So far, so very good for Skychai Racing and trainer Mike Maker with Special Ops. The well-traveled Big Brown gelding, who will start from the outside in the G2 Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup at Laurel Park tomorrow, has finished third and won twice since Skychai claimed him for $50,000 on June 18 at Churchill Downs.
The $200,000 Baltimore/Washington International, formerly run as the Commonwealth Turf Cup, drew a field of eight for the one-mile turf stake that is part of the Class on the Grass program. Daniel Centeno will ride Special Ops. This will be the horse's first visit to Laurel Park, but the 12th track he has competed on in his career.
The success since the claim and Maker’s decision to add blinkers has yielded $100,820 in purse earnings and connected Special Ops to the Skychai/Maker claim of Da Big Hoss in 2015.
Da Big Hoss, who is recovering from an ankle injury suffered in training in April, has won eight of 12 starts, five of them in Graded stakes and earned over $1 million.
Special Ops was third in his debut for Skychai and Maker, a listed stakes at Indiana Grand on July 15. He won the West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker’s Cup Stakes on Aug. 5 at Mountaineer Park and held on to win by a neck in a starter allowance at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 10.
“We’ve had good luck on Father’s Day. We claimed this one on Father’s Day, the same as we did Da Big Hoss,” said Harvey Diamond, the retired Louisville physician, who is a principal with Jim Shircliff in Skychai. “I don’t know if this guy is the Big Hoss, but he’s a 6-year-old and he seems to have a lot of strengths. He pretty much bounces back from races very well. He came out of the race, the $75,000 starter race at Kentucky Downs, in good shape. Once again, we were lucky making the claim.”
Maker has developed a solid reputation with his ability to turn claimers into Graded winners, especially on turf. Da Big Hoss is his biggest success, but his list of claimers-to-stakes winners includes Bigger Picture, Oscar Nominated, Al’s Gal and Taghleeb.
The Da Big Hoss claim was an impulse move by Diamond, Shircliff and Maker, who ended up with their star in a four-way shake, but the Special Ops acquisition was more calculated.
“This was kind of a consensus between us,” Diamond said. “I was in England at the time but was following what was going on here. I think Mike and Jim went to the track and took a look at him and liked what they saw. So the next thing you know we dropped a claim.”
Diamond said that Skychai has five horses at present and typically has four or five investors in its horses.