In this summer of Royals Retrenchment and Waiting for Whitlock, here’s something to cheer about.
It’s not close by. But that doesn’t really matter. It’s a universal story that can be embraced by anybody anywhere.
The heroine is a three-year-old filly named Lisa’s Booby Trap (more about that in a minute), who has surmounted a club foot and blindness in one eye to become, in a matter of weeks, the most closely watched racehorse in America.
The hero is her owner and trainer, Tim Snyder, who bought the horse for $4,500 ($2,000 down, $2,500 if she won a race) after the breeder had given up on the horse.
To give you the gist — and the glory — of the situation, Lisa’s Booby Trap has won four straight races, with the most recent win coming Friday in a stakes race at prestigious Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York. She paid $5 to win on a $2 bet; the jockey was Kent Desormeaux. Earlier, she had won three races in a row at the relatively small Finger Lakes Racetrack in the same state.
The next step will be a much bigger test. She is scheduled to run at Saratoga on Saturday, Aug. 28, in a Grade III stakes race. Graded stakes are the highest levels of racing, with Grade I being the top, followed by grades two and three. But any graded race is a big deal.
New York racing fans were watching Lisa’s Booby Trap before her most recent win, but it was a New York Times story Friday morning (the day of the race) that catapulted her and her owner into celebrity status. Writer Bill Finley summed it up by saying, “Horse racing is the type of sport…where anything can happen, even a stakes victory at Saratoga by a horse that was a lost cause, with an owner and trainer who never had much more than $2,000 rolled up in his boot.”
Now for the backdrop. Snyder, who is in his 50s, has spent a good part of his life working with “claimers,” the lowest level of racing, where horses can be purchased at set prices before a given race. After the race, the new owner (or trainer) leads the horse away to his barn, while the previous owner gets the prize money, if the horse was fortunate enough to finish in the money.
Snyder’s life changed in 2003, when his wife, Lisa, died of ovarian cancer. Snyder, as Finley told it, went off to California, where he worked odd jobs for a few years and tried to regain his bearings. He returned to Finger Lakes to work for another trainer but set his sights on getting a horse of his own.
From a friend, he ended up buying an unnamed horse the friend had obtained from a breeder. Because of the club foot, the horse had an awkward gait. In addition to the blind eye, she had a shoulder problem. In an interesting juxtaposition, Snyder named her for his late wife and also for a chain of strip clubs in South Florida that he patronizes.
Stuck with the horse’s inherent defects, Snyder began experimenting with different shoes, and, lo and behold, he found a combination that worked. Just like that, Lisa’s Booby Trap began her Cinderella-like transformation.
“The big outfits, the big farms,” Snyder told Finley, “they take a horse like that and push her to the end of the line. If she didn’t have those problems, I’d never have gotten her.”
So, chalk one up for a little guy with a lot of perseverance and for a club footed filly who wanted to run and just needed the right shoes.
What a story it would be if Lisa’s booby Trap won on Aug. 28 and then went on to run in a Breeders Cup race, the world championships, at Churchill Downs in November. People from California to South Florida would be watching and rooting.