Filly was initially a slow learner, but now ‘wants to win every start’
by Rich Fisher
Racine Bell just missed winning the $381,000 Blue Chip Matchmaker Pacing Series final on April 25 at Yonkers Raceway. The 5-year-old mare controlled the race and fought valiantly in the stretch drive, but was edged in the final stride when Drama Act paced up the inside and snagged the victory, winning by a nose.
A victory in the Matchmaker would naturally have been very, very sweet for Racine Bell’s owners, Dale Lawton and his son, Chris, but the mare had already given them many unexpected thrills.
Racine Bell’s early days of preparing to be a racehorse did not look very promising. At 74, Dale Lawton is retired. He did some driving 40 years ago and still trains. Chris used to drive and train and is now a veterinarian.
The Lawtons bought Racine Bell as a yearling at the 2018 Blooded Horse Sale for $9,000. They owned her full sister, Surreal Feeling, and thought enough of her to buy the filly named Racine Bell sight unseen. Their agent at the sale had permission to go up to $14,000.
Racine Bell’s runner-up performance in the Blue Chip Matchmaker boosted her career earnings to $780,646, but at one time the $9,000 yearling price looked like a waste of money.
“I asked (trainer) Davey Dewhurst, ‘Hey, do you want to go with her a little while for me?’” Chris Lawton recalled of putting Racine Belle into training. “The first day he hoofed her, she fell down on the track, laid there, and he was there an hour with her. I’m telling ya, she wouldn’t move. She would not move!
“When I first looked at her laying there, I thought ‘Holy cow, what the heck did I do?’” He added with a laugh, “I’m thinking, ‘Can I get my $9,000 back because this isn’t going anywhere.’”
Dale remembers it vividly, although it’s a cringe-worthy memory.
“She got halfway around the half-mile track and stopped; just did not go,” he recalled. “From there it took probably at least two months before he (Dewhurst) could get her to really jog like a good horse, and even then, you had to have a rattle on the end of the whip to scare her to keep her going. But you can see where she is now.”
After two solid campaigns on the New York circuit, where she won several Sires Stakes races, the Lawtons decided to put Racine Bell on the Grand Circuit in 2021 and she had some success in the few races she was staked. This year, they paid her way into all that they could.
“It’s pretty obvious that she’s a pretty nice horse,” Dale said. “But I’ll tell you what. When she started out, she’s lucky we didn’t Amish her.
“Davey took his time with her and he got her going. He said, ‘I’m not gonna rush her.’ He took his time and boy, she turned out all right.”
Yes, Racine Bell is a testament to
Dewhurst has trained numerous Lawton horses for the past 10 years in upstate New York. Dale refers to him as “one of the boys from the neighborhood, everybody hangs together, and we’ve known him forever.”
And the trainer has lived up to the owners’ confidence in him.
“Davey has done a super job with her, without question,” Dale continued. “We own her but it’s his baby. We just let him do his thing with her. He would say, ‘She’s coming along, she’s coming.’ But you had your doubts.”
Racine Bell proved her worth in each of her first two seasons. At age two, she earned three wins, three seconds and two thirds in 10 starts for $140,279 in purses; at age three she posted seven wins and three seconds in 15 starts to put $147,197 in the bank.
That gave the owners confidence to do something they had never done before: stake a horse to Grand Circuit events.
“You’re in Vernon, you’re a small stable, you don’t really think that way,” Dale said. “You’re racing good and you just think, ‘Hey, we’re doing great.’ The big boys have a lot more money than we’ve got to play with, so you don’t take chances like that. But we figured we’ve got something to take some chances with.
“She wants to win every start.”
Chris said that while he understands it’s a big jump from the 3-year-old to 4-year-old season, Racine Bell showed all the qualities that made it worth putting her in races held under some brighter lights.
“She’s in a whole different class by herself from the ones we had,” he said. “She’s just a great horse; you look for these horses all your life.
“They’re not easy to come by.”
Last year at age four, Racine Bell enjoyed a career-best season with 11 wins, seven seconds, four thirds and $288,420 in earnings from 25 starts. Proving that she could handle the top-stakes competition, she equaled the track and world record of 1:48.1 in winning the $50,000 Kissin In The Sand Final at the Meadowlands.
Jason Bartlett has been Racine Bell’s regular driver.
“Jason said, ‘I could have went a lot more, I didn’t know she equaled the world record for 4-year-old mares,” said Chris.
Then they supplemented Racine Bell into last fall’s Breeders Crown Mare Pace and she proved she belonged with the top class by finishing fourth.
“She started off the pylons and got cut off a little bit,” Chris said. “She had a lot of pace that day. With a little racing luck, she could have gotten second or maybe even won it.”
After understanding what needs to be done in terms of staking, the Lawtons have Racine Bell loaded up this year.
“We have her in a lot of them,” Dale said. “She doesn’t owe us any money.”
Her first Matchmaker Series race this season on March 18 resulted in a second-place finish.
“She was sitting fourth on the inside, got locked in and had to come up the rail,” Dale said. “She shot up through there like a rocket, made up 3 ½ lengths in the last 600 feet and just got nosed out. When you come off that helmet, you better have your seatbelt fastened because she’s a rocket.”
Chris concurred. “When she races, she can leave really fast and then she just comes right back to you. You can drive her with two fingers after she gets to the front. I think that’s one of the nicest things about her. Most horses, when they leave the gate, once you fire them up they just keep trucking but she comes right back in and does whatever you want her to do.”
And as fierce as the mare is on the track, she is just as docile off of it.
“She’s a sweetheart,” Chris said. “She’s great in the barn.”
Racine Bell, who had four firsts and four seconds in her first eight races this year, has drawn considerable interest, and the Lawtons have turned down substantial offers to buy her.
“At this point it ain’t about the money,” Dale said. “She’s family now; she ain’t going nowhere. We own her and she doesn’t owe us a penny. We’ve had some good ones along the way but this is by far and away the best. It must have been our turn because she’s just a nice horse.”
One horse that the Lawtons hope may produce some other nice ones.
“I’m not sure how many more years we’ll race her; at some point we’ll make her a broodmare,” Dale said. “Maybe she’ll throw a real nice horse and this might be the beginning of something really good. We’ll see. Time will tell.” HB
Rich Fisher is a freelance writer living in New Jersey. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com.