In Flashy Lassie, trainer Garry Simms sees a filly with a lot of good days ahead of her — a proven stakes winner with the temperament and ability he hopes will only blossom on a larger stage.
All of that bodes especially well for her 59-year-old conditioner. Because each time Flashy Lassie takes a positive step in her development, it helps Simms maintain his progress in his own, much more consequential race.
An adage suggests the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man, and Simms will be among the first to testify to the merits of that. The Louisville-based trainer has been battling multiple myeloma — a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow — for nearly two years but is still a regular presence at his Churchill Downs barn, even as the cancer's location in his spine limits the stable duties he can perform.
Despite going through countless radiation and chemotherapy treatments to fight an illness that has no cure, Simms emphatically declared Tuesday he "couldn't be better," an attitude brought on in no small part by the fact that a certain chestnut filly in his care is also in good form.
Flashy Lassie, who captured the Grade III Debutante Stakes at Churchill on June 25, is one of three stakes winners entered in an overflow field of 15 for Friday's Grade I, $400,000 Darley Alcibiades on the opening day of Keeneland's Fall Meet.
Brereton Jones' Tu Endie Wei, undefeated in two starts at Woodbine — both stakes races — and Frolic's Revenge, winner of the Lindsay Frolic Stakes in August at Calder, also are expected to vie for favoritism in the field.
When Flashy Lassie won the 6-furlong Debutante as the longest shot on the board at odds of 17-1, it marked the first stakes winner Simms had ever saddled at Churchill.
The victory gave Simms legitimate reason to think he could have a Breeders' Cup starter on his hands come November. It also gave him renewed faith he would be around in November, period.
"There is an old saying that as long as you got a good 2-year-old in the barn, a good trainer never dies," Simms said Tuesday. "So yeah, she keeps the spirits good. She's a lovely little filly to be around, and she's doing very well. And I'm wonderful right now."
Life-altering ailments can bring about life-changing perspective, something to which Simms will attest. Winning on the track is hardly the be-all and end-all for Simms, but it is still awfully nice to have a promising horse to fret over this time of year.
The betting public for the Debutante might have dismissed Flashy Lassie's 9-length victory in her career debut at Churchill Downs on May 13, but Simms' veteran eyes knew you don't get that kind of win in a 41/2-furlong race without having some kind of talent.
Though Flashy Lassie led every step in her debut, the daughter of Flashy Bull showed she could rate in the Debutante, rallying from next to last in the seven-horse field under Kent Desormeaux to win by a length.
"She had never done anything wrong, and I had a lot of confidence in her," Simms said of that outing. "I knew I needed some pace, and I got it, and Kent rode a beautiful race. She didn't really surprise me to be honest. I felt she was equal to anything in there at that time."
Even when Flashy Lassie suffered her first loss, a runner-up finish in the Mountaineer Juvenile Fillies Stakes on Aug. 6, Simms came away impressed with the way she rallied after jockey Rafael Bejarano had her at the back of the field through the first quarter.
Disappointed with Bejarano's handling of Flashy Lassie that day, Simms will reunite her with Desormeaux on Friday. The longtime trainer initially planned to have the two back together for Turfway's Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies on Sept. 24 but scratched the filly when he was unhappy with her No. 11 post position and the 6 extra pounds she would have carried over her rivals that day.
"Maybe 2 pounds I would have went for, but 6 pounds on a young filly at this time in her career was too much," Simms said. "I didn't feel good about it and, you know, I really want to see if she's good enough to go to the Breeders' Cup. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try, and my owner agreed. So we end up here."