January 21, 2021

Achilles Warrior: a great beginning at Saratoga

Achilles Warrior breaks his maiden at Saratoga under Javier Castellano on August 22, 2018 (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography

by Teresa Genaro

During the week of August 20, trainer Mark Hennig posted video of his wife, Rosemary, walking into the surprise party he’d thrown for her. Rosemary’s daughter Brooke posted photos on Twitter and Instagram of other celebrations. And on Wednesday, August 22, a new kid on the block gave her one last present, making the celebration complete.

That morning, it poured – again – at Saratoga, a drenching deluge that meant, once more, handicapping main-track only runners and preparing for the inevitable off-the-turf announcement. And somewhere, the Hennigs were smiling.

Entered as a main-track only runner in the 3RD Race, by the post of which the sun was shining resplendently, Achilles Warrior would run, making his first start for an owner new to the game, David Merjan. He and Hennig had claimed horses before, but this was the first one they bought.

So from home in Chicago, Merjan watched the forecast. Rain would be good because the horse would run; it would be bad because it might mess up his ability to get to Saratoga. Somehow, it all worked, and Merjan arrived early Wednesday morning.

Despite the downpour, only four horses scratched from the race scheduled for 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, leaving seven to run the distance on the dirt. The second choice at 5-2, Achilles Warrior was a little reluctant to load, but broke well under Javier Castellano, initially joining the leaders before settling several lengths behind the dueling Tapizars Secret and Halladay, who dashed to an opening quarter in :21.78.

Dropping even farther back and running wide, Castellano let the leaders get away before making his move on the far turn, circling those two as Halladay dropped out of it. Tapizars Secret made him work for it, but Achilles Warrior was able to put him away to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

“I can’t even describe it,” marveled Merjan, watching the replay. “My first win. At Saratoga, with a two-year-old that Mark picked out and bought.”

Hennig bought the Warrior’s Reward colt at this year’s Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of two-year-olds in training, after the colt failed to meet his reserve in the ring. Hennig paid $75,000, and though that was a little higher than the original budget, it now looks like money well-spent.

“He was acting extremely studdish at the sale,” Rosemary Hennig said.

“I think the only reason we got him was because he walked around the sales grounds for three days with an erection,” her husband added.

Achilles Warrior was bred in Kentucky by JSM Equine LLC and is out of the Street Sense mare S S Pinafore.

Merjan had learned about Hennig through a mutual friend who owns horses, and earlier this year, he e-mailed the trainer to talk about buying some horses.

“I figured he wouldn’t answer me,” Merjan said. “He responded five minutes later.”

A day after the win, in response to a photo of her and the horse posted on Twitter, Rosemary Hennig wrote, “my birthday is officially over…but this was a great ending.”

Or, perhaps, a great beginning.