Breeders' Cup Presents Connections: 'I Love Horses; That's The Bottom Line' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘I Love Horses; That’s The Bottom Line’

Randy Morse

It had been nine long years since Randy Morse had last saddled a graded stakes winner, leaving the trainer to walk into the Pimlico saddling paddock on May 19 with plenty on the line for the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

He was preparing Taxed, the 3-year-old filly by Collected Morse had claimed on behalf of owner Richard Bahde for $50,000 last fall. She had failed to draw in for a start in the Kentucky Oaks two weeks prior as the first also-eligible; on Black-Eyed Susan day, Taxed was an 11-1 chance on the tote board.

“Her last work was fantastic, but you know, when you look up and see a filly like Baffert's, it's hard to say you're going to beat her easily,” Morse said. “Normally a filly like that doesn't run in the Black-Eyed Susan, and the race doesn't come up nearly as tough, but this year was different.”

Besides undefeated Baffert trainee Faiza, other promising Black-Eyed Susan entrants included the well-regarded Grade 2 winner Hoosier Philly, stakes winner Merlazza, and G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks runner-up Sacred Wish. 

“It's hard to compete with these guys who go in and spend millions of dollars on young horses,” Morse added. “I'm not knocking them; I'd like to be in their position. It's pretty hard for the average guy these days. Most of the better young horses in the country are pretty much going to five or six guys, so it's very hard to get a top quality horse.

“The bottom line is that horses make trainers. You gotta have the horse.”

In the Black-Eyed Susan, Taxed proved her trainer's confidence was well founded. Approaching the far turn, he saw that the jockey aboard Faiza was already having to ask for a run, and he wasn't getting much of a response.

“I thought we had a serious chance at that point, because I could see (Taxed's jockey Rafael) Bejarano hadn't moved,” Morse remembered. 

Hoosier Philly led at the top of the lane, but Taxed was able to run that filly down to win by 3 ¾ lengths on the wire.

“When Taxed switched leads, she really finished up well,” Morse said. “It was just pure joy; that's why we do this every day.”

Taxed wins the Black-Eyed Susan under Rafael Bejarano

Morse, 61, grew up on the racetrack working under his father, W.R. “Charlie” Morse, who was a Thoroughbred trainer on the Southwest circuit. As a young boy in El Paso, Texas, the horses were all Morse ever wanted to think about. 

Even before he was old enough to take his horses to the paddock for their races, Morse was 100 percent responsible for grooming his own charges.

“I can remember my dad won a stake in Omaha with this horse I rubbed, Bye Bye Battle,” Morse said. “I couldn't even go to the paddock to hold her because I wasn't old enough; you had to be 15 for a license.”

Morse's passion for the sport came through both sides of his family tree; his mother worked at the barn as well.

“It was a lot different back then, and there were a lot of kids that grew up on the backside,” he remembered. “There were a lot more families, I think. That's basically all that worked for us was family.”

Throughout his youth at Sunland Park, Ak-Sar-Ben, Centennial, and the Albuquerque state fair, Morse worked various jobs on the backstretch. He was a hot walker, a groom, a foreman, and a stable agent, sometimes all at the same time, and began galloping as soon as he could get a license at age 15. 

“Being around the horses, that's the way I was raised. Racing is all I've ever known,” Morse said. “I didn't want to go to college. I wanted to ride to begin with, but I got too big quickly. I galloped horses for a long time, and then got too big to do that. I just wanted to train horses from the time I was young… I love horses; that's the bottom line.”

At age 18, Morse went out on his own as a trainer. He saddled his first winner just a few days shy of his 19th birthday, on May 1, 1981 at Atokad Downs. 

Over the course of his career, Morse developed a reputation as an outstanding claiming trainer. He has claimed a long list of successful horses, including Morluc, a $50,000 claimer-turned-millionaire who came a nose shy of winning at the Hong Kong International Races two years in a row; Moonshine Mullin, a $40,000-claimer-turned-millionaire who won the G1 Stepen Foster in 2014; Kate's Main Man, a $35,000 claim who would earn $380,600 for Morse with multiple stakes wins; and Prospector's Song, a $50,000 who went on to win three stakes and earn $248,508 in Morse's care.

The latter, Prospector's Song, was owned by the late Robert Mitchell.

“Look, if anybody claims a horse saying they can make it a graded stakes winner, that's a little far-fetched,” Morse explained. “No matter what, though, you gotta have people backing you. Mr. Mitchell was the first guy that gave me a chance to claim horses,and he was with me for a long time 'til he passed. He'd give me free rein if I wanted to claim something. That means a lot when they trust your opinion, and it gave me a real chance to see what I could do.”

Morluc was perhaps the most iconic of those top claiming successes, especially since the horse ran so poorly on the day Morse claimed him at Gulfstream Park.

“I'd seen him before, and he was just a gorgeous horse, a really good-looking horse that always made a middle move in his races and then would kind of flatten out,” Morse recalled. “The owner wasn't too happy that day we claimed him, because he'd run terrible, but we put him on the grass and he was a different horse. I don't think there's any doubt he could have won a Breeders' Cup race, if that kind of thing had been around back then.”

Morluc raced in the early 2000s; the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint was not inaugurated until 2008. Instead, Morse was among the first Americans to take his shot overseas at the Hong Kong International Races, racing for approximately a $1 million purse when the richest turf sprint in the U.S. was worth a comparatively low $150,000.

“You want to see a heartbreaker, watch those two races,” Morse said. “He was second by a nose two years in a row to the same horse from Australia.”

When it comes to Taxed, Morse insists he got lucky.

“I've claimed some bad ones too; they don't all turn out good,” he quipped. “But anytime a 2-year-old yo works a minute at Churchill Downs, they can run a little. So we just got lucky, because we had to win a shake on her, too.”

Following the claim, Morse had hoped to run Taxed in a second level allowance race, but none were drawing enough entries in the racing office. Instead, he entered her in a stakes at Oaklawn that had drawn a short field. Taxed ran fourth in the one-mile Year's End Stakes, leading at the three-quarter pole and just faltering a bit late.

“The way she ran that day, we thought we might really have something,” he said. “She always looked like a horse, going up the backside, like she was gonna run big or gonna win. She just wouldn't relax like you'd like to see one.”

Three starts later, Morse opted to try removing the filly's blinkers to see if she'd settle during the race. Taxed ran second in the G3 Fantasy, beaten just 2 ½ lengths by Oaklawn's leading sophomore filly Wet Paint.

Following that effort, Taxed was tied for Kentucky Oaks points with champion juvenile filly Wonder Wheel. Unfortunately, the latter filly had first preference for the Run for the Lillies due to her higher graded stakes earnings, so Taxed had to be entered for the first Friday in May as the first on the list of also-eligibles.

When she didn't draw in, the Black-Eyed Susan was the next logical spot. 

As for what will come next for the newly-minted graded stakes winner, Morse wasn't entirely sure. Owner Richard Bahde is from Nebraska, so the Iowa Oaks just a couple hours away is among the possibilities. Morse also believes the filly could be competitive in a Grade 1 at Saratoga.

“With the way she ran, she deserves to have a chance in a Grade 1,” Morse said. 

Connections of 2023 Black-Eyed Susan winner Taxed in the winner's circle at Pimlico
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