Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: 'Stars Lined Up' On Saratoga's East Avenue - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘Stars Lined Up’ On Saratoga’s East Avenue

The jubilant winner’s circle after Vallelujah won at Saratoga

The winner's circle at Saratoga after Saturday's fifth race was filled with all kinds of emotion, even before the winning filly Vallelujah returned from the gallop out. There were tears of joy, endless hugs, and shouts of celebration all the way around that hallowed enclosure.

“This is just incredible,” said trainer Robbie Davis. “The only thing better than this is the Travers!”

It was a win for the little guys: the first Saratoga win for jockey Jacky Davis; the second Saratoga win (and first since 2013) for her father, the filly's trainer and a former jockey himself; and the first Saratoga win for the 18 partners of East Ave Racing Stable.

Managing partner Jeff Deet explained that the partnership came together during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group of fans and photographers, professional and amateur alike, would meet outside the fence of the Saratoga training track on East Avenue every morning. Wearing masks and sitting in folding chairs with their cameras held aloft, the group would watch the horses train and get away from the pressures of an uncertain world.

Robbie Davis would ride by every morning, and usually stopped nearby to strike up a conversation. The trainer suggested everyone get together and buy a horse, so that they could watch the morning workouts from the other side of the fence.

Several of the group members latched onto the idea, and Deet, the only one with any significant horse ownership experience, was nominated to become the managing partner. All they needed was a horse.

Several days later, Carolyn Karlson happened to walk by the group. Deet had met her via a previous racing endeavor, and waved Karlson over to say hello.

“The stars lined up that day,” Deet said. “She is the breeder of Vallelujah. Well, one part of the conversation led to the next and we ended up talking about a horse she had.”

The filly, a New York-bred daughter of Teuflesberg, was just a yearling at the time, but Deet put out a few feelers and decided she'd be the right one to take a chance on.

Deet also knew that the minimum ownership percentage required to gain a New York State Gaming Commision license is three percent. He set up the deal so that he and each of his 17 partners could own the requisite three percent of Vallelujah, making up majority ownership overall. Karlson worked with Deet on a price, and a deal was made.

When Vallelujah, named for a combination of “Hallelujah” and the day of her birth, Valentine's Day, was ready to be sent to a trainer, Deet and his partners knew exactly where they wanted to send the filly.

“We were not going to settle for anybody but Robbie and his family,” Deet said. “They embrace you as a family, and we could not ask or find anybody to take care of our horse like Robbie has.

“I can't say enough about him as a trainer and as a man.”

Vallelujah broke her maiden in her sixth career start on the dirt at Belmont Park in May of 2022, and entered Saturday's race, a first-level allowance for New York-breds, as a 24-1 longshot after a pair of off-the-board finishes on the turf.

“We take blame for putting her on the turf,” Deet said. “We had to get a race in her and there was nothing in the immediate future. So her strong suit is definitely dirt; she's only run twice on the dirt as a 3-year-old, and she's won both of them.”

Saturday's win was accomplished in rail-running fashion, despite the trainer's instructions to his daughter to remain off the rail.

Jacky Davis explained to the owners that she'd felt the footing on the rail prior to the race, and discovered that while it had been deep for the entire meet, on that day it was finally fast.

Vallelujah (Teuflesberg) and jockey Jacky Davis win a NY Bred allowance at Saratoga Racecourse 8/13/22. Trainer: Robbie Davis. Owner: East Ave Racing Stable, Sisu Racing Stables

“This means the world to me because it's my first race at Saratoga and for my dad especially,” Jacky Davis told Horse Racing News' Andrew Capone. “I know he won a lot of races here as a jockey, but us together – I'm beside myself, I'm so happy. I didn't know if I was going to cry, laugh or fall off after the wire.”

Deet echoed those sentiments.

“We hoped for the best, but we were thinking, 'Let's enjoy the ride and we get what we get, as long as she comes back safe,'” he said. “We didn't think winning was really on the table, so we have just been on such a high. To be in Saratoga and to watch our horse win an allowance race was surreal to us.”

Even before Saturday's win, Deet acknowledged that the East Ave adventure has been incredibly satisfying for everyone involved.

“It's been the most wonderful thing,” said Deet. “To have that many people getting together for two years and they get along every day, the friendship that has been forged is just priceless. It's just an absolute blessing because we've had people come out of their shells and move past the issues in their lives; it's been incredible to watch the partners grow. Of course, the most galvanizing element of this is our trainer.”

Robbie Davis has a stable of just three horses, and rides them all himself each morning. His wife Marguerite is especially involved in the barn, and two of their six children are currently jockeys (a third is a former jockey).

“They embrace you as a family,” Deet said.

A former jockey, Davis rode the winners of 3,300 races and is a member of the Idaho Hall of Fame.

“With all the things he's accomplished in horse racing, he's got every right in the world to kind of put his chin up a little higher, but that would be the last thing he would do,” Deet explained. “It's amazing how humble any one person can be, and it's truly sincere.”

It was perhaps especially fitting that Vallelujah's win came just one day after the presentation of the Mike Venezia Memorial Award at Saratoga. The award is presented annually to a jockey who displays the extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship that personified Venezia, who won more than 2,300 races during a 25-year career cut short by tragedy.

Davis and Venezia were among the leading riders in New York in the fall of 1988. On Oct. 13, during the fifth race at Belmont Park, the horse Davis was riding was unable to avoid a fallen Venezia when he was dislodged from his own mount. Disaster struck: Venezia was killed instantly when Davis' mount's feet struck his skull.

The horrific accident forced Davis out of the sport he loved for months, eaten up with guilt. With unending support from his family and a trip back home to Idaho, Davis was finally able to move past the trauma of that day.

“I think about him, not every day, but every once in a while,” Davis told Sports Illustrated in 1989. “I don't dwell on it. I still feel a little hurt over it, but there ain't nobody on earth who can change it.”

More than 30 years later, Davis has become the kind of man who is respected by his peers for more than just his skill with the horses.

“I know that day weighs heavy on his heart, and he still has a difficult time talking about it,” Deet said. “Something like that is never put to rest in his heart, but that's just a tribute to the individual that he is.”

Venezia must have watched that Saratoga winner's circle with a smile, seeing Davis' pure joy at sharing such a moment with his friends and family.

“This is what we work for,” Davis told racing media. “This is what we pray for. Everybody come back healthy, and this is why we do this. It's just the energy; you cannot get enough of this energy and electricity. It's like a home run in the ninth inning of the World Series.”

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