As C.R. Trout strolled through the Keeneland tunnel after Thursday's Grade I Vinery Madison Stakes, he did his best to digest how he — the small-time owner, breeder and trainer from Oklahoma — had managed to pull off a fairy tale of a feat at one of Thoroughbred racing's most historic tracks.
"I don't know if there are words to express it," the amiable horseman exclaimed.
Some of the best and worst aspects of Thoroughbred racing were showcased during the 10th running of the $300,000, 7-furlong Vinery Madison. Shotgun Gulch (11-1) edged Amen Hallelujah with a head-bob at the wire to secure the first career Grade I victory for Trout and prevent what would have been an awkward winner's circle presentation had the photo gone the other way.
Rick Dutrow Jr., trainer of Amen Hallelujah, was denied a racing license by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Wednesday, which normally would have forced the filly to be scratched because state rules prohibit a change of trainer after entries have been taken.
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On Thursday afternoon, however, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd granted a temporary injunction against the racing commission and gave the connections 30 days to arrange for another trainer on the grounds that the owners — specifically Whizway Farm — would suffer "irreparable injury" if the horse was not allowed to race.
Amen Hallelujah is owned by IEAH Stables, Whizway Farm and Robert Teel.
Only minutes before the Madison went to post, it was announced that Justin Sallusto would be the trainer of record for the 4-year-old daughter of Montbrook.
Chief state steward John Veitch said they received Sallusto's paperwork by fax and were able to license him in Kentucky shortly before the Madison.
"It was the interpretation of the commission that the horse could run but Dutrow could not be licensed," Veitch said. "There is nothing explicitly that says there can't be a transfer (of trainer) at the time of entry although that's the way it's been interpreted.
"The IEAH people were trying to figure out who they wanted to go down as trainer. Justin is their trainer in Pennsylvania and does work for them in Maryland and New Jersey. It wasn't until sometime before the seventh race we got his licensing material."
Sallusto was not on the grounds for the race, leaving jockey John Velazquez as the sole person to answer questions in the wake of the filly's runner-up effort.
"No one," was Velazquez's response when asked who gave him pre-race instructions.
When asked whether he had talked with the trainer after the race, Velazquez replied, "Who is the trainer?"
A statement from commission spokesman Dick Brown said Dutrow was in Kentucky, but Veitch said he was told by Dutrow's lawyers the controversial trainer was at Aqueduct in New York on Thursday.
In addition to clearing the way for Amen Hallelujah to race Thursday, the injunction also allows Grade I winner Court Vision — who is also trained by Dutrow and owned by IEAH — to start in the Grade I Maker's Mark Mile on Friday. Sallusto will also be the trainer of record for Court Vision.
All of that pre-race controversy nearly came to an even more complicated head once the race reached its final stages.
After splitting horses in the stretch to gain a short lead inside the final furlong, Amen Hallelujah was reeled in by Shotgun Gulch in the final strides as the latter mounted a furious charge from last in the nine-horse field.
As the daughter of Thunder Gulch finished in 1:24.14, she set off a wild range of emotions for Trout, who has a barn of about 20 horses in his care — all of which he owns himself.
"I'm the only owner and only trainer," Trout said. "I wish I had some owners, but no one wants to let me train."
That might change for Trout shortly.
Bred in Oklahoma, Shotgun Gulch had lost four straight since winning the Oklahoma Classics Filly Sprint Stakes last October, but she had knocked heads with Grade I winner Switch and graded-stakes winner Havre de Grace along the way.
Though Shotgun Gulch had never started over a synthetic course, Trout said he felt the 7-furlong distance of the Madison was ideal for his improving filly.
"Watching her grow up the way she has, she really did most of this on her own in spite of me," Trout said with a laugh. "I did think she had a good shot in the stretch. She kept wanting to lug in but she finished good. She performed today."
Shotgun Gulch improved her record to seven wins from 17 lifetime starts. She is most likely to make her next start in the Grade I Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on May 7.
While Shotgun Gulch's future in Kentucky seems fairly bright right now, Dutrow's Bluegrass saga probably has more chapters to come because he has appealed the original denial of his license.