All American: Shining Again

The Marfa Lights takes another shot at All American glory.

Quarter Racing Journal

The Marfa Lights and trainer Toby Keeton. PHOTO: Richard Chamberlain

The Marfa Lights was bright on The Mountain last year, when the colt closed strongly to finish second in the All American Futurity (G1). Bred by Vessels Stallion Farm and owned by Mike and Beth Harper of San Antonio, the colt by One Famous Eagle out of the Grade 1-winning First Down Dash mare Your First Moon was trained by former AQHA Past President Jim Helzer and ridden by Larry Payne. After running back in the October 22 trials to the Texas Classic Futurity (G1) at Lone Star Park, The Marfa Lights closed his season with two wins, two seconds and earnings of $455,860 from five outs.

The Marfa Lights then had surgery to remove chips from his right knee. He then was put in the care of Toby and Cindi Keeton, who after lengthy rehabilitation had him ready to run again. The colt’s first race as a sophomore was in the May 28 trials to the Ruidoso Derby (G1), where the light dimmed with a sixth-place finish.

“This is why it looks like the horse has been slow coming around,” Toby said. “The horse broke through the gate, and they held onto him and flipped him over. He landed right on his butt. It sored him up really bad in his hind end. It was a deep muscle bruise, deep body sore. You have to rub and medicate, rub and medicate, do everything you can and it just takes time.”

Time was not on their side. The Marfa Lights next went to the gate for the July 9 trials to the Rainbow Derby (G1). The gelding finished third.

“He ran good, but not as good as he can,” Keeton said. “He left there good, but he didn’t kick on the end. I think that hind end was still bothering him. We had a lot of trouble with that, but between the Rainbow trials and the All American trials this horse came back to me. He got good. We’ve got the horse right again and he’s back to his old self now. We’re really fortunate the horse came back to us and threw a really big race in the All American trials.”

Time again. Keeton breezed The Marfa Lights 15 days before the All American trials.

“He breezed really good, and I knew right then the horse was back,” he said.

Time now. Jose Villafranco saddled The Marfa Lights for the August 20 trial for the All American Derby (G1).

“He loaded late and Larry didn’t get really set and nearly got left in the gate,” Keeton said. “Larry didn’t even have time to get his composure. They walked in, shut the tailgate and kicked it. Larry wasn’t ready. He was coming off the back of the horse, reaching and scrambling to get back with him. So three jumps, Larry’s back on him, gets his head picked up and the horse went to running. That horse can fly. He’s a great horse.”

Despite the setback, The Marfa Lights again closed in a rush to finish second, half a length off the pace of De La Eagle, with One Sweet Racy also qualifying behind in third. The Marfa Lights clocked :21.501 to be the fourth-fastest qualifier.

“He’s a smart horse, a very smart horse,” said Keeton, who will saddle The Marfa Lights for the $1.5 million Derby. “But there is one little key to him, and it’s in the gate. You can’t get too tight on him in there – get that cross and a hold of a little too tight – because he’ll get to anticipating, think it’s time to go and he’ll hit the front of it. You can’t put a flipping halter on him, because he’s claustrophobic and doesn’t like to be in a tight spot too long. He’s one of those horses that you have to just kind of sit chilly on.

“So Larry wasn’t ready, the horse didn’t get a good break and he still got there,” Keeton said. “He pulled up really good from the trials. We’ve loped him twice since then, and I’ll stand him in the gate on Friday, and we’ll be ready to go. I look for him to run a humongous race on Sunday.”

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