When owner Alan Buzanowski says his horse El Ringer has a big head, he is speaking literally. Although, from the success enjoyed by the pacer in 2011, El Ringer’s head could have swelled figuratively as well.
Lightly raced as a youngster because of tendon issues, the 5-year-old El Ringer has won 18 of 30 races this season and earned $76,450. El Ringer, who has finished worse than second only one time this year while working his way from claiming races to the open at Saratoga Casino and Raceway, is tied for second place in victories among all horses in North America, trailing only Mack Hill’s 19 triumphs.
"It’s been a dream year,” said Buzanowski, a 58-year-old retired police officer from Schenectady, N.Y., who now lives in Saratoga Springs. “It would be nice if he could get one more (win). I was shocked to see he was on that list. That in itself is quite an accomplishment, for any horse. He’s got to have a heart the size of himself.”
Buzanowski and his ownership group, House of Cards Racing Stable, bought El Ringer in May after the horse won four of five starts at Thunder Ridge in Kentucky. El Ringer raced just eight times, winning once, prior to this year.
“We had purchased another horse (Colby Jate) through the same connections and he worked out pretty well for us,” Buzanowski said. “They offered me this horse for sale. We didn’t give a whole lot of money for him because he had some physical problems, some leg problems.
“We just hoped to have a mid-level claimer. We started him in the conditioned claimers. We were just going to run out the string, from the 10s to the 15s and just see where the chips fell. We figured we’d go the whole season going from the 10s to the 15s. We never expected what eventually took place.”
Trained by Margaret “Peg” Spagnola, El Ringer won his first six races for his new owners. The first four victories came in $10,000 conditioned claiming races, followed by two in $15,000 conditioned claimers. After three wins in his next five starts at the $15,000 conditioned claiming level, El Ringer moved to the $15,000 non-conditioned claiming ranks.
El Ringer won his first start at that level by a head, so the connections kept him there. He won his next race, but was claimed. When the new owners put El Ringer back in at $15,000, House of Cards re-claimed the horse and moved him up in class.
“It was a big sigh of relief in Saratoga,” said Buzanowski, who owns El Ringer with Paul Dilello, Mark Miller, Sue Ann Miller and Spagnola. “It’s tough figuring where they fit coming off the conditioned claimers. Putting him in the 15 seemed like the place to go. We never thought he would be that successful and realized we made a mistake.”
El Ringer’s success continued as he eventually worked his way to the open at Vernon Downs, where he finished second. He has since finished second four of five starts in the opens at Saratoga.
“We were still thinking he was a mid-level claimer when he got out of the conditioned claimers,” Buzanowski said. “We thought maybe we had a straight $10,000 claimer, but he just kept getting better. We figured if we ended up with a straight $10,000 claimer it was going to be a home run. Instead we just about hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series.”
A son of Artsplace, out of the Cam’s Card Shark mare Queens Over Jacks, El Ringer’s family includes multiple-stakes-winner Kiev Hanover.
Six times El Ringer has been beaten by less than a half-length, with four of those setbacks coming by a neck.
“This is his first real year of racing; he’ll probably learn with more experience,” Spagnola said. “He just likes to go. He was a very pleasant surprise. Every time we raced him he just kept going forward.
“He’s a fun horse,” added the trainer, who turns El Ringer out in a paddock with two donkeys. “He plays with you. He’s really huge, but very friendly. And he likes to eat.”
El Ringer’s skills as an eater got the horse attention away from the track as he was used on the syndicated “Free Beer and Hot Wings” morning radio show in a stunt called “Human Oat Bucket.” El Ringer ate sweet feed placed inside the shirt of the show’s producer.
“Around the barn he’s called ‘Big Head’ and seeing his head diving into that shirt was quite humorous,” Buzanowski said.
El Ringer will probably make one more start this year and then get some time off before resuming action in 2012. “I’ve never been disappointed in the horse since the day we got him,” Buzanowski said. “When they race hard, like El Ringer, he’s been unbelievable and definitely deserves a rest. Although, if you looked at him in the stall right now you wouldn’t believe he needed a rest.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed (for next year) and put him back in the box. We can’t expect to reproduce the number of wins, that would be an unbelievable thing to try to duplicate, but I think he’ll be a good solid open and top condition horse. If he can do that, we’ll be very, very happy.” (Harness Racing Communications)