On a regular training morning at Woodbine this summer, Darwin Banach took some of his 2-year-old trainees to the starting gate, one of the most important lessons a young horse must learn.
One of his small group of babies, an average-sized chestnut ridgling named Bushido, was one of two horses sent to Banach by owner Suzi Shoemaker, renowned breeder and owner of Lantern Hill Farm in Midway, Kentucky.
There wasn’t anything about Bushido that set him apart from Banach’s other pupils. Well, that is until he sprang from the gate.
“He popped out of there and he was gone,” said Banach, who recalled several jaws of starting gate workers dropping to the ground. “It had been a long while since I had seen a 2-year-old break that like.”
And Banach has seen his share of champion racehorses. He worked for trainer Phil England during the hey days of that horseman’s years with Knob Hill Stable which raced the likes of Benburb, Schossberg and Apealia among so many others.
Once he went out on his own as a trainer in 1998, Banach trained a powerful stable of horses for the late Bill Sorokolit, whose Sky Conqueror took Banach to Grade 1 races, winning events such as the 2006 Woodford Reserve (G1) at Churchill Downs, defeating the likes of stars Better Talk Now and Einstein. Sky Conqueror earned $2.3 million and was Canada’s Champion Male in 2006.
A trip to the Breeders’ Cup next week at Keeneland would certainly be another career highlight as Banach has never run a horse in the World Championships.
Bushido (First Samurai – Burma Road by Street Boss) is entered in the first race of the two-day Breeders’ Cup, the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) worth $1,000,000 but was not selected by the Breeders’ Cup committee for the main body of the race, landing fourth on the also-eligible list.
However, with some of the entrants having first preference in other races, Bushido may need just one withdrawal before the Nov. 4 dash to get a chance to compete.
On Friday morning, Group 2 winner Aesop’s Fables (Ire), trained by Aidan O’Brien, was withdrawn from the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
“We’re just waiting and seeing what happens,” said Banach, who was to send out the undefeated Bushido for a workout on Friday morning at Woodbine. “He is nominated to the Display Stakes here next weekend but I have another horse [Hal] for that race.”
Banach, who is from Wilkie, Saskatchewan, and son of trainer and horseman Walter, said should Bushido not draw into the Juvenile Turf Sprint he could be put away for the season and sent to Kentucky and Suzi Shoemaker’s Lantern Hill Farm.
It was Shoemaker who sent Banach two juveniles this spring, Bushido and Hal, quite a coup for the Canadian trainer. Shoemaker’s Lantern Hill is a large breeding and sales operation but Shoemaker also races some horses, often the first foals of her mares.
Bushido is the first foal for Burma Road, a Shoemaker homebred who was stakes placed and earned over $258,000. Burma Road is one of more than a dozen foals from Shoemaker’s mare Shawgatny.
When Bushido arrived in Banach’s barn in early summer, the youngster was not overly robust and he had a parrot mouth – his top teeth come well over his bottom teeth.
But once the young horse started working, in particular from the gate, word spread around the backstretch that Banach had a good one. Bushido made his career debut on September 4 in a five furlong turf race at Woodbine and broke like a rocket.
“I almost thought he had opened the gate himself,” said Banach with regards to Bushido’s sharp start. Under jockey Antonio Gallardo, Bushido won that debut by 5 1/2 lengths in hand. He came right back and won the Ontario Jockey Club Stakes, also a five furlong turf dash.
While not quite as electric out of the gate as he was in his debut, Bushido was quickly clear of his six rivals and won by 2 3/4 lengths in 57.52 for an 85 Beyer Speed Figure.
Shoemaker has sold some shares in Bushido, creating the Bushido Syndicate. One of the new owners is Bill Sorokolit, Jr, who continued to race horses with Banach following the passing of his father.
Assisted by his partner Erika Smilovsky, who exercises the stable horses, Banach won two races at Woodbine on Thursday and is hoping to get to continue his roll in Kentucky with Bushido.