If this gig as a trainer doesn’t pan out, Jimmy Day may want to think about becoming an investment broker. But given success on the race course, don’t look for a switch to happen anytime soon.
Last fall, Day took a flier on a Dermot Weld-trained jumper named Diplomat which had not won a race since 2013. From his cell phone from his home in Virginia, the former steeplechase jockey won the bidding at the Doncaster sales in England, paying what would amount to approximately $18,600 U.S. dollars for Diplomat. The purchase was made, sight unseen, by Day whose brother saw the horse run and gave a positive recommendation.
Saturday, in its first start on American soil, Diplomat made a bold move at the 10th of 12 fences in the 83rd edition of the $75,000 Carolina Cup and had just enough left in the tank to hold off Syros by a half-length to win the Camden spring classic with Camden resident Bernie Dalton doing the steering. It was another length and a half back to Fog Island for third while early-pace setter Where’s the Beef and Sporty rounded out the five-horse field which all made the trip safely.
Diplomat, a 6-year-old Kitten’s Joy gelding, made the 2 1/8-mile trip in a time of 4:06.80 over turf rated as good on a breezy day which came following Friday’s rain showers. He earned $45,000 for his owner, Daybreak Stables, which just happens to be owned by Day who made a nice return on his most recent investment.
Bred in Kentucky by multi-time Eclipse Award winners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Diplomat, however, looked rather ordinary early in the race as defending National Steeplechase Association leading rider Willie McCarthy planted Welcome Here Farm’s Where the Beef on the lead from the drop of the starter’s flag and kept him there through the first nine fences. For most of that time Fog Island, with Darren Nagle aboard, ran in second anywhere from one to 2 1/2-lengths behind the leader.
Where’s the Beef was never allowed to have free reign at the head of the tightly group field which was separated by some six lengths, from start to back, at the eighth fence. After having been anywhere from third to fifth place, Dalton and Diplomat made a bold move to the front near the middle of the backstretch. By the 10th fence, the lead was Diplomat’s who only had to hold on down through the home stretch.
Dalton, who just took the ride on Diplomat on Monday night after receiving a call from Day, said Diplomat bided his time for as long as he could. And when the race hit the back stretch, it was time to let him go.
"I thought we had a very sensible gallop early on," Dalton said of how the race shaped up. "I just tried to keep him in touch. I thought he jumped like a bunny rabbit.
"To be honest with you, he jumped his way into it at the middle (fence) down the back. Then, at the third-to-last (the 10th fence), I got off the inside and I didn’t want to disappoint him. He wanted to go and I wasn’t going to say no. If you say no to an old horse like that, they’ll say, ‘OK. I’m done.’"
Diplomat was hardly finished as Sean McDermott and Syros – which was third after the 12th and final fence behind Where’s the Beef --- made a run at Diplomat in deep stretch. But Diplomat, which was carrying the high weight of 156 pounds, was able to fend off that charge from behind.
"He got a little tired going to the last (fence), which, I guess, he is entitled to after the winter they had up north," said Dalton. "He seems like a pretty nice horse and he was giving three pounds to the rest of them. I think it was a pretty good performance."
Training in Virginia during an extended cold and snowy winter, Day was more than a bit concerned that Diplomat would come up short due to it being so early in the year and that he may have not had enough training under his girth due to the conditions in the off-season.
"They we’re getting to him at the end and they had every right to," Day said of the finish shortly asking that his horse be watered down before being taken back into the barn after the win.
"You have to have a special kind of horse to win this early in the year; one that actually don’t need a lot of training which we found that out about this one. As long as they’re fresh and somewhat fit, if the talent’s there … the talent was there and he sure made it look easy and carrying extra weight, too.
"Really, he wouldn’t be on his best today and that’s not taking anything away from his race. That was wonderful, I’m thrilled with it."
I order to get a race into Diplomat before Camden, Day ran him in a point-to-point in Virginia a week earlier with three-time NSA riding champion Paddy Young in the irons. As he checked on Diplomat at the barn following the race, Day convinced himself to take a shot at the Carolina Cup.
"We got through it, but we didn’t get near enough work into the horse as I believed," Day said. "I got one
race into him in a little point-to-point last week. He had a big blow and when I got back to the barn, he was hardly blowing so I said, ‘I’ve got to take a chance with a five-horse (Carolina Cup)field.’
"Maybe he does like to be fresh. The truth is in the story, he likes to be fresh."
There one was little problem for Day after making his decision and it was that Young would not be making the trip to Camden. That led to Day’s waiting until after the entries were made on Monday to scout for a jockey who did not have a mount in the feature. He found the man he was looking for in Dalton who, like Day, is a native of Ireland.
"When I saw the overnight and Bernie was open, I jumped on it. It worked out good," Day said. "He looks after a horse. He’s a good horseman and if they’re not fit, he’ll get them home. And that was the objective."
Once he gave his pledge to Day to ride Diplomat, Dalton started doing his homework on a jumper whose more recent victory came 11 races ago in a novice weight for age hurdle at Galway Racecourse in Ireland on July 29, 2013. Diplomat did not score a win for Weld in eight starts in 2014. Dalton checked on The Racing Post’s Website to see what he could learn of his new ride before calling Young, another fellow Irishman.
"I called Paddy (Friday) night and he said he needed that run in the point-to-point and that he still might be a little short," Dalton said. "He said he seemed like he was a pretty nice horse and, I took it from there."
As Day met with Dalton for final instructions on Saturday, he told his jockey to use his own judgment in doing what he felt was best for Diplomat
"I said, ‘Look after him. There’s no pressure,’" Day said. "As the owner myself, I said that he’s had a tough winter and if he can get a piece of (the purse), that’s great.’ I said, ‘I don’t know much about him; he could run big but he’s in good shape.’"
When it was over, a beaming Day said he believes the best is yet to come for Diplomat who is "going to improve, a ton, off this race."
And that could be a scary proposition for a jumper who looks to be back in stride and flourishing under a new owner/trainer after returning home from having raced in the United Kingdom for four years.