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Homeracing

Classy John’s my favorite backstory of 2018

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

December 28th, 2018

Horse racing is replete with great stories on and off the track, and the tale of Louisiana-bred juvenile Classy John sticks in my mind as a favorite from the past year. Trained by Dallas Stewart for Valene Farms, Classy John was the modestly bred 12-1 shot who stunned a field of bluebloods in the opener at Saratoga on Travers Day. But the first plot twist was how he came to join such successful connections. It was a serendipitous mistake on the part of Murray Valene, as reported in an August 28 story by Brian DiDonato in Thoroughbred Daily News. The colt by Songandaprayer and out of multiple Canadian stakes winner Kitty’s Got Class was cataloged as Hip No. 14 in the Equine Sales of Louisiana Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale on May 7. Valene planned to bid on the next horse via phone, didn’t realize that Hip 14 was the one still in the ring, and ended up securing the “wrong” one for $12,000. “We got a little confused,” Valene recounted to DiDonato. “I was on the phone, and I thought I was bidding on 15, but it was 14. But it turned out to be a pretty good buy, huh? We didn’t have any idea what the horse looked like, but that’s the way it goes. You never do know.” Valene went on to describe how much he liked the colt once he saw him. Stewart was so pleased with his works that he was bold enough to ship him to the Spa for a traditionally hot maiden. But there’s also a poignant family angle that adds depth to the story. Valene had named the colt in honor of his 100-year-old father, who introduced them all to the sport a half-century ago. Just four days before Classy John made his Saratoga debut, John Valene died. That happens to be the exact same day, August 21, that my own mom went to the Lord. “My father passed away on Tuesday, and I flew up on Friday to watch the races,” Valene said. “So, just given the name and the circumstances and everything else, it’s extra special and I think he’s going to be a nice little horse. Hopefully, he stays healthy, because in this game you never know, but I think he’s for real.” Classy John continues to live up to those hopes. After a second in a Churchill Downs allowance, he hacked up as the 1-10 favorite in the Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile S., and he’s 3-5 on the morning line for Saturday’s Louisiana Futurity back at Fair Grounds. With his combination of lucky happenstance and family sentiment, Classy John is an easy one to cheer.

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