TORONTO, January 17 – Hooh Why, a familiar face at Woodbine with a record of 3-2-3 from 14 starts, is set to defend her title in Saturday’s $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf, at Gulfstream Park.
The seven-year-old Cloud Hopping chestnut, to be saddled for the second time by Nick Gonzalez for owner Mark Hoffman, is something of a road warrior.
Through 47 career starts, Hooh Why has criss-crossed the continent competing out west at Santa Anita, where she was a bang-up third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks in 2009, to the east where she earned Grade 1 honours as a three-year-old by wiring the Grade 1 Ashland.
Remarkably consistent, Hooh Why has hit the board in 31 of her 47 starts (11-11-9) while banking $1,123,103 in purse earnings.
She’s been saddled by 13 separate trainers while racing at 10 different tracks and has partnered with 19 jockeys - - all the while accompanied by Hoffman, who has owned the mare, in partnership, from her successful debut at Arlington Park on July 26, 2008, at odds of 38-1.
“She doesn’t go anywhere without me,” says Hoffman. “She's behind my truck at all times. We've been on airplanes together. She pretty much doesn’t leave my sight.”
Hoffman, who chauffeurs Hooh Why from track-to-track in a customized 48-foot long trailer, prefers to ship Hooh Why into another trainer’s barn and race the horse in their name rather than wade through the paperwork to be the conditioner of record - - which explains the gratuitous ‘Previously trained by…’notes that litter her race lines.
But don’t think for a minute that means Hoffman isn’t a hands-on player.
“I'm the only one that takes care of her. I clean her stall and give her a bath. If I was lighter, I'd be getting up on her and training her too,” he laughs.
At some point this morning, Hoffman and Hooh Why will once again be on the road - - this time from Tampa Bay Downs to Gulfstream. It’s a trip both horse and human are happy to make.
“She knows when I pull my rig up,” says Hoffman. “Believe me, she does not want me leaving without her. She'll yell and starts getting excited. That’s a fact.
“I'd say she's covered more miles than any horse in the United States, from California, coast-to-coast, to Woodbine to Miami. All corners of the U.S., plus Canada. I never thought to add up the miles, but it must be a lot.”
Hooh Why, an added-money winner at Woodbine in the La Lorgnette in 2009 and the Grade 3 Seaway in 2010, has stakes caliber ability on both turf and synthetic surfaces, which has played a prominent part in the mare’s nomadic lifestyle.
Gonzalez, who met Hoffman through mutual friends a decade ago in Florida, tips his cap to Hoffman’s bounty hunting approach to winning purse money.
“Mark has a truck and a trailer of his own and he's not afraid to hit the road with her and go after the money. He looks for her best spots,” says Gonzalez. “She’s used to shipping and used to Mark. What can you say? He made a million with her and won the Grade 1 Ashland.”
Hoffman is keenly aware that Hooh Why’s versatility and good temperament has provided the opportunity to parade at some of the top tracks on the continent.
“Hooh Why is an elite horse. She's not one dimensional. She's won at eight different distances from five and a half furlongs to a mile and an eighth,” he says. “Most horses are one way or the other, but she's so versatile. She can win on the lead, or coming off the lead. She's been a lot of fun.”
A closer look at her past performances verifies Hoffman’s claim.
Hooh Why has won at five and a half, six and a half and seven furlongs on synthetic; scored at a mile as well as a mile and a sixteenth on both synthetic and turf; and in last year’s Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf she rallied from off-the-pace to win at nine furlongs.
But, the end of the road is drawing near for the talented mare.
In February, Hooh Why will be bred to a yet-to-be determined stallion.
“It's been like riding a roller coaster for five years, and I hate to get off the ride, but it's time she becomes a mama,” says Hoffman. “She's going to race and then I’ll take her to Ocala and turn her out for a few weeks. She'll get bred in February and then she'll run a couple of times while she's in foal.”
Hoffman isn’t sure that the mare is ready for motherhood, but feels the clock ticking.
“She's sound as can be,” offers Hoffman. “She's really not ready to be retired, but I’d like for her to be having me some foals before she's nine-years-old.”
Even though the mare might miss the track, she’ll likely enjoy the family reunion with her half-sister Alwayslookingforme - - a four-year-old daughter of With Distinction.
“The two sisters love each other. They'll be apart from each other for three-to-five months and when they get together it's the craziest thing you've ever seen,” he laughs. “Hooh Why doesn't care about any horse in the world, there’s always someone new in the stall next to her, but if I have her sister next to her and I leave (on the truck) with one or the other, they both throw a fit.”
Until the reunion, however, there is a little matter of a Sunshine Millions title to defend - - and Hoffman will look to turn the tables on rival Romacaca, who defeated Hooh Why last out in the seven and a half furlong South Beach Stakes, at Gulfstream Park.
“Romacaca is a very tough mare and I hate to have to run against her,” admits Hoffman. “My hats off to Romacaca, Danny Miller (trainer) and Frank Calabrese (owner). She was supposed to be sold as a broodmare and Frank bought her back and I cringed because I knew she'd be in the Sunshine Millions with me.”
A repeat of last year’s event when Speak Easy Gal, who also returns, and Romacaca hooked up on the front end would be ideal for Hoffman.
“When we beat Romacaca in the Sunshine Millions, she was up on the front end battling and set it up for us as we came from off the pace,” recalls Hoffman. “I'm sure Speak Easy Gal will take care of the speed once again and we'll be sitting off the pace. One thing for sure, it will be a fun race to watch.”
And Hoffman is hopeful that Hooh Why, who leaves behind a legacy of races worth watching again and again, will provide him with another road warrior.
“I hope Hooh Why and her sister gets in foal and I can have some fun with their babies. They'll be spoiled little kids,” he says. “I don't have any children, so they'll be my grandchildren. I'm looking forward to it.”
Racing fans can watch and wager on Saturday's Sunshine Millions card, headlined by the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic bout featuring Ron the Greek and Mucho Macho Man, via HorsePlayer Interactive.
FIELD FOR THE SUNSHINE MILLIONS FILLY & MARE TURF
POST / HORSE / JOCKEY / TRAINER
1 / Hooh Why / Ronald Dale Allen, Jr. / Nick Gonzalez
2 / Romacaca / Francisco Torres / Danny Miller
3 / Speak Easy Gal / Luis Saez / Martin Wolfson
4 / Millennia / Joe Rocco, Jr. / David Fawkes
5 / Regalo Mia / Javier Castellano / Michelle Nihei
6 / Refining / Juan Leyva / Philip Gleaves
7 / Callmethesqueeze / Jesus Sanchez / Manuel Azpurua