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Blog - POP CULTURE

Owner Sam Herzberg savors the moment after Black Onyx won the Spiral Stakes in March at Turfway Park. Herzberg's budding, new star Jimmy Connors is entered in the Iroquois Stakes on Saturday at Churchill Downs. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)

What’s in a name? In horse racing, the answer differs significantly from owner to owner and really ranges from everything to just about anything, as long as the name meets a set of rules established by The Jockey Club

Owner Sam Herzberg needed a fitting name for a talented Yes It’s True colt he had purchased for $140,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training in May. This was a colt Herzberg’s trainer, Kelly Breen, dubbed one of the best competitors and most intelligent horses that he had ever bought.

After that encouraging conversation with Breen, Herzberg’s thoughts turned to a friend who had shown those same traits as a pro athlete, Hall of Fame tennis player Jimmy Connors.

“I used to own a tennis tournament out in California, Indian Wells, and I play tennis myself,” said Herzberg, who races as Sterling Racing Stables. “I played in some pro-ams, and one of the pros that I played with was best friends with Jimmy. He introduced me to him about 10 years ago, and we’ve kind of become buddies.

“I called him and asked him if I could name the horse after him, and he said he’d be honored. He wrote me a letter authorizing me to do it for The Jockey Club, and that’s how he got his name.”

Horses are not permitted by The Jockey Club to be named after living people unless the person submits written approval. Connors, a winner of eight Grand Slam events including five U.S. Opens, was happy to oblige.

Jimmy Connors, the horse, made a nice impression in his career debut on July 27 at Monmouth Park. He raced in third early and responded willingly when jockey Elvis Trujillo asked him to accelerate, charging away from six opponents to win by 4 ¼ lengths.

JIMMY CONNORS DEBUT WIN AT MONMOUTH

“He ran just like Kelly said – very intelligent and he did everything right,” Herzberg said. “Ever since we’ve had him, he’s just trained beautifully. He hasn’t done one thing wrong.”

Herzberg and Breen entered Jimmy Connors in the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes on Saturday night at Churchill Downs. The 1 1/16-mile test is a key steppingstone for the colt as a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park, and Herzberg said he’s pretty confident Connors, the Hall of Famer, plans to make the trip to watch in person.

“We’re really looking forward to this race on Saturday night in Kentucky. I think Jimmy might even come to the race. He’s in [New York] for the [U.S.] Open - he just got in from L.A. [Thursday] – and I’m going to see him … and make some plans because he wants to go to Kentucky for the race Saturday night.”

Breen and Herzberg also seriously considered the seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes on Sept. 2 at Saratoga Race Course for Jimmy Connors, which had the added bonus of being held on the tennis star’s birthday. Instead they opted for the Iroquois, a 1 1/16-mile race that will serve as a great measuring stick of his ability to compete against top competition at longer distances.

“Kelly wanted to stretch him out and also it’s a ‘Win and You’re In’ for the Breeders’ Cup and you gets points for the Derby next year, so it kind of was the best fit for him,” Herzberg said.

“We think he has the ability to go two turns. Kelly said he’s really long-striding, he takes really long, deep strides. He’s got the breeding to go two turns on the dam’s side.”

Herzberg first became involved in racehorse ownership about 20 years ago when he owned some horses at Calder Race Course, but eventually he had to step away to focus on business, specifically real estate. The passion for racing remained, however, and eventually the itch to get back in the game became too much for Herzberg. 

The first horse he purchased was Black Onyx, winner of the Spiral Stakes in March. Black Onyx was entered in the 2013 Kentucky Derby but an injury forced Herzberg and Breen to scratch him the Friday before the race.

After several months of rest, the hairline fracture of the left front leg has healed and Black Onyx was cleared this week to resume light exercise. His connections hope to have him back in time for the winter meeting at Gulfstream Park.

BLACK ONYX AFTER WINNING SPIRAL

Onyx Inside

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

“He’s one of the nicest-looking horses I’ve ever seen,” Herzberg said. “He’s just beautiful. It’s just a shame we had such bad timing with that little fracture that he got right before the Derby. We’re hoping that he’s like his dad, Rock Hard Ten, and he comes back and has a great 4-year-old campaign.”

$150,000 Iroquois Stakes

Saturday, Churchill Downs, Race 7, 9:05 p.m. ET

2-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles (Dirt)

PP

Horse

Jockey

Weight

Trainer

1

Laddie Boy (KY)

J.L. Castanon

118

C Peery

2

All Cash (KY)

M. Mena

118

D W Lukas

3

Rise Up (KY)

R. Napravnik

120

T M Amoss

4

Tapiture (KY)

R. Santana Jr.

118

S M Asmussen

5

Celburne (KY)

C.J. Lanerie

118

D L Romans

6

Honorable Judge (PA)

J. Rocco Jr.

118

R E Reid Jr.

7

Solemnly Swear (KY)

J. Bravo

118

K J Breen

8

Jimmy Connors (KY)

E. Trujillo

118

K J Breen

9

Ride On Curlin (KY)

C. H. Borel

118

W G Gowan

10

Smart Cover (KY)

S. Bridgmohan

118

D L Romans

11

Stonecrusher (KY)

J.M. Johnson

118

G G Hartlage

12

Cee 'n O (KY)

A. Garcia

118

D L Romans

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Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

Image Description

Mike Curry

A native of Philadelphia who grew up in nearby Wilmington, Del., Curry was editor of Thoroughbred Times TODAY before joining the America's Best Racing team in May 2012. He credits his grandfather for the inspiration to repeatedly sneak off to Delaware Park as a 16-year-old and the 1989 rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer for his passion for horse racing. Curry graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a concentration in Journalism. He worked for the Wilmington News Journal and was Sports Editor of the Cecil Whig before moving to Lexington in 2005.

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