Hightstown, NJ — Blake MacIntosh has to wait several months to see if multiple-stakes-winner Courtly Choice can return this year to take care of unfinished business — more on that in a moment — but only a day to get an indication whether Clear Idea can return to business as usual.
Clear Idea, a 5-year-old female pacer, was a steady money-earner for trainer MacIntosh through the first 42 races of her career, picking up a paycheck 39 times and banking $405,456. She finished second in three preliminary divisions of last year’s Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway and, although it wasn’t good enough to advance to the final, seemed poised to race well in Canada and in June’s Roses Are Red eliminations.
Instead, Clear Idea finished 10th in her elim, setting off a stretch of 11 races where she failed seven times to add to her earnings, leaving MacIntosh befuddled. After sending the horse back to New York from Canada, Clear Idea concluded 2018 by posting two wins, a second and a third in four starts. MacIntosh hopes Clear Idea can build off that finish when she makes her 2019 debut in Friday’s $44,000 Fillies and Mares Open Handicap at Yonkers.
“She came on toward the end of the year and hopefully she keeps going good,” said MacIntosh, who owns Clear Idea with Hutt Racing Stable. “She’s been a good mare for us. She’s been a real blessing to have. Horses like her keep the money rolling in all year round.”
Clear Idea, a $30,000 purchase at the 2015 Goshen Yearling Sale who finished second in the 2017 New York Sire Stakes championship for 3-year-old filly pacers, has raced 33 of her 57 career starts on either half-mile or five-eighth-mile racetracks. She has posted 10 wins, 10 seconds, and three thirds in those starts.
“The half is her forte; she’s best on a half-mile track,” MacIntosh said about the daughter of American Ideal-Glass Maker. “She’s a very handy horse. You can do whatever you want with her. I think I over-raced her a little bit last year. I’ll manage her better this year.
“At the end of the year she picked it up and that’s where you noticed that she matured a lot more. I think as a 5-year-old, she might be one class below (Dan Patch Award winner) Shartin N and that group, but she should be a real good raceway horse. I think she will give you what you want. As long as I take care of her, she’ll take care of me, I think.”
MacIntosh said he would probably pay Clear Idea into this year’s Blue Chip Matchmaker Series as well as a handful of stakes.
“We’ll probably pay her in a couple just in case she’s turned the corner, but I’m not going to over-stake her,” MacIntosh said. “There are a lot of racing opportunities where you’re going for $30,000 or $40,000 a night and you don’t need to make the big stakes payments all year.
“You’ve got Shartin and she’s a monster, so most of the time you’re going for second money. She’s probably one of the best mares we’ve seen in a long time, she’s just dominant. If I can stay away from her, I will. You can make a lot of money racing in those preferred mares (classes) each week.”
As for Courtly Choice, he returned to MacIntosh’s barn on Monday to begin preparing for his 4-year-old season. Last season, the horse won 10 of 16 races and earned $910,603 for owners Hutt Racing Stable, Mac And Heim Stables, Daniel Plouffe, and Touch Stone Farms. His wins included the Meadowlands Pace, Little Brown Jug, and Empire Breeders Classic.
The plan had been for Courtly Choice to head to stallion duty at Winbak Farm of New York, but MacIntosh, who is among the ownership group, had second thoughts and discussed bringing back the horse for another season. The group agreed.
“I hope I don’t look like a fool for taking him out of the breeding shed,” MacIntosh said. “It’s a risk, but I just felt in my heart that he had some unfinished business.
“I had some sleepless nights in December. I talked to the rest of the partnership and they all decided let’s give a go and see what happens. I’m thankful for having my partners; they’ve been very good in letting me run the show. If it works out I’ll look like a hero and if it doesn’t work out I’ll look like a bum. Hopefully it works out.”
Courtly Choice was shut down last year after a sixth-place finish in his Breeders Crown elimination rather than ending the season with appearances in the Matron Stakes and Progress Pace. Courtly Choice lost by 12 votes to Breeders Crown winner Dorsoduro Hanover in the Dan Patch Award balloting for best 3-year-old male pacer. He was not named a finalist in Canada for the division’s O’Brien Award, honors that went to Jimmy Freight and Lather Up.
“You start second-guessing yourself; maybe I should have gone to those two races at the end of the year,” MacIntosh said. “I thought we should have been nominated for an O’Brien. We put in one bad race and that cost us the Dan Patch as well. I don’t want to sound like a whiner. I love the horse and I think he was probably the best 3-year-old last year. I just want to prove it.”
Courtly Choice will be pointed toward stakes races restricted to 4-year-olds to begin his 2019 season. The first will be the Graduate Series in May.
“We’ll play it from there,” MacIntosh said. “If he’s ready to take on the big boys after that, we’ll go. Hopefully we redeem ourselves.”