AUBURN – Emerald Downs trainer Tom Wenzel has settled into a comfortable routine of taking time off after the season ends, spending more time with his family rather than training at another racetrack.
But Wenzel has said if he trained a horse good enough to run in the biggest races, he would happily keep training.
That horse could be Stopshoppingdebbie, the undefeated 4-year-old filly who, if not the best horse on the grounds, is at least the biggest story entering the track’s 19th season.
Wenzel isn’t looking beyond this Emerald Downs season, but the horse’s owner, Jerre Paxton of Northwest Farms, is.
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“We would like to try her in the Breeders’ Cup,” he said of the $2 million Ladies Classic that will be held Oct. 31 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., and is the biggest race for fillies and mares in North America.
Paxton said he doesn’t know how Stopshoppingdebbie would do against the best fillies and mares in the world, but he figures she deserves the opportunity to find out if she continues to win.
She will be heavily favored to do that once she returns to the races, most likely on May 11 in the Hastings Handicap.
If last year is any indication, she will be tough to beat. After winning her only race as a 2-year-old, Stopshoppingdebbie won four stakes races last season and was named 3-year-old filly of the meet. She didn’t have to look far to scope out her top competition. That came from barnmates Goin to the Window and Blueberry Smoothie, with those two finishing either second or third in each of the four races.
“We really liked all three of the fillies, and I really thought that Goin to the Window might get her one time,” Wenzel said. “But Stopshoppingdebbie is so smart and professional, along with being really talented, and that moved her ahead of the other two last year.”
Stopshoppingdebbie proved she could win a sprint or a route race. She proved she could win taking the early lead or coming from off the pace. And when she faced adversity, she showed the heart of a champion.
That moment came in the Kent Handicap on July 14 at 1 1/16 miles. Stopshoppingdebbie went to the early lead but was pressured throughout by Gointothewindow, who overtook Stopshoppingdebbie briefly at the top of the stretch.
Horses usually don’t come back after being overtaken, but Stopshoppingdebbie did. She went on to win by a head under jockey Rocco Bowen, the rider in all four of Stopshoppingdebbie’s wins last year.
“She’s got a lot of heart,” Bowen said. “She’s a filly, but she has the heart of a colt. It’s one thing to have heart, but she has the talent too, and that makes her very special.”
If there was still a doubt who the top filly was in Wenzel’s barn, the debate ended when Stopshoppingdebbie won the Washington Oaks by 3 lengths over Blueberry Smoothie, with Gointothewindow another 2 lengths back.
“Nothing rattles her,” Wenzel said. “ I think she is the best filly I have had. I am going to try to get her as fast as I can, but it’s up to her to continue the natural progression.”
Stopshoppingdebbie’s success is really no surprise. She was bred to be great, as was Gointothewindow and Blueberry Smoothie. Paxton takes some of top local mares and breeds them with top sires in North America in Kentucky.
Stopshoppingdebbie’s mother is Taste the Passion, who won a pair of stakes races as a 2-year-old at Emerald Downs in 1999, and her father is Curlin, the 2007 Preakness winner who was twice the North American horse of the year and has shown great promise as a sire.
Paxton said he wanted to breed Taste the Passion to a horse out of the Mr. Prospector line, and Curlin is a grandson of the legendary sire.
Although Paxton isn’t sure how he came up with the name Stopshoppingdebbie, he said his wife, Debbie, has no problems with the name. Paxton had high hopes for Stopshoppingdebbie, but even he is surprised how easily she does everything.
“I was a bit surprised how much of a push-button horse she is,” Paxton said, referring to how she responds for Bowen. “She is the right kind of horse.”
Wenzel said he doesn’t feel extra pressure to help keep Stopshoppingdebbie undefeated, but it’s clear he has big things in mind at Emerald before a possible move to the big stage.
“We are going to make the races here a priority,” Wenzel said. “But it would be exciting and fun to go somewhere big with a good horse.”
Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943