By Biller Heller
What could possibly be better for a trainer than winning his first Grade 1 stakes? Owning that horse and getting a free trip into the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Three days after Uriah St. Lewis’ five-year-old Discreet Lover captured the $750,000 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup by a neck at odds of 45-1, St. Lewis, who said he bet $200 across the board on him, was still smiling. Who wouldn’t?
“I really thought I could win the race,” St. Lewis said. “He always gives me everything he’s got.”
Now Discreet Lover, whom St. Lewis bought for $10,000 as a two-year-old in training at Timonium in Maryland, will take him to the biggest race of the year for older horses at Churchill Downs. This is heady stuff for St. Lewis, a 60-year-old native of Trinidad who used to literally run to Aqueduct to bet on a couple of races after he was done for the day at Clinton High School in Brooklyn, where he ran on the track team. “You can actually see the racetrack from the roof of the high school,” he said.
St. Lewis was 15 when his family moved to Brooklyn in 1973.
Ten years earlier, his older sister had taken him to the track for the first time. “I remember like it was yesterday,” St. Lewis said. “In Trinidad, they have Boxing Day a day after Christmas. I was five. She took me to the races, and I saw this gray horse. I fell in love with the gray horse. I was hooked.”
Eventually, he would work for AmTote as a computer technician and wager on Thoroughbreds regularly. He wasn’t doing well. “I didn’t have a clue. My wife says, `You’re just throwing your money away. Why don’t you learn about the business?’”
So he did. He went to Oklahoma with his family, purchased an 88-acre ranch and began to learn about training. He was instructed to buy his own horses to train, and that’s what he did. “I bought two horses for $5,000,” St. Lewis said.
He became a trainer in 1988. His family’s real estate business in Brooklyn and his wife’s job as a registered nurse financed their equine business, which they operate as a family, including their 23-year-old twin son and daughter. “We’re all hands on,” St. Lewis said. “We do everything ourselves, because I know it’s done right if I do it myself. We work a lot in the afternoons and evenings. We’ve been having success with it. We aren’t going to change.”
But he did take a near-sabbatical, winning just 14 races from 2006 to 2013 as he shepherded his twins through high school. “I stopped for a while to make sure my kids finished high school and got to college,” St Lewis said. “The day they went to college, I started back in. I really started to get serious about racing.”
Now they have 28 horses based at Parx led by a certified superstar. Discreet Lover had made more than $940,000 before the Jockey Club Gold Cup, when he cashed in on a hot pace. “When I saw :22, :45 and 1:09, I said, `Unless they’re super horses, they’re going to stop,’” St. Lewis said. “He picked them up real quick. He ran his heart out.”
Asked why he had bought Discreet Lover, St. Lewis said, “He was the first baby from his dam. I like buying first foals. You don’t know what you’re going to get. What the hell? Take a chance.”
That chance had him standing in the winner’s circle after the Jockey Club Gold Cup and heading for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That’s a long way from Trinidad.
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