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Miles Ahead Named Claiming Crown Horse of the Year

Miles Ahead lost his first start back in 2019 by 43 lengths but went on to prove trainer Eddie Plesa’s belief that he was a good horse. It just took some time.

That patience was paid back in spades as the gelding won four races last year in his 4-year-old season, including Gulfstream Park‘s Smile Stakes (G3) and the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit three races later to earn honors as the 2021 Claiming Crown Horse of the Year. The honor is voted on by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association’s Industry Awards Committee chaired by Todd Mostoller from the Pennsylvania HBPA.

Miles Ahead will be recognized at the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association annual awards dinner Sept. 10. The Claiming Crown—designed to give the blue-collar workhorses that dominate American race cards their own championship day on the lines of the Breeders’ Cup—is sponsored by the National HBPA, TOBA, and the host track.

“Any time you get national attention, it’s an honor,” Plesa said. “We’re all tickled to death about it. Listen, this is a tough industry. When you’re recognized by your peers and you’re given an award, it kind of makes you puff out your chest a little bit. In the game of horse racing, if you’re batting 20% ​​that’s supposed to be great. This sport has something to it that supersedes success as far as making it to the winner’s circle. That’s what makes this sport of ours so great.”

Miles Ahead was purchased in 2019 for $175,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales March 2-Year-Olds in Training sale by the Florida-based Plesa and the ownership partnership of David Melin, Leon Ellman, and the trainer’s wife, Laurie. After winning 11 of 21 starts and $323,525, they accepted an offer to sell the gelding, who now races for Jay Em Ess Stable and is trained by Kentucky-based Paul McGee. Miles Ahead most recently finished second by a neck to Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner aloha west in Churchill Downs‘Kelly’s Landing Overnight Stakes.

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But it was an inauspicious start—more like miles behind—as Miles Ahead lost contact with the field early while finishing last by 43 lengths in the $50,000 maiden-claiming sprint on turf.

“During the course of getting him prepared to run as a 2-year-old, he never showed anything,” Plesa said. “So I put him on the turf with the idea that ‘if this horse is going to make it, it’s going to be on the turf because he sure doesn’t show anything on the dirt.’ Needless to say, they ran horrible.”

Off that, Plesa felt secure putting Miles Ahead in a $12,500 maiden-claiming race on dirt—the bottom at Gulfstream Park. He won by 12 1/4 lengths.

“He kind of woke up,” Plesa said. “I wasn’t scared of anybody claiming him. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure he was worth $12,500 at that time. The rest is what you see on paper.”

Miles Ahead stamped himself as a solid $25,000 claimer and starter-allowance horse and kept advancing last year: winning an allowance race, narrowly losing a $60,000 handicap to the accomplished Diamond Oops then defeating that $1.4 million-earner while capturing the Smile Stakes.

to trip to Saratoga Race Course for the grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap didn’t work out, but Miles Ahead came back and won the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit Dec. 4 under Paco Lopez by 1 1/4 lengths over Legal Deal . The Kentucky-bred son of competitive edge started his 5-year-old season with two more victories, capped by the $150,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes before his sale.

“Some horses are just later developers,” Plesa said. “Was it a case of him getting confidence in himself? Probably somewhat. He’s always been a sound horse. He just kind of likes to be left alone and do his thing, which we allowed him to do. It just got to the point where he’d done as much as he could do in the starter races and we needed to find out ‘Is he a high-priced claiming horse? Each time we took him out there, he did his job from him, ran hard to the point of where he’s at today.

“We were approached about selling him, and we talked about it as a partnership. He made a lot of money for us, and it was an opportunity to kind of cash in on him and wish the other people well, which we have. He certainly ran a bang-up race in his last start. He gave us a lot of thrills, a lot of joy. We weren’t actively looking to sell him. It was just one of those offers we felt we needed to take advantage of. .”

Ellman said he was especially pleased to win the award as Miles Ahead is named after his grandson Miles, now 14. There was considerable pressure to name a good horse for Miles after Ellman had named mr jordan after grandson Jordan, now 23. Mr. Jordan’s 10 career wins included seven stakes, headed by Monmouth Park’s grade 3 Pegasus Stakes. He’s currently in residence at Old Friends retirement facility.

“We’re very happy to get this award, because I’ve treated them (his grandsons) both equally,” Ellman said with a laugh. “I think my grandson is very happy. Eddie picked out the horse; all I had to do was pick the name. We were very lucky with the horse. I saw that Miles did well in his last race. I hope the new owners have a lot of good fortune with him, just as we did.”

Eric Hamelback, National HBPA CEO, said Miles Ahead epitomizes what the Claiming Crown and the Claiming Crown Horse of the Year were created to recognize.

“The committee zeroed in on Miles Ahead and felt as if the horse and the connections were indeed the horse to be recognized for their accomplishments,” Hamelback said. “We are pleased that we can recognize and award a trophy to Miles Ahead at this year’s TOBA awards ceremony.”

“The competition for Claiming Crown Horse of the Year has gotten fierce as we’ve seen some incredible performances at the Claiming Crown in recent years,” Mostoller said. “Miles Ahead exemplifies what we want in our champion: a hard-knocking horse that paid his dues moving up the ranks to becoming a graded-stakes winner. This also serves as an award for horsemanship. We applaud Eddie Plesa and the ownership team for the patience they showed in letting Miles Ahead develop into a top horse.”

The 2022 Claiming Crown will be held for the first time at Churchill Downs, its Nov. 12 date falling one week after the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland.

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