In the morning, he gallops along the inside of the track. He is a tank, but the word "compact" still dares come to mind. His smooth, dark bay coat barely contains the muscle sculpted underneath. Each stride explodes with the immediacy of a top one-turn runner.
Sometimes a horse's name just fits, and such is the case with Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint entrant Vision Perfect.
And yet, despite Vision Perfect's textbook sprint build, his running lines had more to do with Vision Perfect finding his way to owner Ron Lombardi (whose nom de course is Mr. Amore Stable, in memory of the first racehorse he ever had) and trainer Jason Servis on June 4, 2017. "Ron picked him out," Servis remembered. "Ron called me, said there's a horse in today. Take a look at the paper, and see what you think of him."
Servis liked what he saw. "He was a big, good looking horse. Eighty was a lot of money. It wasn't like they were trying to get rid of the horse, it looked like a move that was just, a move that time of the year."
Before coming to Servis's barn, Vision Perfect did most of his running in mile and route races, even winning in stakes company at ages two and three. He had begun to dabble in six- and seven-furlong grass races by the time Servis and Lombardi claimed him, though he only got the chance to display his prowess in five-furlong turf dashes in his new barn. Vision Perfect got his first graded stakes victory earlier this year, winning the Grade 3 Parx Dash, fighting to get up by a nose over Pool Winner.
Servis and Lombardi have worked together for about a decade, building a reputation for finding and developing promising horses from the claiming ranks. It all started with a little persistence, and a little luck.
"I claimed a horse for him who was no good," recalls Servis. "We claimed, and had to retire them. The first two were no good, so, he wasn't backing down. A lot of guys would have said, maybe this isn't the business for me."
Not Lombardi; he had a persistent and realistic attitude, and that reaped dividends. The third horse he claimed, a $30,000 claim at Monmouth in June of 2008, was American Border. She won an allowance the next month, and come October, she would bring Servis and Lombardi both their first graded stakes victory when she rallied up the rail in the Grade 3 Violet Stakes that October.
Their next graded stakes horse came seven years later -- with another turf sprinter they claimed. Tightend Touchdown, a $35,000 claim in January of 2013, went on to finish a dead-heat second in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) later that same year. He was their first introduction to racing's biggest weekend. Like Vision Perfect this year, Tightend Touchdown came into the 2013 Breeders' Cup off of a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Turf Monster at Parx.
Since then, Servis and Lombardi have not been strangers at the Breeders' Cup. Tightend Touchdown returned to the Turf Sprint the next year, and then Firenze Fire contested last year's Juvenile. This year, Vision Perfect is one of two runners the pair sends out.
Firenze Fire also returns, and will be a strong contender in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. However, unlike Vision Perfect, they didn't find Firenze Fire in the claim box. Lombardi bred Firenze Fire, and has been doing enough breeding lately to consider getting involved in sales.
Still, even Firenze Fire ties back to his connections' roots in the claiming ranks. At the mere mention that Firenze Fire was a Mr. Amore homebred, Servis perked up and dug in. "Yeah, but we claimed the mare! Ron picked her out."
And, even as Firenze Fire and Vision Perfect keep Servis and Lombardi competing at the highest levels of horse racing, they stay active at the claim box, even if claiming the right horse isn't easy.
On October 7, 2017, Firenze Fire scored a half-length victory in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont. The race was cause for celebration: the first top-level win for both Servis and Lombardi. Many would have stayed in New York to celebrate, but they already had plans. Montclair, a stakes-placed turf router, had dropped in for $5,000 for the first time.
Many owners would balk at the move, but Lombardi was fearless. They won a two-way shake. As happens so often with them, Montclair turned out to be a sharp claim. He crossed the wire first in the Little Magician Stakes on February 17 though was disqualified to second. Currently Montclair carries a four-win streak, all in routes on the grass, and has been nominated for the Claiming Crown.
"That's Ron. We win a Grade 1 and drive over to Meadowlands and claim one for five."
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