After Ned Allard was reminded how long it had been since he won at a stake at Saratoga, he did not take it as a negative. It actually brought back a lot of great memories.
When Always Sunshine, trained at Parx by Allard, won the Aug. 10 Tale of the Cat Stakes at the Spa, it was 33 years to the day from when his greatest horse, the 1985 Filly Triple Crown winner Mom’s Command, capped off her amazing season with a win in the Alabama at Saratoga.
That actually wasn’t the last stake Allard had won there, but it had been long enough that it was an event when he won another.
“It felt super,” Allard said. “The icing on the cake for a racehorse trainer is winning stake races because nice horses are like watching Academy Award winners. They’re exceptional individuals and they’re fun to watch and even more fun to train.”
Back in the day when he was based in his native New England, Allard once won 28 stakes in a single year. Finding those kinds of horses has become much tougher because many of his major owners have passed away in recent years.
But Gilbert Campbell has both Always Sunshine and Abiding Star in Allard’s barn. Combined, the two horses have won 17 races and $885,040. Always Sunshine has won four stakes. Abiding Star won the 2016 Parx Derby.
“They’ve been two very uplifting horses for me the last three or four years and they’ve been great,” Allard said.
Always Sunshine will likely race next in the Sept. 15 DeFrancis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park where he may meet up with another Parx sprint star, Imperial Hint. If everything goes perfectly for Always Sunshine, Allard has the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in the back of his mind.
“The whole business is all a dream and you hope it comes true,” Allard said.
Allard, 72, has been training horses for nearly 50 years. He has won 2,691 races. He remembers running a horse on opening day at Keystone in 1974. He came to Parx full-time more than 20 years ago. He has won 586 races at the track.
Getting to train Mom’s Command was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and Allard has not forgotten those days.
“Good memories last forever,” he said.
Always Sunshine especially is creating new ones. The horse won his debut at Parx on July 14, 2015. Allard has had to manage him delicately because he develops foot issues that need time, but when he is good, he is really good. And the 6-year-old is really good now.
Always Sunshine runs his absolute best when Frankie Pennington rides. The champion jockey at Parx got his first Saratoga win in the Tale of the Cat. Since that first career victory, Always Sunshine is 7-for-13 with Pennington and 0-for-9 with all other jockeys.
“They have a love affair going I think, in a silly way,” Allard said. “The horse really seems to enjoy Frankie on his back and Frankie really loves the horse.”
Pennington did not make two trips to Belmont Park earlier this year when it was obvious Always Sunshine was going to be a big price in two stakes. He finished third in one and fourth in the other.
Pennington was there on Delaware Handicap Day when Always Sunshine won an undercard stake. And, of course, he made the trip to Saratoga.
When Allard mentioned where Always Sunshine was going next, Pennington told the trainer: “I’m going wherever he’s going.”