MOHAWK MILLION up next for Luther’s million-dollar experiment
The Ohio owner will send his star Indiana-sired 2-year-old trotting filly Yo Beth D to Toronto to contest next Saturday’s $1 million event.
by James Platz
As Greg Luther embarked on his “million-dollar experiment” in the fall of 2020, the Ohioan did so with the singular goal of winning the Little Brown Jug. While building a sizable stable of horses trained by his brother, Todd, he has made it a point to acquire quality stakes horses to compete on harness racing’s biggest stages. Next week, “Team Luther” will take a shot at the Mohawk Million, the biggest purse race for young trotters, with Indiana-sired filly Yo Beth D.
“She’s got a spot for the Mohawk Million,” Luther said after her latest win Tuesday (Sept. 13) at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. “I’m excited about it. I know the team is excited too. It’s a very unique opportunity, for sure.”
Two months ago the Mohawk Million wasn’t on the radar for the Blacklick, OH resident. He didn’t have a horse capable of competing at that level, but an unexpected opportunity arose. Verlin Yoder, who owned and developed Yo Beth D, purchased a thoroughbred farm in Kentucky. The trainer began to liquidate several of his equine assets to generate cash for renovations. Luther was interested in the Helpisontheway freshman, a winner in three of four starts for Yoder, including a pair of Indiana Sires Stakes legs.
“I get a lot of guys that call me when they’re selling big horses. Verlin, who is in my opinion one of the best trotting trainers around, bought a new farm and he’s trying to rehab that farm. He needed to just cash out. I was able to acquire her so that he can use his cash elsewhere. She’s basically building a farm out for them,” Luther said. “He’s definitely helped with giving us tips on what he knows about her. He’s still shoeing her for us. He shoes his own horses. As good as she is, I don’t want to change anything. I figured let’s keep the same blacksmith. He’s been kind enough to shoe her for us.”
In her first start for Luther’s Black Magic Racing, LLC, Yo Beth D romped by 11 lengths for driver Trevor Smith, kicking home with a 27-second last quarter and tripping the timer in 1:54.3. After the Aug. 17 sires stakes triumph, the owner began receiving calls inquiring about his interest in the Million.
“I had never really thought about it myself, but I had a couple of guys call me saying they had a spot and asking if I had considered. I had not really looked at her schedule, but sure enough, that’s a week she’s not racing,” he said.
In a perfect world, the deal to secure a slot in the Mohawk Million would have been consummated shortly after Yo Beth D’s second start for her new connections, a sires stakes event held Aug. 30 at Hoosier Park. Luck was not on Luther’s side however, and the heavily-favored filly made an untimely break racing into the first turn. She would go on to finish seventh, and the negotiations were put on hold.
“We were going to sign for a spot, but she threw a shoe, which hit her in the hock and she made a break. Showing a break, that was a concern to some groups,” said the owner.
$7 MILLION AND COUNTING
Yo Beth D’s miscue is emblematic of the setbacks Luther and Black Magic Racing have endured in 2022. Last season, the stable counted 84 different horses that made a total of 863 starts, with 130 wins and purses of $2.58 million. Two of the key victories came in the $325,000 Dan Patch Stakes with Catch The Fire, and Katie’s Lucky Day scoring an upset win in the $351,000 Kentucky Filly Futurity as a $75,000 supplement.
“For me the Dan Patch was huge with Catch The Fire. I think that was probably our biggest high,” Luther said. “Last year was very good for us. We just compare everything to the state of Ohio, because that’s where we’re at. We won more Grand Circuit races than all the other (Ohio) trainers combined last year, so that was something to be proud of in our first big year doing it. We’ve had some bad luck this year with some injuries on several of the Grand Circuit horses, but they are all coming back now, and I think we’ll make a little recovery.”
This season, the stable is represented by 116 horses making 829 starts, producing 108 wins and just shy of $2 million in earnings. Since the beginning of his “experiment,” Luther has invested over $7 million to date. Because of the money he has poured into the sport, Black Magic Racing, LLC will be replaced by Greg Luther Racing, LLC on Oct. 1.
“Black Magic Racing disappears in two weeks. We’ll be a new LLC. The tax man said I’ve lost plenty of money, it’s now a hobby. I need to start over with a new business so that I can still get my tax write-offs,” said the real estate coach. “And maybe that gets rid of the black cat. Everybody said maybe it’s the name. We’ll go with a fresh new name October 1 for the last quarter and see if Greg Luther Racing does well.”
The on-track setbacks and off-track paperwork changes have not dissuaded Luther from continuing his quest to win one of the sport’s most revered races. He still intends to spend on yearlings this fall, although he will recalibrate on what he buys.
“We’ve learned a lot. You know, you win some, you learn some. For all divisions, we’re sticking with Ohio as much as we can, but my ultimate goal is to win the Jug,” he said. “When I go to Lexington or Harrisburg, I’ll probably get pacing colts in search of that dream, but everything else will likely be Ohio, maybe Pennsylvania or Indiana. We’re going to stay in the Midwest. We’re not going to dial back on the number, it’s just going to be more centralized on location.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
All interested parties hoped to see Yo Beth D rebound from her uncharacteristic break last Tuesday, and the freshman responded with a solid effort. Starting from the rail for Smith, the filly received every call and held on to capture the $67,500 Indiana Sires Stakes division by a nose in 1:55.1.
“She trained like a monster. She actually trained faster than the Ohio Sire Stakes that we won last week. She trained a huge mile and she’s sharp right now. This is the perfect time as she’s peaking,” Luther said of the filly, now a winner of $133,250.
With the win secured, the owner turned his attention to picking a dance partner for the Million. Luther said his decision boiled down to making the race a “family affair” with his brother training and Smith in the sulky.
“It’s always been important to me to stay true to myself and my team. Some of these guys that are selling their spots for the Mohawk Million, they want Yo Beth D in the race, but they want one of the big drivers on there, or send her to a big trainer for the week. I’ve always wanted to stay true to my team and my roots. My brother trains the horse and Trevor Smith drives the horse, even in a million-dollar race,” he said. “Everybody called me crazy in the Kentucky Filly Futurity, and he (Smith) did well there. I always wanted people to give me a shot in life. When you’ve got somebody that’s aggressive and young, you want to try to provide a shot for them. I’m sure all the big guys will be available, but Trevor’s my man.”
Luther will utilize the slot purchased by Doug Overhiser and Sam Bowie. He said the cost was higher, but with fewer conditions.
“It cost me a little more money for the spot I took, but I’m able to use my driver, and that was really important to me to give him an opportunity,” Luther said. “I wouldn’t want to go to a race if I couldn’t use my team, if I had to play by someone else’s rules. Then it’s not fun for me. I did pay a little bit of a premium, but I can have Trevor drive and Todd train and we can go up there as a team and win on the big stage.”