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Veteran Is Grinding For Glory

Published: April 26, 2018 10:39 am ET

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He’s won only a single small stakes event, and he’s battled back from a heart ailment that forced him into temporary retirement. Yet Saturday at The Meadows, Doctor RJ will have a chance to grind into a bit of harness racing glory.

Doctor RJ will vault over $300,000 in career earnings with an in-the-money finish on Saturday, a remarkable achievement for a hard knocker robbed early of the chance to achieve his full potential.

Doctor RJ will start from Post 3 in Race 3 with Dan Charlino driving. Saturday’s Meadows card will feature a pair of rich pool guarantees — $7,500 for the Pick 4 (Races 4-7), $5,000 for the Pick 5 (Races 8-12). First post is 1:05 p.m.

Paul Kennedy trained Doctor RJ’s dam, Informant, for Michigan horseman Markus Ernst, who bred the winner of more than $770,000 to Real Artist. When that match produced a chestnut colt, he was named Doctor RJ for Ernst’s son and given to Kennedy to condition.

“Informant is in the Michigan Harness Racing Hall of Fame,” Kennedy says. “He’s one of only two foals from her, and I thought he would be a nice colt. He tore a suspensory and never raced at two.”

Kennedy, meanwhile, relocated to the Meadows in 2010 and brought the injured colt with him. Finally race-ready at three, Doctor RJ competed in his richest event, the $32,400 final of an early-closing series at the Meadows, and dead-heated for fourth. Since then, he’s dropped as low as the $5,000 claiming ranks and risen as high as the Preferred Handicap, depending on what his health and form would allow. Along the way, he developed a relentless rallying style that has worn down many opponents.

Doctor RJ, pictured victorious on March 24, 2018 at the Meadows with Dan Rawlings aboard (Chris Gooden)

“He’s a pretty good old war horse,” Kennedy says. “He gives you what he’s got, though his legs don’t go as fast as they used to. The biggest problem we have with him is keeping his weight down. He does like to eat.”

But disaster struck again last year in the form of recurring irregular heartbeats that appeared impervious to treatment. Kennedy and the horse’s owners, Keith Pippi and Kennedy’s wife Robyn, decided to make him a riding horse, a less stressful occupation than racing. The old boy proved his mettle once more, winning three blue ribbons for the Meadows-based trainer Joelene Christman at the Washington (PA) Fairgrounds.

Knowing how much ‘the good Doctor’ likes to race — and how much he likes to watch his gelding race — Kennedy took one final shot and sent him to Ohio State University. There, doctors were able to regularize the rhythm of his heart.

Doctor RJ is the last of the horses Kennedy brought with him from Michigan and has become something of a pet for the Kennedys and their daughters, Camryn (7) and Olivia (5), who, like their mom, are redheads.

“I hate to race him in claimers, but there’s not much I can do about that,” Paul says. “We’ll race him as long as his heart holds out, then it’s back to riding. My daughters like him. With his red hair, he fits in the family.”

Also on Saturday, Mychoice members can compete in a Thoroughbred handicapping contest, with Belmont Park the featured track. More information is available at the retail counter in the track’s racebook.


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