A new kind of champion for Aspen | AspenTimes.com

A new kind of champion for Aspen

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
In this photo provided by Benoit Photo, Craig Stables' Home Sweet Aspen and jockey Joel Rosario, right, hold off Sugarinthemorning and jockey Rafael Bejarano, left, to win the Grade I, $300,000 Santa Moncia Stakes horse race, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012, at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia Calif. (AP Photo/Benoit Photo) NO SALES
AP | Benoit Photo

ASPEN – A Super Bowl champion was crowned Sunday night in Indianapolis, but Aspen might have a champion of its own in the form of a 4-year-old filly who shares the city’s name.

Home Sweet Aspen, owned by retired fitness guru and part-time Aspenite Jenny Craig, sped to victory in the Santa Monica Stakes, a prestigious $300,000 contest Jan. 28 at the Santa Anita Park racetrack in Arcadia, Calif.

It was a thrilling affair as Home Sweet Aspen went to the front in the seven-furlong dirt sprint, then briefly gave up the lead in the first quarter-mile. She went back to the front, slowed the pace on the turn, kicked into another gear in the stretch and fended off a game challenge from Sugarinthemorning to win by a neck.

“It was quite a win,” Craig said in a phone interview Saturday from her primary home near Del Mar racetrack in Southern California. “It was so exciting. Home Sweet Aspen showed me that she had a lot of heart because she was caught on the inside on the rail, and she just kept coming back. That other horse (Sugarinthemorning) was trying her best to pass her, but she wouldn’t let her by.

“She just decided she was going to win this. She put her head down and went to work.”

The Santa Monica Stakes was the first Grade I victory of the lightly raced filly’s career. Graded-stakes races carry the highest purses and typically are won only by top-class Thoroughbreds. With the winner’s share of $180,000, the Kentucky-bred filly doubled her lifetime earnings to $355,822.

By finishing the race in 1 minute and 21.42 seconds, Home Sweet Aspen earned a 103 speed rating, the best of her nine races. She now owns a record of four wins and three seconds, finishing out of the money in only two starts. In the Santa Monica, she went off at nearly 6 to 1, the fourth betting choice of seven fillies and mares ages 4 and older, returning $13.60 to win on a $2 bet.

John W. Sadler trains Home Sweet Aspen, and jockey Joel Rosario has held the reins in all of her starts. Foaled on Feb. 16, 2008, Home Sweet Aspen did not race as a 2-year-old in 2010.

Craig said she and an assistant came up with the name about three years ago when Craig was renovating a house just outside of Aspen on Primrose Path near Aspen Chapel. The “sweet” part comes from the filly’s disposition and also her bloodline: Home Sweet Aspen is a daughter of the sire Candy Ride, another great runner owned by Craig Stables.

“I don’t name them as soon as they’re born,” Craig said of the many horses from the Kentucky breeding operation she started with her late husband Sidney. “Usually I wait until they’re yearlings before I name them. Mostly with the male horses, I try to incorporate the names of the mare and the sire. When naming the females, I try to focus on the demeanor.

“When she was born, I had just bought a house in Aspen,” Craig continued. “I was always talking about it because I had to completely refurbish it. Later, I was talking with my assistant Christine, who takes care of all the bookkeeping and paperwork for the farm. She said, ‘Why don’t you call it Aspen?’ So we tossed around the possibilities and came up with Home Sweet Aspen.”

Craig was born Genevieve Guidroz in the south Louisiana town of Berwick. She grew up in Metairie and frequented the historic Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans as a youth.

She met her future husband, Sidney Harvey Craig, in the 1970s. He owned a chain of women’s fitness salons called Body Contour Inc., and she was the director of his New Orleans center. They married in 1979.

After selling the company, they moved to Australia, where they founded Jenny Craig Inc., a nutrition, fitness and weight-loss program. In 1985, they took the program to America, where it became wildly popular.

In the 1990s the Craigs expanded their business interests to owning and breeding Thoroughbred horses. Perhaps their most successful runner was Paseana, an Argentine mare they bought as a 4-year-old.

Based in California, Paseana won five Grade I races in 1991 and continued her winning ways over the next few years, earning an Eclipse Award in 1992 for American Champion Older Female Horse. She retired after her 1995 campaign with 19 wins and 10 places in 36 lifetime starts.

Paseana earned a lot of money – $3.3 million in six years of racing – but was not a successful broodmare.

“She was a fabulous mare,” Craig said. “Sadly, she could only have one baby. We could not get her pregnant. We gave her hormones. We joked about it and said maybe we should send her down to Argentina – maybe she prefers Latin lovers.”

The Craigs bought a training facility in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., which they named Rancho Paseana. In 2002, the Craigs sold Jenny Craig Inc. to a pair of investment firms. A few years later those firms sold it to Nestle in a deal valued at $600 million.

Sidney Craig died in 2008. Jenny continues her involvement in the multifaceted horse-racing operations of Craig Stables and Rancho Paseana with the help of family and others she and her husband worked with through the years, including a few top California trainers such as Sadler.

“We have Rancho Paseana, and it’s a wonderful training center,” Craig said. “We breed them in Kentucky and then bring them out to California. At the farm I have weanlings, yearlings and 2-year-olds. We have our own horses, and we also train them for other people.”

Craig said she doesn’t know where Home Sweet Aspen will race next. She lets her trainers make the major decisions.

“I really take a lot of advice from my trainers,” she said. “The trainers work with the horses every day. John Sadler is experienced, and he knows what he’s doing. If he tells me the horse is ready to run, I say, ‘Great, let’s go.’

“I think it’s foolish for owners to try to dominate what the trainers do. The trainers certainly want to win.”

Craig said that though Home Sweet Aspen only has been entered in sprints, no one should be surprised if her future includes races of a mile or more, as the filly was bred for two turns.

“She came out of the (Santa Monica Stakes) in good shape,” Craig said. “The trainer was thrilled with the race itself and said it couldn’t have gone better.”

Time will tell if Home Sweet Aspen has the stuff to become a truly great mare in the mold of Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta, two female runners who took American Horse of the Year honors in 2009 and 2010 respectively. In recent years, the nation’s top female Thoroughbreds have been capturing more attention than their male counterparts, partly because they have been able to put together long winning streaks.

The males have lacked consistency lately, but that wasn’t always the case.

“Look at the champions that have come along and the crowds they draw,” Craig said. “I remember (in 1996 at the Pacific Classic Stakes) when Cigar was going for his 17th straight win. It was the second-busiest day in Del Mar’s history. Everybody came out to see him break Citation’s record. Of course, he didn’t win, he came in second, but it was so exciting.

“I think we need that; we need great athletes to root for. Horse racing needs heroes and horses who can create a whole personality and an aura. I think it’s good when you have a horse that just keeps winning.”

Craig said she stays at her Aspen residence about three or four times a year and prefers the summers here to the winters. She likes to take long walks in the area and especially enjoyed a visit last October when the changing leaves had hit their peak.