After being retired to stallion duty, the Indiana Sires Stakes veteran is now back on the track and pulling double duty.
by James Platz
Fans of Indiana racing may have noticed a familiar name when the program for Hoosier Park Racing & Casino’s April 1 opener was released. A veteran of Indiana Sires Stakes action and Hoosier Park’s invitational ranks, Our Lucky Chip had made only one start over the Anderson, IN oval since October 2015. Retired to stand as a stallion in Indiana, trainer and co-owner Jason Miller has brought the now eight-year-old back, and Our Lucky Chip will perform double duty this season.
On the racetrack he’s off to a fast start, making his 2017 debut a winning one. He captured the eighth race on the opening night program with a 1:51.2 effort for driver Trace Tetrick. As a stallion, several factors have contributed to low numbers out of the gate. It’s a challenge that Miller is working through with the son of Art’s Chip out of Lady Moira.
“We took him home and we were all excited about the breeding thing,” Miller said of the 2016 breeding season. “As life goes, it’s never like you expect it.”
Miller and his partner, Brad Roller, had made the decision to retire Our Lucky Chip due to a lackluster 2015 campaign. He started that season by not finishing his first race, pulled up due to an atrial fibrillation. It would be another month before he would make his second start, a 1:52 score on June 27. That would be the only time Our Lucky Chip would visit the winner’s circle that season over the course of 16 starts. For a horse that had won more than 40 per cent of his career starts entering the season, including a triumph in the American National at three, Miller wanted to do what was best for his charge.
“He was not himself, obviously. He wasn’t even trying really,” he said of the pacer, a winner of more than $620,000 in his career with a 1:48.4 mark. “After the AFib we thought maybe he didn’t want to push himself anymore.”
The decision was made to stand him in Indiana as a stallion, and Miller knew the landscape was competitive. With Always A Virgin and Rockin Image proving to be tops in the state and also very attractive nationally, he didn’t expect a full book for the fastest and third-richest son of Art’s Chip. Our Lucky Chip booked 18 mares, but then issues surfaced with collecting.
“When we went to collect him for artificial insemination, he wouldn’t perform. He would lose interest. He would just walk away. He was really shy about what he was supposed to do,” said Miller. “We ended up collecting him two times near the first of June. It’s not an easy job, and it was frustrating because you’ve got guys calling and wanting semen shipped to them. We had been working with him since February. It was a real kick in the gut because we were real excited about it.”
As a result, Our Lucky Chip had to cover mares live, which drove away some interested breeders. Miller understood their concerns with risk for injury to mares. Instead of breeding 18 mares last season, Our Lucky Chip covered six mares, with four in foal, and it looks like that first crop will produce two foals this spring.
As disappointing as the first season at stud had been for Miller and his partner, as events unfolded, the trainer noticed a change in the horse. Upon retirement, Our Lucky Chip was turned out, and it was then that the stallion lost a good portion of his hoof due to an abscess. That turned out to be the contributing factor for his sub-par performances. As the foot grew back, and as Our Lucky Chip covered mares, his mentality changed.
“After he bred a couple of mares he would just run the fence line, totally opposite of what he used to be before when he was around other mares. Even the young mares he was chasing down the fence line,” Miller said. “It was like something flipped in his head and he thought everything was ready to breed.”
The trainer estimates Our Lucky Chip lost between 400 and 500 pounds, and he decided to start jogging him again in hopes of putting weight back on. As he did so, the stallion responded well to the activity. Back in the barn, he once again had the demeanor of his racing days. It was like he was home again. As Miller worked with his charge last summer and fall, he began to entertain returning the former Indiana divisional champion to the track.
“As I’m jogging him I’m thinking, ‘Man, this horse is really sound for a seven-year-old. He looks good, he’s eating good, he’s feeling good; let’s give it a shot,’” he said.
Our Lucky Chip returned to the races Nov. 11 at Hoosier Park and paced in 1:54.4. He finished last in a contest won in a time of 1:50.3. Miller admits the pacer wasn’t ready to go that fast yet, but that wasn’t part of the plan. The partnership was more interested in seeing how he responded to racing and setting up other opportunities leading into the 2017 Hoosier Park meet. Prior to coming to Anderson, Our Lucky Chip lined up behind the gate six times at Miami Valley, recording one win and a third-place finish racing for trainer Chad Clark. In one start the pacer broke stride and finished last in a race where there were lighting issues that produced shadows on part of the track.
“He shied away from a shadow. He literally looked sideways and took off,” the trainer said. “He’s eight years old, but he acts like he’s three. He’ll just take off flying.”
On opening night at Hoosier Park, Our Lucky Chip did what he’s done so many times before at his home track, reaching the wire first to collect his 31st victory in his 91st career start. Guided by Tetrick, his regular driver in his first racing stint, Our Lucky Chip took control early in the mile, setting each fraction before winning by two and one-half lengths. Miller feels the eight year old can again return to the top class at the track and hold his own while also standing his second season at stud.
“That’s the old Chip we used to know. It’s exciting,” he said of the pacer’s opening-night triumph. “In the previous starts he was going through the motions, getting his speed back. I think he can be very competitive in the invites again. I think the world of him.”
Our Lucky Chip makes his second Hoosier Park start this evening in the night’s 12th race, a $10,000 event that includes non-winners of $6,500 last four starts. He will take on a field that includes two others that have won in 1:51 or faster in 2017.