Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

O'Connell takes successful team to Breeders' Cup

As she paused for dinner last week, Kathleen O'Connell broke down her appetite for success.

Good horses, good owners and good help.

O'Connell, an Odessa resident and two-time Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer, will have all three Saturday in her first start at the Breeders' Cup World Championships. She saddles Scandalous Act in the Grade I $2 million Juvenile Fillies, a 1�th-mile event (Race 4, 3:05 p.m.) at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. She is 8-1 on the morning line in the 10-horse field. Eduardo Nunez has the mount from post 8.

"It's like being on the Super Bowl team," said O'Connell, who took Watch Me Go (18th) to the 2011 Kentucky Derby. "The Breeders' Cup is a select bunch of horses."

Scandalous Act was the queen of Calder. She swept the Florida Stallion Stakes female division at Miami Gardens with victories in the $75,000 Desert Vixen, the $125,000 Susan's Girl and the $300,000 My Dear Girl, winning by 22 total lengths. The latter victory came Oct. 12.

"In an ideal world, I wish we would have had a little more spacing between races," O'Connell said. "You have to knock when opportunity strikes."

Bred and broken at Stonehedge Farm South in Williston, Scandalous Girl has won four of five races for $328,040. She is the richest purse earner by Act of Duty, and her dam is the Langfuhr mare Seductive Lady.

"(Act of Duty) has a lot of good pedigree as the son of Mr. Prospector," said Stonehedge Farm South manager Larry King, 59, whose nephew Jamie King handles the facility's 2-year-old training program. "(Scandalous Act) was one of our top fillies, but I don't think anybody could say they knew she'd be going to the Breeders' Cup.

"When you get a horse that has speed that can carry the distance, that's when you end up with something like (Scandalous Act)."

O'Connell's connection with Stonehedge Farm South owners Gilbert and Marilyn Campbell of Tyngsboro, Mass., has expanded more than two decades. The Detroit native learned of the farm's need for a Florida 2-year-old trainer in 1991 while conditioning French Fortune, a horse owned by Darrell Solley — now employed at Stonehedge Farm South.

"Kathleen is a hard worker who's dedicated to her job," Larry King said. "She looks at her horses like kids or somebody's little froufrou dog they're crazy about. It doesn't matter who owns them, she spends many, many hours with them."

O'Connell, who says her age is "60-something," is enjoying a season of milestones. Her achievements: reaching 1,500 career victories; the first female trainer to be inducted to the Calder Hall of Fame and sweep a Florida Stallion Stakes; the purse leader at the Downs and Calder; and for the first time, surpassing $2 million in yearly earnings.

Joining O'Connell in California is top assistant trainer Brian Smeak.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Smeak, 58, of Odessa. "I'm a Pennsylvania boy, and I've never been west of the Mississippi (River).

"K.O. is very conscientious, intense and big on communication — from the hot walker to the exercise boy. When things do get tough, she'll break the tension with a joke."

Said O'Connell: "Brian has been with me for (14) years and I'm excited for him to go out there and be able to take care of (Scandalous Act). Brian is the one you want in the trench when you're going into battle."

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