LOUISVILLE — As if trainer Helen Pitts needed any more proof of what a rare gem she has in Einstein, the six-year-old horse provided all the evidence necessary on June 14.
Licensing problems with his owners prevented Einstein from running in the Grade I Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park on June 7, but the turf star ran second to reigning Horse of the Year Curlin on the dirt in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs one week later.
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On Friday, Einstein will put his exceptional versatility to the test again when he faces six challengers in the $200,000, Grade II Firecracker Handicap on the turf at Churchill.
The dark bay son of Spend a Buck will be back on his preferred surface, but the one-mile distance is not ideal for his marathon runner's style.
However, Einstein showed in the Stephen Foster that he doesn't have to be in his comfort zone to unleash a big effort. On April 11, the multiple Grade I winner came within a length of beating defending Breeders' Cup Mile champion Kip Deville when he finished second in the Grade I Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland.
“With turf horses, very often they're one way or the other. They're either a miler or they'll get the distance, and it's very special to be able to have a horse like him,” Pitts said. “To be such a special horse, to be able to step up to the plate and run second to the best grass horse in the country and yet be able to get the 13⁄8 miles like he did at Gulfstream (in the Park Turf Stakes), it's very hard to have a horse that will do both like that.”
Einstein's multifaceted nature is a big reason why he has developed into one of the nation's leading turf horses in his fourth season of racing.
Although he notched his first Grade I win in 2006 when he set the course record for 17⁄16 miles in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Stakes, Einstein has been at his sharpest this year winning the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill and the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes.
Having to come back on three weeks rest after the Stephen Foster shouldn't be much of an obstacle for the veteran. He captured the Turf Stakes 21 days after running sixth in the Donn Handicap.
“If he runs a really hard race, I don't like to wheel him right back.” Pitts said. “But this being said, he ran hard in the Stephen Foster, this race is only a mile, and it's going to ideally set me up for the Arlington Million. That's my plan.
“He's the one that's going to tell me when he's ready to run, and he's doing great right now.”
Unfortunately for Pitts, one major outside factor has also influenced Einstein on the track.
Einstein is owned by Midnight Cry Stables, whose principals, Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion, were on trial for allegedly bilking millions of dollars from their former clients in a diet-drug settlement.
A federal judge declared a mistrial in their case on Thursday.
Because neither Cunningham nor Gallion were licensed in New York, Pitts had to withhold Einstein from running in the Manhattan.
“It's hard because the one I feel the worst for is him,” Pitts said. “Because, with New York being an example, I couldn't run when he was ready to run; he was dying to run.
“Yes, I still got to run a week later, and he ran his eyeballs out, but it's frustrating from my standpoint because I know how good he's doing. But we adjust, and we'll work around it.”
Einstein has won eight of 19 career starts with earnings of $1,297,931. He will carry a high weight of 124 pounds and concede 7-10 pounds to his Firecracker foes.
The main rival to Einstein appears to be Inca King, who is undefeated in three starts over the Matt Winn Turf Course, including a victory in the 11⁄16-mile Opening Verse Handicap on May 31.
A.P Xcellent, Thorn Song, Faith's Magic, Portuga, and Steven's Double round out the field.