Trenton, NJ — A major aspect of Frank Sinatra’s famed legacy is how he nearly died at birth, won a fierce battle for his life and continued to scrap all the way through a legendary singing/acting career.
Lather Up seems to be taking the same journey, only with four legs. He was nearly a breech birth before being saved by Kevin Switzer, Brenda Teague and Switzer’s wife, Denise McNitt. Ever since, he has been battling his way to success, much like Ol’ Blue Eyes.
“What did he sing, ‘I Did It My Way?’” Lather Up’s co-owner Gary Iles asked. “Maybe Lather is doing the same thing. He’s doing it his way.”
And what a way it is.
After struggling through another near-death situation as a 2-year-old, Gary and Barbara Iles’ homebred son of stallion I’m Gorgeous out of their homebred mare Pocket Comb has been recording some real chart toppers.
This past Saturday, across the bridge from New York, New York in Sinatra’s home state of New Jersey, the 4-year-old stallion won the $250,000 Graduate Series final at The Meadowlands by equaling the all-time mile record of 1:46. Always B Miki set the mark at age 5 at Red Mile three years ago. He also broke the previous 4-year-old pacer mark of 1:46.4, previously shared by Warrawee Needy and Dr J Hanover.
It is a heck of a way for Lather Up, trained by Clyde Francis of the George Teague Jr. Stable and driven by Montrell Teague, to head into Saturday’s (July 13) $423,000 William R. Haughton Memorial at the Meadowlands.
“I just couldn’t believe the fractions when they were coming up,” Iles said. “Especially (1):19.1 coming home. I must say I had so much confidence when I saw him tip out (from second place). He just comes home like a freight train. I thought ‘Well, we’re going to be close or we’re going to win this thing.’
“You never know what’s going to happen, anything can happen. But it was really exciting. It didn’t sink in about the (1):46 until I was talking to someone later and he was telling me what had transpired. You try to hear it over the loudspeaker sometimes, and everybody is screaming down the stretch, it’s pretty hard to understand what they were saying. It was quite a surprise. We’ve been blessed, there’s no doubt about it.”
Some might say they were cursed as recently as two years ago. After surviving his harrowing entry into life, Lather Up won three times on the Ohio Sires Stakes circuit and was prepping for the series championship. But a near-fatal reaction to antibiotics sent the horse to the New Bolton Center in another dire circumstance.
“That was probably the most heart-pumping situation we were in,” Iles said. “George (Teague) told me not to worry about it, and New Bolton told me if he makes it through the night, he might have a chance. I said, ‘Oh Lord,’ but it worked out, he came out of it, but it ended his 2-year-old career.”
Hopefully, it ended his health woes as well. Lather Up returned with a vengeance as a 3-year-old, winning his first three races while setting a track-record of 1:50 in a division of the Ohio Sires Stakes at Miami Valley Raceway. He finished the season with 11 wins in 18 races and $893,512 after conquering some steering issues. His victories included the North America Cup and Ohio Sires Stakes championship.
“He basically changed the bit and it made a big difference in him; a very big difference,” Iles said. “That was basically it.”
This year, there have been some problems with breaks, but that hasn’t stopped Lather Up from taking five firsts and one third in eight starts.
“We’re not sure exactly what’s causing it,” Iles said. “It’s something that just throws him off. Sometimes it’s hard to figure these things out, but that’s been our only problem with him. Every time you do a little bit more, you try to pinpoint it and see exactly what the problem is.”
The owner will be hoping for a problem-free trip Saturday in the 12-horse, 1-1/8 mile Haughton. The field includes 2018 Horse of the Year McWicked, the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Lather Up is 3-1.
Iles is happy with drawing the five post and has no concern about the race’s added distance.
“That’s the least of our worries,” he said. “He was in a 12-horse field for the first leg of the Graduate (at the 1-1/8 mile distance) and he saw the tape and stormed home. He had to come across the track to come home and he handled it very well.”
So, what’s the most of his worries?
“You just hope nothing goes wrong, and you don’t have to stack him up somewhere and get him caught in a situation where he might make a break,” Iles said. “We don’t think so, but it’s happened in the past and hopefully it won’t happen here. We’re realistic.”
He is also optimistic. Iles praised the field of horses, noting that when Lather Up made his record-setting run he “was only two ticks faster than the other group of two or three in there. This is some super racing and there are some super horses. You have to give them their due.”
That said, he still feels Lather up has as good a shot as any of them to win the race.
“Absolutely,” Iles said. “We’re trying to get the breaks straightened out, it’s frustrating. George has been telling me for two years, this horse can go in (1):46, I’ve never had a horse that’s ever been this fast, but you have to control their head and whatever else is going on with them.
“But George would tell you he’s maturing. We’re starting to get a few things worked out, the things you thought were wrong, you’ve already discarded them moving forward so I think we are moving in the right direction. We’re very, very happy. He trained super (on Wednesday). Hopefully this can carry through until Saturday. You just cross your fingers and see what happens.”
After all the obstacles Lather Up has faced in his young life, the fact he is headed in any direction at all is impressive. It’s no surprise Iles has a special spot in his heart for the horse.
“I don’t know how you could not,” he said. “After everything that has happened to him, after those problems, he’s just been a real delight. The chance of having another horse like this in your lifetime is probably so small.”
Sinatra’s parents probably said the same thing once he made it big.
Saturday’s 13-race card at The Meadowlands also includes the Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-old pacers, the Hambletonian Maturity for 4-year-old trotters, divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial and Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old male and female trotters, Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old female pacers, Golden Girls for older female pacers, and a leg of the Miss Versatility Series for older female trotters.
Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EDT). For Saturday’s complete entries, click here.