by James Platz
Each fall after the yearling auctions, Gary Rath makes the rounds looking for horses which didn’t sell that he can buy for a decent price. In the case of Romantic Warrior, the veteran conditioner didn’t find the trotter using traditional methods. In this instance, the breeder reached out to him. Now a sophomore, the gelded son of Cassis—Zorgwijk Delighted has turned out to be an investment that regularly delivers returns for Rath and co-owner Bobby Beggs.
“He’s a pretty nice colt,” said Rath, who serves as trainer and driver. “I wish I had a whole bunch of them like him.”
Romantic Warrior closed out the Hawthorne Race Course winter meet on a hot streak, winning three of his last four starts. In the latest, a March 19 triumph, Rath sat patiently with his charge along the pylons in third through fractions of :30.2; 1:00 and 1:30.4. Moving three-wide racing out of the last turn, the duo trotted past Killjoy and Mr Mizzou while holding off a charging Lous Lancelot by three parts of a length. Romantic Warrior captured the $30,000 event for Illinois conceived and foaled 3-year-olds in a 1:59.3 effort as the favorite, producing back-to-back victories.
When Rath fielded the call from breeder Kris Becker in late 2020, it helped that he had familiarity with Romantic Warrior’s family. The trainer had worked with a half-sister that was a freshman that season. The twist was that the sibling, named Toopher, was sired by pacing stallion Duneside Perch.
“She was supposed to be bred to trot, but she was bred to pace. I guess there was a mix-up at the farm. She was a big mare and she did everything right too, but she just wasn’t fast enough,” said Rath. “I just liked the way she was gaited. So we took a chance on this one and it worked out.”
To say it has worked out is putting it mildly. In a business that is predicated on earning checks as frequently as possible, this private purchase has a knack for increasing his bankroll each time out. As a freshman, the trotter made 11 starts, picking up a lone victory in the Cardinal Stakes in 2:02.1. Romantic Warrior was race timed in 1:58.1 at Springfield. While he finished off the board five times, he missed a check only once on the way to banking $35,639. All the while, Rath was teaching the spirited gelding how to race.
“When he was a 2-year-old he got pretty hot headed. I was taking my time with him and trying to get him to come off the gate. He did, but he didn’t like it,” said the 61-year-old, who became a co-owner last September after buying Alan Beals’ interest in the horse. “But he still raced good as a 2-year-old. That was a big factor there with him, he was trying to be a real hot-headed horse. We just tried to take him off the gate as much as we could without making him run or mad.”
The time spent educating the trotter last year has produced a versatile sophomore that is off to a fast start in 2022. Racing almost exclusively in open company at Hawthorne, Romantic Warrior has finished first or third in eight of 10 seasonal attempts. Once again, he has finished out of the money only once, raising his seasonal earnings to $31,969. The gelding has collected $67,608 in 21 career starts, hitting the board two-thirds of the time.
“He’s a very nice horse to be around. He does anything you want him to do. He’s just an all-around nice horse,” the trainer and co-owner said.
Romantic Warrior will get six weeks of well-deserved time off before Rath begins preparations for Hawthorne’s summer meet, which kicks off the last day of June.
“That will probably help him, let him grow up a little bit more, and get over the aches and pains that he has,” Rath said. “Hopefully he’ll develop a little bit. He’s a pretty tall horse as it is.”
Beggs and Rath have staked Romantic Warrior to everything in the Land of Lincoln, and his conditioner hopes the trotter can compete with the best in the division. He held his own last season and has only improved since then.
“He raced good as a 2-year-old against the bigger horses, and he raced against open company pretty much all winter until this last week. He trotted in (1):59. He trotted in (1):58 last year in the heat of the summer. This is cold weather now, so I’m hoping he picks up a couple seconds this summer.”
Rath enjoys the challenge of developing a young horse, teaching the fundamentals that will produce a nice horse. He did not find Romantic Warrior through the usual channels, but the conditioner has succeeded in “making a nice horse.” Now, the challenge begins anew.