In Bobo We Trust:’ Exercise Rider Brigmon Handles Smith’s Stars

In Bobo We Trust:’ Exercise Rider Brigmon Handles Smith’s Stars

Divine Huntress Representing Maryland in Black-Eyed Susan (G2)
G2 Winner Cilla Favored to Give Brinkman First Pimlico Stakes Win

BALTIMORE – Ten years after going to the Kentucky Derby (G1) with one of Hamilton Smith’s best colts, James ‘Bobo’ Brigmon finds himself at historic Pimlico Race Course for Preakness weekend with one of the trainer’s best fillies.

Brigmon is the regular exercise rider for Luna Belle, Smith’s stable star that takes a five-race win streak – all in stakes – into Friday’s $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2), where she is second choice in a field of 13 at morning line odds of 9-2.

From the 3-year-old filly, Brigmon gets a similar feeling that he had riding Grade 3 winner Done Talking, who brought the team to the 2012 Derby.

“It’s nice. I like it, especially with the nice horses when they walk out there and you can feel the horses and they know it’s something good for them,” Brigmon said. “Luna Belle walking out this morning, she swelled up a little bit and she was looking at the people and got her ears pricked and I was like, ‘She knows something’s going on.’ It feels good getting on them like that, the feeling that they give you walking out there and galloping around.”

Owned by Deborah Greene and Smith and bred in Maryland by Smith, Greene and her late father, Fred Greene Jr., Luna Belle galloped over the main track Wednesday, her first morning at Pimlico after making the short trip from Laurel Park where Smith is based. She went out shortly after the break, around 8:45, and Smith plans to do the same on Thursday.

“When they went on the track he backed her up to the backside and then they galloped around past the wire. She was pretty aggressive the first time and kind of had her head up wanting to do a little more than she had to,” Smith said. “She settled back in and the rest of the way she went fine. She’s always been aggressive in her gallops. She doesn’t try to run off so much, but he takes a pretty decent hold of her. That’s why I keep him on her all the time.”

In fact, Brigmon has been Smith’s go-to exercise rider almost since they first began working together 22 years ago. Brigmon, now 45, grew up near the Elloree Training Center in South Carolina, owned and operated by Smith’s older brother Frank, known as Goree.

“He started with my brother down there, born and raised right outside the training center. He’d go out there and weekends and after school and stuff and piddle around and pick up trash and whatever little kids might do, and then he got interested in the horses,” Smith said. “When he got big enough, when he started working as one of the grooms, he kind of took to the boys galloping. He thought they were having more fun than him. He wanted to learn how to gallop, so my brother taught him how to gallop.

“He does it all. He’s a great groom, good exercise rider – he can do everything. He could train on his own if he wanted to,” he added. “I can trust him with anything.”

“I started working on the farm for Mr. Goree when I was 13 or 14. My school bus used to go by his brother’s farm,” Brigmon said. “One day me and my cousin said, ‘We ought to go there and ask for a job.’ It was the summer coming up so we went in and asked for a job and they said, ‘Come on out.’ We started helping them out in the summertime and then we started going out after school and it went from there. He started sending me up the road with Hammy and his son Greg, and then I came to Maryland and stayed with Hambone.”

Brigmon embraces the racetrack life, so much so that after he spends the morning exercising horses for Smith he works as a valet during live race afternoons at Laurel and Pimlico for jockeys Feargal Lynch, Charlie Marquez, Bryson Butterfly and the injured Sheldon Russell. He’ll pick up Luis Saez and two-time Eclipse Award winner Julien Leparoux over Preakness weekend.

“Love it,” he said.

Jockey Denis Araujo has been aboard Luna Belle throughout her streak, and will get a leg up again Friday. Brigmon will watch from trackside, knowing the foundation he put into her each morning has been instrumental in her success.

“It’s just nice getting on her. She’s a nice filly,” he said. “She’s cool. She’s a smart horse, and she’s laid back. She doesn’t care about anything. She’s just professional.”

Divine Huntress Representing Home Team in Black-Eyed Susan (G2)

Luna Belle may be the best-known Maryland-bred in the state’s signature race for 3-year-old fillies – Friday’s $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) at historic Pimlico Race Course – but she isn’t the only one.

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Long Valley Stable’s Divine Huntress will be making her third straight start in a graded-stakes. The daughter of Divining Rod was bred in Maryland by Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Bowman, Rick Buckley and Joshua Dreiband.

Pimlico-based Buckley trained Divine Huntress for her first two starts, including her unveiling last November in a Laurel Park maiden special weight where she ran third. She was purchased privately after graduating by 2 ¼ lengths going seven furlongs Dec. 13 at Parx.

Graham Motion took over the training for Divine Huntress and she made her 3-year-old debut in a one-mile, 70-yard optional claimer Jan. 19, also at Parx, where she galloped home in hand by 12 ¾ lengths.

From there, the granddaughter of Hall of Fame sprinter Housebuster was a troubled ninth in the Feb. 19 Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds and fifth after pressing the pace in the April 9 Gazelle (G3) at Aqueduct, her only other try at the Black-Eyed Susan’s 1 1/8 miles.

“I was actually quite pleased with the Gazelle coming off the race in New Orleans, which was quite disappointing,” Motion said. “It was kind of an odd race where a horse [La Crete] got hurt in front of her, unfortunately. It seemed like [Divine Huntress] got a little bit off track and just didn’t finish up at all. I thought that she ran a much more professional race in the Gazelle and I want to give her another try at this level.”

Divine Huntress has breezed twice at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. since the Gazelle, but is familiar with Pimlico from her days with Buckley.

“She trained at Pimlico before we purchased her and always handled that track well,” Motion said. “She has done well since the Gazelle.”

G2 Winner Cilla Favored to Give Brinkman First Pimlico Stakes Win

Two races before he sends out Old Homestead in quest of his first official graded-stakes win as a trainer, Brett Brinkman will saddle a filly that – save for a technicality – would have given him his first such triumph.

The trainer’s 4-year-old Cilla, the 7-2 morning-line favorite to win Saturday’s $100,000 Skipat at historic Pimlico Race Course, won the Prioress (G2) at Saratoga last September. But, rather than deal with the red tape required to acquire a New York training license for what amounted to a single race, the Louisiana-based horseman handed her over to Charlton Baker, who received credit for the win.

Marablue Farm and Pegasus Stud’s Old Homestead could provide Brinkman with his first graded-stakes win in the $200,000 Chick Lang (G3), a six-furlong dash for 3-year-olds, also part of Saturday’s Preakness Day program. Old Homestead is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in a field of nine.

But Cilla will come first for Brinkman when she takes on fillies and mares in the six-furlong Skipat. The filly holds a special place in Brinkman’s heart. He not only raced the filly’s dam, Sittin At The Bar – a winner of more than $700,000 – but made the decision to breed her to two-time Horse of the Year and 2014 Preakness (G1) winner California Chrome.

“Cilla’s mother was my top horse,” Brinkman said of Sittin At The Bar. “When I nicked her to California Chrome, it was the Pulpit cross and the fact he was a freshman stallion that year that attracted me to him. It worked.”

The result was Cilla, winner of seven of 15 career starts and nearly $500,000 in earnings. Cilla opened her 4-year-old campaign with a pair of easy victories in listed stakes at Delta Downs before venturing to Keeneland and the Madison (G1). Cilla caught a muddy track and stiffer competition in the seven-furlong Madison, finishing sixth.

“We felt [the muddy track] did compromise her a little bit, just by the way she traveled over it,” Brinkman said. “And we were taking a shot at the Grade 1. We took a roll at it.”

Brinkman said “we just wanted to make things a little easier on her” by running in the Skipat, a race that should suit Cilla. She has won three of her four career starts at the six-furlong distance of the Skipat.

In the meantime, Brinkman said Sittin At The Bar has produced a Frosted baby and is in foal to red-hot sire Gun Runner, the 2017 Horse of the Year.

“She’s worthy, so we stepped her up,” Brinkman said.