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A Cut Above

Trot Feature - Lather Up

A chance meeting in a barbershop, with a preacher. A mare bred to the wrong stallion. A sire struggling in claiming races in Ohio. And a young driver seeking redemption.

Lather Up’s ascent to the top has been fast, and anything but ordinary. By Chris Lomon

GARY ILES AND HIS STANDOUT standardbred champion Lather Up both know what it means to be a cut above the competition.

But how did a small town barber in Delaware end up with a big-time horse that reigned supreme in this year's edition of the $1 million Pepsi North America Cup, Canada's richest harness race?

The story is worthy of a Hollywood script, a tale that begins almost 60 years ago.

Iles still vividly recalls the moment he received an interesting offer - one that came from a local preacher.

"I was working in the barbershop and one day this man walks in and asks me if I'd like to be involved in buying a racehorse," he started. "For some reason, it intrigued me. He walked out and I had invested $600 on this horse, Stormy Mountain. Then I thought, 'Oh, man. What have I gotten myself into?'"

It turns out the preacher was thinking exactly the same thing.

About six months later, he returned to the barbershop, this time with another offer.

"He had a change of heart," recalled Iles. "He felt that since he was a preacher, it might not be looked on in a favourable light if he was involved in something that's associated with gambling. So, he asked if I would take over full ownership in the horse. And that's just what I did."

Eventually, Iles sold Stormy Mountain, a bay son of White Mountain Boy, that was foaled in 1957, and who earned $1,480 as a trotter, with a mark of 2:11.3h, and $3,187 as a pacer with a mark of 2:07.1h.

Gary and Barbara Iles bought their first farm in 1976. After Gary retired, he and Barbara, a retired emergency room and operating room nurse, purchased a larger property (24 acres) and built their present farm.

The couple's interest in standardbred racing continued to grow over the years.

Gary, fascinated by the breeding aspect of the sport, and Barbara, enthralled by the racing side, came up with a compromise.

"We decided to do both," he said with a laugh. "And we just love it. We have about nine horses now and we really enjoy everything about the sport."

When you have an all-star like Lather Up (Iles likes to name his homebred horses with a barbershop theme), it's easy to appreciate why they would have an affinity for it.

But the once-in-a-lifetime horse might not have ever been for the Iles.

"We've had some nice horses over time, ones that have paced in 1.50 and 1.51," he noted. "Crew Cut Zach (a pacer the Iles bred and owned), made over $1 million, winning 53 career races. My grandson's name is Zachary. As a barber, I used to give him a crew cut, hence the name. We've had a lot with those types of names - Littleoffthetop, Hot Lather, Love That Cut, Shaving Mug and Barber Pole. Lather Up, he's obviously really special and he's definitely got a great story behind him. It's certainly an interesting one, that's for sure."

That might be an understatement.

The son of Im Gorgeous is out of the Iles' homebred mare Pocket Comb. The original plan was for Gary and Barbara to breed Pocket Comb to Delmarvelous. But a mix-up that occurred when ordering semen resulted in a different game plan.

"I always liked Im Gorgeous because he's a Bettors Delight," said Iles. "That's what I liked about him most, and I always wanted to breed to a Bettors Delight. But we were breeding the mare, at that point, to Delmarvelous. When they called for the semen, they called for Im Gorgeous instead of Delmarvelous. They said, 'We made a mistake, but we can get you Delmarvelous if you'd still like.' I told them no. I said, 'Let's go for it.'"

There was still more drama to come.

During Lather Up's birth, he was in the breech position, which required attention from local harness horspeople Kevin Switzer and Brenda Teague. The two worked in tandem while receiving phoned-in instructions from Switzer's wife, veterinarian Denise McNitt.

Cue some more drama.

At age two, Lather Up, made it to the races. He visited the winner's circle three times in July and August on the Ohio Sires Stakes circuit, but became ill as he headed towards the series championship. He then suffered a near-fatal reaction to antibiotics, which put the horse in the New Bolton Center.

"Those were tough times, very tough," recalled Iles. "We almost lost him. Thankfully, everything worked out okay."

Better than 'okay', actually.

The colt, under the care of George Teague Jr., Brenda Teague and Clyde Francis, made his three-year-old debut by defeating older horses at Harrah's Philadelphia, a week before a track-record 1:50 win in a division of the Ohio Sires Stakes at Miami Valley Raceway. The triumph at Miami Valley came over a 'sloppy' track.

On May 26 at Woodbine Mohawk Park, Lather Up readied for the $1 million North America Cup by winning in 1:49.1 against older rivals. After leaving from Post 9, the colt and driver Montrell Teague took the lead in a :26.1 opening quarter-mile and never looked back. After being run most of the mile, by a four-year-old opponent, through splits of :54.4 and 1:22.4, the pair ended up winning by seven and three-quarter lengths, ending with an eye-catching :26.2 final quarter-mile. The colt's earplugs were still in at the wire, and Teague's whip never left his shoulder.

That open-length victory was followed up by two more - a 1:50.3 score in his split of the Somebeachsomewhere, and a 1:49.2 win in his North America Cup elimination a week later. The latter of which allowed the rising star and his team to select post-position four in the $1 million final.
In the Cup Final, with the Iles' on hand to watch their stable star, Teague powered forward from the beginning. After allowing a parked-out Tim Tetrick and Done Well to take the lead past a quarter in :26.3, Montrell removed to the front immediately, and the duo went on to an emphatic three and a quarter-length score in 1:48.1.

"It didn't go the way I thought it was going to be," said Teague. "I thought everyone was going to be a lot more aggressive for a million-dollar race and I would come off cover, but there was only about three of them that left out there and I was one of them."

Iles marveled as Lather Up distanced himself from his nearest rivals down the lane.

"It's a sensational feeling," he said after the victory. "To come away with a win, it doesn't get any better than this."

Perhaps it still could. And that would be just fine with Iles.

"He has a very, very nice personality just like his dam," offered Iles who lost his broodmare Pocket Comb last year at the age of 23. The In The Pocket mare produced 10 foals for the Iles', with 8 of them earning over $100,000, resulting in an average earnings per starter of an astonishing $284,871. A number that should only rise as her youngest son continues on with his three-year-old season.

"She was a lovely horse," he said. "We have fond memories of her. She turned out to be an excellent broodmare."

Lather Up was her final offspring.

"Montrell said you can do anything you want with him," said Iles. "He's an excellent horse to be around for everyone. He's very calm and collected. He's also a great competitor."

Something his rivals realized on the night of June 16 at a packed Woodbine Mohawk Park.

"There's a lot of excitement whenever we watch him," admitted Iles. "If someone would have told me a year ago or even 10 years ago that we'd have a horse that would compete at this level, I never would have believed it. We're excited about what lies ahead."

With the Cup victory, Lather Up now boasts a career record of 10 wins in 13 starts. The $1 million classic victory increases his seasonal earnings to $593,000 and lifetime earnings to $667,100.

Would Iles one day consider adding the name A Cut Above to his barbershop-themed horse-naming repertoire?

"I like that one," he said with a laugh. "That might be a good one to consider."


For many of us, day-to-day life seems to fly by. Something that may have happened in 2015 can seem like it was just yesterday. When reminded that's not the case, we often reply along the lines of, "Three years! That was really three years ago?" But for Montrell Teague, in some ways, the past three years have moved rather slowly, while he patiently waited for a second crack at Canada's richest harness race.

"In 2015 I had the best horse," the 27-year-old, soft-spoken reinsman recalls. "But I got beat."

Fast-forward three years from the night Wiggleit Jiggle It, at odds of 2/5, finished second to Wakizashi Hanover in the $1,000,000 Pepsi North America Cup, and Teague once again is driving the favourite in the elite event for three-year-old pacing colts. This time, behind the Clyde Francis-trained Lather Up - winner of five straight races, by open lengths, entering the race.

"My colt had really been coming into his own in recent weeks," related Teague. "The night we won at Miami Valley in :50, it had poured rain there beforehand… hard. There was a long delay. I was worried that I'd miss my flight home actually. The track condition… the delay… didn't matter. He was great. Then the first night at Mohawk, in the overnight event against older horses… I was just holding on right through the wire. I was worried that we were going too fast, but he did it so easy."

After that it was a stress-free victory in 1:50.3 in the Somebeachsomewhere, and then on to the N.A.Cup eliminations. "I was actually a bit concerned about the colt coming into the elims," said Teague. At the farm in the States he's [Lather Up] quite full of himself. He prances out of his stall, talking to everyone, and acts a bit studdy. He has to be jogged before everyone else… things like that. When I saw him at the farm up here he was pretty quiet. He was even that way in the paddock on elimination night. I don't know whether he was still getting used to his surroundings or what, but on Cup night he was a bit more like his old self - that made me feel better."

When bluntly asked if he had beaten himself up for the loss in 2015, the winner of 1,269 career races, and $19.7 million in purses, simply stated, "It's a huge race, a race that everyone wants to win. I had a good chance to win it once but it didn't work out. I was happy, and felt very lucky, to get another chance, and I'm beyond thrilled that this time around we got the result we wanted."

In the 2018 Cup, Montrell went forward with his horse when the wings folded, just as he did in 2015. But when Tim Tetrick (Done Well) came at him early he didn't tussle with him; rather than that, he let Tetrick go and came right back around.

"I learned from 2015," Teague said. "That stretch at Mohawk is long. I knew Tim was right on my helmet in the last turn but I waited until part way up the stretch to get fully at my horse. If you ask them too early there [at Mohawk] it doesn't always work out."

And work out it did, as the pair hit the wire on top by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:48.1. REDEMPTION!

Montrell went on to say, "You know, I put myself in a bit of a bad spot in the elimination, and then the two horses in front of me [Courtly Choice and Lost In Time] hooked wheels turning for home. That pulled them both to the right and I was able to come up the rail to win. At that moment I thought that it was fate, that my horse was going to win it all this time."

It might have been part-fate Montrell, but do you know what it was for sure? It was a darn good horse and a darn good driver winning Canada's biggest race. Congratulations!

~ By Dan Fisher

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