At 13, Mainland Key N probably has reached an age where he'd rather kick back, nosh carrots and binge-watch Season 3 of Mr. Ed. But trainers keep claiming him—he's performed for eight of them this season alone—so the old boy keeps working...and keeps producing.
In fact, when he goes forward in Saturday's third race at The Meadows, he'll be looking to edge closer to $900,000 in career earnings, an impressive bank account for a hard knocker. He'll leave from post 8 for Dan Rawlings and owner/trainer John Sullivan. First post is 1:05 p.m.
Mainland Key N had 26 starts and a little more than $20,000 on his card when he was imported from New Zealand. He sparkled stateside, competing against some of the best. The son of Shiney Key-Eastwood Bluejeans enjoyed his finest season in 2011 when he banked more than $200,000 and sprang a 32-1 upset in a leg of the prestigious George Morton Levy Series. He's taken season's marks at five different venues—Dover Downs, Harrington, Harrah's Philadelphia, The Meadows, Yonkers—indicating that he never had to take his racetrack with him to succeed.
While he's stayed largely sound, diminishing speed has forced trainers to race him where he can win—in claimers. That's how he ended up in eight stables this year—10, if you count the two stints each for trainers Kevin Johnson and Marcus Marashian. Sullivan grabbed him Oct. 6 for $10,000.
"I wasn't concerned that he's 13," Sullivan says. "He still has a whole year to race, and he's pretty sound. I had a couple other horses in for $10,000, and this guy was always beating me. He'd already earned about $50,000 this year, so I figured he had to be worth $10,000. He still starts 30 to 40 times a year, and he's definitely a classy old horse. He has to be, to have made that kind of money."
Mainland Key N has seven wins this year and has hit the board in 21 of 33 outings, but he's had little recent luck with post positions. Counting Saturday's race, he's drawn post 6 or deeper for nine of his last 10 races, prompting Sullivan to make a change.
"He loses interest when he gets away towards the back, so I dropped him to the $7,000-$8,000 claiming handicap. Sure enough, he drew post 8 again."
Sullivan, by the way, has become something of the go-to guy for geriatrics. He also trains 9-year-old Thiswayorthehighwy, who's banked $212,651, and Sam Hill, a fan favorite who at age 12 has earned $634,827 and continues to compete in fast classes.
"I try to get them back together and do what I can for them," Sullivan says. "I think I've helped a couple of them. They have bumps and bruises, so you have to pick your spots when you train them. But they're warhorses. They know what to do." (The Meadows)