By Ed Gray Photo Credit: Coglianese Photos
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – A cursory glance at Ruler On Ice’s consistently solid past performance lines in the Gulfstream Park program might lead one to assume that George and Lori Hall’s 4-year-old is a trainer’s dream.
To be sure, Ruler On Ice took Kelly Breen to the very top of the thoroughbred world last year, but the son of Roman Ruler has hardly been a pleasure to train.
“He’s a challenge,” said Breen, who will saddle Ruler On Ice against a star-studded cast, including Preakness winner Shackleford, in Saturday’s $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1). ‘We cope with him and we take it day by day.”
Obviously, Ruler On Ice has been worth every bit of time and energy his trainer has devoted to getting the very best out of a horse with chronic behavioral issues. The first course of action was to geld Ruler On Ice when he was a yearling.
“It was pretty much all because of behavioral issues,” Breen said. “It was to keep his feet on the ground and keep his mind on business when going to the track.”
As a result, Breen and owners George and Lori Hall had trouble keeping their feet on the ground last June when Ruler On Ice rewarded their patience with a triumph in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
“It was the best feeling of my life,” Breen said, “both surreal and awesome at the same time.”
Sent to post in the third leg of the Triple Crown at 24-1, Ruler On Ice became involved right from the start of the 1 ½ mile classic, closely stalking the pace set by Preakness winner Shackleford before kick in through the lane to score by three-quarters of a length.
“At times he has a little bit of trouble with the pace. He’s just not that quick out of the gate,” said Breen, who trains more than 30 horses for the Halls. “He was more forwardly placed in a race like the Belmont because they went the first half mile in :49 as opposed to :47-and-change, but he’s pretty honest.”
Ruler On Ice didn’t win again in 2011, but he made his presence felt in major stakes, including a third-place finish in the Haskell (G1), a fourth in the Travers (G1), a second in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
In the Classic, Ruler On Ice was bumped at the start and raced far back early before making a strong run to finish third, 2 1 /2 lengths behind victorious Drosselmeyer. He made one final start last year in an uncharacteristically dull fifth in the Clark Handicap (G1), after which a lung infection was discovered.
The Kentucky-bred gelding, who has been first, second or third in nine of 12 starts and has earned $1.6 million in purses, has trained sharply at Palm Meadows Training Center for his 2012 debut.
Rosie Napravnik, who rode the Breen-trained Pants on Fire for a victory in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds last year, will ride Ruler on Ice for the first time.
“She’s been riding up at storm at Fair Grounds,” said Breen, whose gelding had been ridden last year by Jose Valdivia and, most recently, Garrett Gomez. “With Garrett Gomez out (with an injury), it’s an opportunity to go with Rosie.”
Ruler On Ice isn’t the only horse who has presented a challenge for Breen. My Adonis has mystified his trainer at times, including during his recent third-place finish in the Holy Bull (G3).
“He’s also a horse I’ve thought has a lot of promise. At times, I don’t know if he gives me 100 percent all the time. If you watched the race in the Holy Bull, he dropped more than 20 lengths out of it,” Breen said. “He was just kind of content with just being back there. It’s like, ‘Hey, buddy, the race is running in front of you, let’s go.’ Elvis said he kicked it in when he wanted to start running. It was a little discouraging race for me watching it.
“He did something similar in his first lifetime race. He dropped way out it when he got dirt kicked in his face and he got discouraged. In his previous race, he went ding-donging it on the front with a half mile in :45 on the bullring track at Delta Downs. So, he’s another one that I need a psychiatrist for.”
Breen said a decision has yet to be made concerning the 3-year-old’s next start.
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