing obviously wrong with him. He looked smart in the ring. It wasn't like he was looking all crazy.”

The Florida-bred began his career in a $25,000 maiden claimer in October of 2020. He finished second and two starts later would go on to break his maiden. For the next three years plus he started only in allowance races and starter allowance races. But he kept improving and Smith chose the Campbell as the race in which he would make his stakes debut. With jockey Jean Briceno aboard, he won the $100,000 race by a nose.

“I'm so excited, I'm lost for words,”Smith said after the Campbell win.

Smith is a native of Jamaica who came to the U.S. in 2005. Not only did she know nothing about horse racing at the time, she was scared of horses.

“I was scared of them because I thought they were so big,” she said.

It was Haughton, who was a jockey in Jamaica, that introduced her to racing. She started off as a hotwalker and soon found out that not only were horses not scary they could be your best friend.

“Gradually, I started to love them. But the horses loved me first,” said Smith. “They love people. You just have to be patient and love them back. I started having a good connection with the horses.  I was sucked into it.”

Smith, who works alongside Haughton, has been training since 2017 and has a four-horse stable. It's Sizzling Time is co-owned by Haughton and Mona Bowley, a friend from Jamaica.

It's not easy to make ends meet with a four-horse stable, but the money that It's Sizzling Time has earned has helped immensely.

“Oh my God, he has been a huge, huge blessing,” she said. “I just have to thank God. I'm so happy. This horse makes us look real good.”

Smith isn't sure where It's Sizzling Time will run next, but it will no doubt be in another stakes race. The $1,000 yearling has proven that he belongs.

Santa Anita's Safety Record

Matanzas Creek (Empire Maker) broke down three strides past the wire after winning Saturday's sixth race at Santa Anita. While no one wants to see a horse break down and euthanized, the incident served to remind us of just how safe racing at Santa Anita has become.

While there have been fatalities during training, Santa Anita went nearly one year without having a fatality in a race. Prior to Saturday, the last time it happened was Mar. 18, 2023 when a horse named Beverly Vista (Arrogate) broke down.

The increased veterinary oversight that horses must go through at Santa Anita is obviously an inconvenience to trainers. But no one should be complaining. It's working

The Chosen Vron Does it Again

It was quite a week for The Chosen Vron (Vronsky). First he was named the 2023 California-bred Horse of the Year and then he won for the 16th time in his career when he captured the GIII San Carlos S. Saturday at Santa Anita. He is now 16-for-21 lifetime. It was the fourth graded stakes win for the popular 6-year-old gelding

He's won 11 of his last 12 starts, with the only defeat coming when he was fifth in the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint.

In an era where a lot of good horses race six or seven times in their careers and their owners can't get them to the breeding shed fast enough, it's great to see a tough old gelding whose a throwback to a better time for the sport when racing was more than an audition for the breeding shed.

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