In the final strides of the 2014 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland, Hard Not to Like's gray legs were cutting and slashing with a vengeance, driving toward the rail from behind a wall of horses and getting her frame a half-length in front of four other rivals in a wild finish.
The thought of being associated with that kind of excitement from a horse of such quality is what prompted Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner to devise a plan last summer to get involved in Thoroughbred racing. So, when Hard Not to Like came up for auction at Keeneland in November, they snagged her for $1.5 million in hopes of "having a lot of fun with it."
A previously scheduled business commitment will keep Fluor and Weiner from attending this year's Jenny Wiley on Saturday, but they still are banking on the day being their most jovial yet in the sport. Hard Not to Like, the second horse they ever purchased, will seek to defend her title in the Grade I race, this time carrying the colors of their Speedway Stable.
Hard Not to Like drew post five in a field of eight fillies and mares entered Wednesday and will attempt to join Intercontinental, who won the race in 2004 and 2005, as the only horses to repeat in the 11⁄16-mile Jenny Wiley.
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Fluor and Weiner are longtime friends and partners in Texas Crude Energy Inc., a Houston-based oil and gas exploration company. Their fathers were involved together in the horse business some 40 years ago and, after consulting with bloodstock agents John Adger and Marette Farrell, they decided it was time to pick up that torch.
"The idea was to buy a few proven fillies or mares that would be good broodmare prospects with the idea we would race them until we decide to breed them or put them in a sale at some point," said Fluor, whose father was a part owner in two-time Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged in the late 1970s. "Aside from the broodmare prospects, we had hoped we would acquire some with good racing ability.
"When (Hard Not to Like) won the Jenny Wiley last year, it was a wonderful gutsy effort on her part. That impressed us. We loved the race she won. She's a grand looking mare. And in her mind she won her first race for us."
Now trained by Christophe Clement after previously being conditioned by Michael Matz, Hard Not to Like made her first start since her Jenny Wiley triumph last April and her first outing for her new connections when she started in the Grade II Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 31.
The 6-year-old daughter of Hard Spun crossed the wire first, three-quarters of a length in front of Testa Rossi, but was disqualified to second after coming out sharply late. Still, the fact she ran a winning race in her first start off the layoff was validation that, 17 starts into her career, she has plenty more upside.
"She was very unlucky to be taken down that day, but she's done everything right since," said Lee Vickers, assistant to Clement. "She's training perfect. All she has to do is repeat that kind of run and she'll be in good shape. And she can handle a bit of cut in the ground, so rain shouldn't be an issue."
Fluor, who grew up in Pasadena, Calif., remembers his father taking him to Santa Anita Park to watch training in the mornings, "but he had to take me for doughnuts afterward or I wouldn't go," he said, laughing.
With five horses now under the Speedway banner, including Canadian champion Leigh Court purchased for $1 million at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton November Sale, Fluor and Weiner don't need any more arm-twisting to keep increasing their racing presence.
"There won't be any more fun people to be in the game than Peter and K.C.; both are real sportsmen," said Adger, who served as racing manager for Stonerside Stable before the elite operation was sold to Darley in 2008. "Now we've just got to get them in the winner's circle."