Horse racing is all about the Triple Crown, three races for 3-year-olds held over a five-week period. The vast majority of trainers never get there, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.
Ed Moger Jr., 67, has been a trainer for more than four decades. He has had more than 15,000 starts and is approaching 2,000 winners. His horses have won over $36 million. But he has never started a horse in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes or Belmont Stakes.
Until this year.
His horse Chase the Chaos got an all-expenses paid trip to the Preakness last month by winning the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. He also received 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for winning the race. Not that he’s getting greedy, but now he might be thinking about qualifying for the most famous horse race in the world.
“I’ve never seen a horse come so close,” said Moger, who began training in 1976. “I’m only one race away.”
Chase the Chaos will be one of 10 horses expected to post Saturday in the Grade 2 $400,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, with the winner earning 50 Derby qualifying points and a virtually assured spot in the Kentucky Derby. Second place is worth 20 points and if you have another 10 points in the bench you will be right on the bubble to qualify for the field.
Moger is pleased no matter how Chase the Chaos fares on Saturday. He will not be chasing more Derby points.
“In the back of my mind after this race I will probably just wait for the Derby of Preakness before riding it again,” said Moger. “I just need to know where we stand against better horses.”
The San Felipe is one of four graded stakes on Saturday’s 12-race card. The headliner, at least historically, is the Santa Anita Handicap, better known as the Big ‘Cap. It was the country’s first $1 million race, but being sandwiched between the $20 million Saudi Cup and $12 million Dubai World Cup has reduced the quality of the field and the purse has shrunk to $500,000.
And Moger also registered a horse there. Stilleto Boy has made a career out of finishing second and third behind some of the best older horses in the country, including the retired Flightline and Country Grammer. He has finished third in the Pegasus World Cup for the past two years and is still looking for his first Grade 1 win.
Stilleto Boy came to Moger’s barn when his brother, Steve, bought the horse for $420,000.
“He didn’t even ask me because he knew I’d tell him ‘no’,” Ed said of buying the horse. “I thought he spent too much money. But it worked out. He’s doing great.”
Moger says Stilleto Boy is by far the best horse he has trained.
Moger is not well known in Southern California because he trains in Northern California, although he brings a series of horses to Del Mar each summer. He currently has 38 horses in his stable.
Moger is also a board member of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.
“Ed has been a valued board member from the North for a long time,” said Gary Fenton, president of the TOC. “He gives his time and is always there for the TOC on anything north or south.
“To see him take a horse and take it outside of California’s comfort zone is exciting to watch. It means you know he has a quality horse.”
Fenton admits that Moger has kind of flown under the radar.
“The Jonathon Wongs and Jerry Hollendorfers seemed to eclipse him (in Northern California),” Fenton said. “They were the ones making headlines. Ed has always had a big thong but never seemed to get the attention he deserved.”
A win in the San Felipe or Santa Anita Handicap would certainly diminish any shadow over Moger, but it’s unlikely to change him.
“I wanted to win races,” explained Moger as to why he got into racing. “I enjoyed it and I worked hard. For the first 15 years I was the groom and trainer of every horse.”
On Thursday, he was the one who drove Chase the Chaos and Stilleto Boy from Golden Gate Fields to Santa Anita.
Asked when he thought he’d made it as a trainer, Moger wasn’t boastful.
“Never,” said Moger. “When you train horses, you never think you’ve made it. There are just too many ups and downs. Of course I wanted to have better horses, but that’s not easy. It’s not just having the money (to buy them); you also need a lot of luck.
He’ll need some of that luck on Saturday with Chase the Chaos at 12-1 on the morning line behind favorite National Treasure at 3-1. National Treasure is one of four horses previously trained by Bob Baffert who were moved to Tim Yakteen’s barn in order to qualify for Derby Qualifiers.
Stilleto Boy is seen as having a better chance of winning his race given the morning line chance of 5-1, just outside the 7-2 line given to the favorite Defunded. There are 11 starters in the Big ‘Cap.
Moger has one advantage over all Southern California-based trainers and horses. He has been able to train in Golden Gate while the rain closed Santa Anita for training for almost a week.
Should Chase the Chaos do the unlikely and win the San Felipe and qualify for the Kentucky Derby, Moger will have to brush up on what Derby week in Louisville is all about.
He has only been to one Kentucky Derby, as a spectator in 1990, when it was won by Unbridled. But it’s a good bet he’d find it well worth the wait.