Aiken Trials fields Saturday could include future thoroughbred racing stars

Mar. 16—Pay attention to the thoroughbreds running in the Aiken Trials on Saturday, especially the 2-year-olds that will experiencing what it is like to perform in front of a crowd for the first time.

Some might be future stars.

"They can go on to do anything from here," said Cary Frommer, a longtime trainer at the Aiken Training Track and a former president of the facility, which is the home of the Trials.

One example is Dogwood Stable's Summer Squall. He didn't win his Trials race in 1989, but the following year, he captured the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the second leg of the Triple Crown, which also includes the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

More recently, Double Crown, trained here by Frommer, triumphed in the Willard Freeman Cup during the 2019 edition of the Trials while being ridden by Sarah Cundith.

Since then the 6-year-old gelding has earned $581,785 and compiled a career record of six victories, eight seconds and two thirds in 30 races.

In 2022, as a 42-1 longshot, Double Crown won the Kelso Handicap (gr. II) in New York by 1 3/4 lengths.

Also on his resume are triumphs in the Roar and Carry Back stakes in Florida in 2020.

Barry Bornstein's photo of Double Crown and Cundith winning the Willard Freeman Cup is featured on the poster for this year's Aiken Trials.

Bred in Maryland by Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Bowman and Becky Davis, Double Crown didn't impress Frommer when she began training him in Aiken.

"He was small, and he was very uncompetitive," she said. "I decided to run him in the Trials to maybe wake him up a little bit. It's something that tends to kind of get their (young thoroughbreds') juices flowing and makes them start understanding a little more what their job is."

Not long before the Trials, however, Double Crown demonstrated to Frommer that he might have some talent.

During a workout, a timed exercise that is faster than a gallop, Double Crown showed "us a dimension that in him that we had never seen before," Frommer said. "It was a very quick and easy work. He was just zipping along pretty effortlessly."

Consequently, "we were very high on him," Frommer added when Double Crown was entered in the Trials. "It went from being we couldn't care less about him a little bit to like whoa, he's going to be OK."

In the Willard Freeman Cup, Double Crown completed a quarter mile in :24 2/5.

Becky Davis was listed in the Trials' program as Double Crown's owner.

"He won nicely," Frommer said. "He was never fully extended."

Trials races aren't official contests, so that victory wouldn't become a part of Double Crown's official race record, but that didn't matter to Aiken Equine Rescue President Jim Rhodes.

He liked that effort enough — along with what he had seen Double Crown do in the morning while preparing for the Trials at the Training Track — that he purchased the young horse privately for $25,000 for his wife, Debbie.

Double Crown stayed with Frommer for a while longer before the Rhodeses sent him to trainer Lacey Gaudet in Maryland.

Racing officially for the first time at Laurel Park in September 2019, Double Crown defeated Ournationonparade by only a neck, but the latter's closest challenger was seven lengths behind at the wire in the six-furlong contest.

Double Crown's winner's share of the purse was $29,640.

Afterward "my phone was ringing off the hook," recalled Rhodes, who was busy answering calls from people who were interested in acquiring Double Crown.

"I don't deal with that type of business, selling horses," Rhodes continued. "That's not what I do. So I transferred everybody to Cary, and Cary negotiated a six-figure deal."

Even though it was a financial windfall, Rhodes' emotions were mixed.

"I had seller's remorse to start with," he said, "but Debbie and I probably couldn't afforded to campaign him the way he has been campaigned. He probably would have stayed in Maryland but I don't know if he would have won the amount of money that he has. I also made good friends with the people who bought him.

"He is absolutely the best racehorse that we have ever owned," Rhodes concluded.