by Craig Braddick
With the exciting news Optimus Prime has been nominated for the David Semmes Memorial Stakes ($75,000, G2) at the Virginia Gold Cup Races on May 4 (a course Optimus Prime has shown a liking for when he won the G2 Zeke Ferguson Stakes by a mile to round off his 2018 campaign) we recently spoke to his trainer Ricky Hendriks, who gave us some insight into one of the most talked about horses on the NSA circuit.
Many people new to the sport of steeplechasing may be surprised Hendriks decided to kick off Optimus Prime’s 2019 season with a training flat race that doesn’t count towards official NSA standings. But as Ricky explains: “We are still getting to know him. We only had him for 50 days before the Turfwriter’s last year. This was a good way to have an insurance plan, make sure he is ready to go (for the David Semmes Memorial) and be pretty close to his peak for next Saturday.”
So the decision was made to run Optimus Prime on the flat last Saturday (April 20) at Middleburg. As expected, the win was easy, and he clearly outshone his rivals. Hendriks said: “We wanted to take him into the public and get a nice piece of work into him.”
When he returned home, Ricky decided to give Optimus Prime a couple of days off. “We turned him out into the paddock and didn’t work him for a couple of days”
“I am a big believer in a disciplined routine for the horses including being turned out in to the paddock.” – explains Hendriks.
Thoroughbred racehorses are creatures of habit and like many animals enjoy routine in their lives. To the people involved in steeplechasing, their horses are more than just highly trained athletes running for purse monies – they are family, plain and simple.
“Optimus Prime lives in the first stall by the tack room. He loves attention from humans and plays with his best friend, our Labrador. They get on great together!” – says Ricky. Every morning, Optimus Prime is fed breakfast and then is turned out into the paddock for an hour or more. At times like this, you wouldn’t think Optimus Prime is a champion. He’s just a horse having fun in a paddock! He then goes out for his daily exercise and training.
After the race at Middleburg, Ricky decided Optimus Prime earned a couple of days off yet a small story perhaps gives a little insight into the mind of a champion. “He’s a very intelligent horse and on Tuesday, I needed to move him from one paddock to another and he would not let me catch him! He thought his time was over, it wasn’t, I just wanted to move him!” – Ricky says with the smile showing he loves it as much as Optimus Prime does!
Eve Ledyard who regularly exercises Optimus Prime did so on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and Ricky Hendriks said he did very well, and Ross Geraghty was due to school him over fences on Thursday.
In the long term, Ricky is eyeing up the AP Smithwick at Saratoga, followed by the Turfwriter’s and the Lonesome Glory as targets for Optimus Prime. As his namesake Transformer has been known to say: “As a team we can accomplish anything.”