by Jeremy Plonk
May 28, 2018
While we await history with Justify, and Memorial Day classics like the Met Mile have to be overstuffed on Belmont Stakes mega-cards, this weekend reminded us of the regional greats that make local fans for life. If you are under age 40, you grew up in the simulcast era and have seen every major race on some sort of television (and probably can’t remember pre-TVG, circa 1999). You entered the sport at the highest levels if you chose, no matter if you lived in Nebraska or New York City.
Forget a moment all the talk about Justify surrounding his breeding rights – whether they’ve been sold yet or not. Instead, celebrate the Pennsylvania-bred warrior Page McKenney and his Oklahoma-bred counterpart Shotgun Kowboy. The duo, with 86 starts between them, were on center stage Saturday at Monmouth in the Salvator Mile and Sunday in the Lone Star Park Handicap, both Grade 3 races.
Page McKenney may be the more well-known of the two, based in the east in Maryland and with 56 starts under his belt at age 8. The rags-to-riches son of Eavesdropper earned his 15th career stakes win on Saturday, an amazing story for a horse who lost his first 12 and needed maiden claiming company at Colonial Downs in 2013 to graduate. He’s 22-for-44 since those dozen opening losses and has banked $1.8 million, most all of it since claimed by Mary Eppler for $16,000 in 2013.
Page McKenney certainly serves a lesson in patience, having not made a stakes appearance until career start No. 26, winning the state-bred Robellino at Penn National in 2014. In his last 30 trips to the post, he’s won 15 stakes now. Most of those have come in Maryland, so he’s truly a horse for the Mid-Atlantic region.
Shotgun Kowboy made his name earlier, winning the Oklahoma Classics Juvenile at Remington Park as a 2-year-old in 2014. He then made his mark by winning the G3 Oklahoma Derby at 3, and has continued on into this 6-year-old season adding to his ledger. He’s now won 13 of 30 races and $1.3 million. The son of Kodiak Kowboy owns 6 stakes wins and is a graded winner or graded-placed 7 times, doing the bulk of his damage in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.
Owner-breeder-trainer C.R. Trout is one of the most likeable men on the backstretch in the Mid-South, and anywhere for that matter. To see him have success with yet another home-bred like this is remarkable for the tiny size of his outfit. You may recall his G1 Madison winner Shotgun Gulch via Keeneland or his other millionaire Maysville Slew. Quite remarkable for a guy who runs his own stock and since 1991 has only had 1 year with more than 100 starters. Most years he runs about 50 races.
Page McKenney and Shotgun Kowboy weren’t on their home tracks this Memorial Day weekend, but they definitely were in their home regions in nearby states and giving on-track fans a reason to smile. Racing doesn’t ‘need’ stars to stick around to save the sport and often drive-by marketers and media types mislabel its importance. It’s like saying free agency would kill team sports or that players leaving colleges early for the pros would downgrade the university brand. None of that has been true.
But there is a great feeling of nostalgia and pride in horses like Page McKenney and Shotgun Kowboy. They don’t always measure in attendance and handle immediately, though some certainly do file in to see them and attract the horseplayers’ interest in handicapping the races. But the trickledown effect of lasting horses does help build local and regional allegiances in a much slower way. The real measure we get from horses like this is a good feeling, however. And how many times do you get that anywhere these days?
That’s why we love them and need them in the sport – and society. Things that make us feel proud and swell our hearts should stick around longer and bring their magic as often as we can get them.