Lombardi has first Crown starter in Rock N Tony
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Lombardi and Ruffolo can rest assured the name change has worked out well so far. As a freshman racing at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, Rock N Tony won six of 13 starts on his way to earning $233,575 for his connections. Tabbed the favorite in the $220,000 Indiana Sires Stakes Super Final last year, he finished second. Still, ‘Tony' showed he was capable of fast miles and love of competition.
"The thing with Tony is he's all heart. If you've ever seen him, he's not a very big colt. He's not a large, muscle-bound colt," Lombardi stated. "But his heart; the colt never stops. He's going to go all the way to the end. He's a thrill to own."
And the sophomore has provided his owners with plenty of thrills this season. In 16 starts the pacer has hit the board 13 times, including seven wins, and banked another $254,237 in earnings. While a bout of sickness caused him to be a bit dull in multiple starts this fall, Miller had the gelding in fine form with the big money on the line. Third choice in the $220,000 Indiana Sires Stakes Super Final, held Oct. 13, Rock N Tony turned in an impressive 1:51 performance with Trace Tetrick in the bike. The trainer had encouraged Lombardi to make the three and one-half hour trip to Anderson for the race.
"He told me, ‘I really think you need to come down here.' I said, ‘Erv, I just want a check,'" Lombardi said of staying home. "We won with both Rock N Tony and Meadow Brook Grace. It was a very bad decision on my part."
Last weekend, Rock N Tony made a statement in his $25,000 Breeders Crown elimination. Sent off at odds of 28-1, the gelding saved his best for when it counted most, pacing the mile in a lifetime best 1:50.2 to win by a length while paying $58. The victory secured a place in the $527,500 final Oct. 28, slated as Race 11 on the program. Once again, Miller had urged Lombardi to be there in person, and again he was absent from the winner's circle.
"Erv said, ‘You need to come down here, we're going to be good,'" added Lombardi. "I didn't go down, and lo and behold, you see what happened. When I saw the horse paid $58 I couldn't believe it. I was in shock."
Perhaps a superstitious man would stay away from Hoosier Park on Saturday night hoping to keep the good luck flowing. Lombardi, however, plans to be there to take in the atmosphere and cheer on his Indiana-sired champion in yet another big challenge. It's uncharted territory, but he's enjoying the experience.
"I've had quite a few horses with Erv, and he knew we were going here (Breeders Crown) in March. He was pretty high on this horse," the owner said. "Erv has known since the day this colt got off the trailer as a yearling that he really liked him. For us, this is a big thrill."
Lombardi knows that Saturday will be Rock N Tony's toughest test. The field has several top pacers, including millionaire Downbytheseaside. The owner hopes that his sophomore is fresh and peaking at just the right time to show well on his home track. And if this pacer with the big heart and endless endurance reaches the wire first, Lombardi will be one of the happiest men in central Indiana.
"Obviously the one to beat is Downbytheseaside. Can we? We need a trip. We're going to do the best we can to give him a run," Lombardi stated. "Tony is right at the right time. That field, they're all good. Anybody can win. I think a lot of those colts are tired. We are not; we have never been better. Hopefully we'll get a nice trip and see what happens from there."
It's been a long wait to return to the Breeders Crown. There have been times where horses owned by Lombardi have looked promising only to bow out of the end-of-season championships for any number of reasons. Perhaps Rock N Tony will reward him for his patience Saturday. (Hoosier Park)