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Dalton, Cat Feathers hope Cup day will be Ladies Day

Posted: March 27, 2014 12:07 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2014 5:00 a.m.
C-I photo by Tom Didato/

CAT FEATHERS (inside) carries Harry Haynes over a fence during a Monday morning schooling session. The pair were in company with Bernie Dalton, who will ride Cat Feathers in Saturday’s six-horse Carolina Cup feature chase, aboard Stephen’s Revenge.

Brushing beneath the chin of a horse whose winter coat is shedding and floating into the air, Kate Dalton apologized for the mess it was making as hairs flew everywhere.
Meanwhile, around the corner, Cat Feathers nibbled and licked on the rubber-coated barrier which kept her inside the stall in her barn on the grounds of the Springdale Race Course. It was as if the 6-year-old mare was oblivious to the fact that, come Saturday, she would make her first start of 2014 against five male counterparts in the 82nd running of the $50,000 Carolina Cup steeplechase.
In a day and age when chivalry is not quite dead, but is close to being on life support, it is nice to know that in Thoroughbred racing, guys still give way or, in this case, weight, to the ladies. That is one of the reasons why Dalton has entered her bay filly into the Camden spring classic.
There have been times when a female racing against the boys was a big deal such as the ill-fated Ruffian and her match race versus Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure in 1975. More recently, on the flat, both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta beat the boys at their own game while over fences in Camden, in 2008, Imagina became the first female to win the Carolina Cup.
Dalton is hoping Cat Feathers, who she trains in her home base of Camden, can take a seat alongside Imagina --- who like Cat Feathers had a female trainer in Sanna Hendriks --- as champions of the Springdale spring feature. For her part, Dalton is downplaying the significance of the boys vs. girls scenario.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” she said when the subject was brought up. “I think it’s really helpful that the fillies get a little bit of weight (five pounds) off. (Cat Feathers) gets some extra weight off in the spring, even more than she does in the fall. I think, sometimes, that’s a real big advantage.”
Like those previously mentioned fillies and mares, Cat Feathers brings street cred to the race course with her. In 2012, the then-4-year-old filly was the National Steeplechase Association Filly and Mare Champion after having won the $75,000 Mrs. Ogden Phipps before finishing second in the $75,000 Mrs. Walter Jeffords, both at Saratoga, that summer.
Cat Feathers was unable to repeat her success in 2013, a year in which she had two seconds and a third in seven starts which earned $32,758 for Dalton who, in addition to being the trainer, also owns Cat Feathers. But there was a silver lining to last season as Cat Feathers finished a game second, just 1 ¾-lengths behind Kingdom in the $30,600-added allowance hurdle sweepstakes run on Colonial Cup day in November.
Ordinarily, that would have been the stepping off point for Cat Feathers. But this time around, Dalton went in a different direction and never took her jumper completely out of training.
“She’s actually been on the go. We didn’t stop her this year,” Dalton said as she continued brushing a horse. “Usually, we stop and give them a break but by the time we ran here on Colonial Cup day, I looked at the calendar and thought, ‘Well, she’s going to have three weeks to be turned out.’ So instead of turning her out for three weeks, I just jogged her for six (weeks) and went right back to work again.
“We’ve been down here and tricking along and we’re off and running again.”
While staying active during the winter, a run in the Carolina Cup feature was not in Dalton’s original plans. But as she continued to think back on that late fall run at Springdale, the thought of bringing Cat Feathers back for a run at the Cup was not as far-fetched as it might have seemed.
When the nominations for the race opened last Tuesday, Dalton tested the waters and submitted Cat Feathers into a nominated group of 10 jumpers. She was the lone filly or mare in the group. Still, Dalton was unsure whether she was stay in the race. When entries were revealed on Wednesday, Cat Feathers was indeed ready to dance her first dance of the year on her home course.
“Up until (last) Friday, her last piece of work,” Dalton revealed, “I still wasn’t sure that I would run her in the Carolina Cup. But it sort of worked out. It’s convenient and we don’t have to ship anywhere. It’ a good place to start.
“If it turns out that it’s too tough of a spot for her, then I’ll know to aim more for the filly races this year. If it works out and if she runs OK, maybe she’ll take on the boys a few more times.”
Saturday will mark the earliest start to a race season for Cat Feathers, whose previous first time out of the gate was May 11 of last year when she finished ninth in a $50,000 filly and mare allowance chase at the Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville. Given the fact that many horses which train north of the Mason-Dixon Line are well behind in their work due to the severe winter there this year, Dalton decided to run Cat Feathers earlier in the year this time around.
Dalton admitted that a longer year of racing for Cat Feathers is a concern for her.
“It is,” she said. “I usually start her later (in the year) because her main goal is Saratoga. This year, we’re sort of taking a little chance. We’re just going to go right ahead with the spring races and see what happens.
“It could be that come this summer, I’m kicking myself for starting her earlier. But you just have to take your chances while you can. We’re capitalizing, a little bit, on the kind of rough winter that some people have had. It will work out or, it won’t.”
Given her strong performances at Saratoga in the summer, Cat Feathers seems to like the quicker, more level going of race courses such as Springdale as opposed to those which have hills which must either be climbed or, run down.
Just like the fairly level courses which she prefers, with Dalton’s husband, Bernie Dalton, in the saddle on Saturday, Cat Feathers has an even temperament. She is a horse which likes to settle in and run her own race as opposed to getting caught up with any hijinks going on at the point.
So, is there a perfect set-up for Cat Feathers on Saturday? Kate Dalton thinks not. “To be honest with you, I don’t think there is one,” she said of a best-case scenario for her horse. “I think just an honest-run race works out for her. She’s pretty laid back in her races. She’s very ratable so, if something goes burning off at the front end, I don’t think it bothers her too much.
“It’s like anything else; you’d like to have a big enough field and have a nice, honest pace. She’ll run as best she can and it might be good enough or, it might not be.”
Given the make-up of the expected large gathering at the Springdale Race Course on Saturday afternoon, Kate Dalton said one thing which the lone gal in the field may have on her side is plenty of fan support.
“There are going to be a lot of women out there all dressed up in hats and dresses and they need a horse to root for,” she said with a laugh.
And, ladies --- and gentlemen, too -- that horse may as well be Cat Feathers.


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