Works for Me, Joe Lee’s first stakes winner as head trainer (Walter Wlodarczyk)
NYRA Press Office
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Joe Lee, former assistant to trainer-turned-jockey agent Kieran McLaughlin as well as Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas to name just two, notched his first stakes win as head trainer when Works for Me collared pacesetter Detective Tom in the final strides of Saturday’s $100,000 Notebook.
“I only realized it after the fact myself,” Lee said of his first stakes score. “I’ve always been associated with Godolphin or before that working for Wayne Lukas or LeRoy Jolley or David Whiteley. I’ve always been around some nice horses. But being with Godolphin, I traveled around and saddled Grade 1-winners in England and Japan and elsewhere. It was a team effort with Godolphin and a really great workplace.”
The Brooklyn-born Lee went out on his own in early 1990s and won three races before moving to Dubai in 1993 for seven years with McLaughlin. He then spent more than a decade in Japan working for his father-in-law and now retired trainer Takemi Kaga, a former jockey who was leading rider there for five consecutive years from 1962-66.
“It was great to travel overseas. It seems commonplace now, but back then it was all just starting out and nobody really knew about Dubai,” Lee said. “I initially went over in October of 1993 with Kiaran McLaughlin and in the spring of 1994 Sheikh Mohammed had brought out some horses to winter in Dubai and ship them all over the world to run in the top races.
“One of my favorite horses was Heart Lake,” continued Lee. “He was Godolphin’s first Group 1-winner. In 1995, I took him to Japan for the Yasuda Kinen and at that time it was the third richest race in the world. It still is one of the best races in Japan for milers.”
Heart Lake’s score topped a memorable day for Godolphin, who sent out Group 1 winners in Italy with Flagbird [Capannelle] and Vettori [2000 Guineas] in France.
“That same year I saddled Classic Cliche to win the St. Leger at Doncaster and that was actually Frankie Dettori’s 1,000th win. That was a big day,” recalled Lee.
Lee met his wife, Susie, while in Japan and his current training operation is aided by his oldest son, Joe, and second oldest son, Anthony. His younger children Domenic and Stephanie are currently attending Lee’s alma mater at the University of Kentucky.
The veteran horseman returned to America from Japan after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. He admitted it’s strange to think he traveled all over the world only to saddle his first official stakes winner in his home state.
“I was born here in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. I went to Valley Stream North High School on Long Island here in Franklin Square,” Lee said. “So, it’s interesting to have won a stakes race now with a New York-bred.”
Works for Me, a Daddy Long Legs chestnut patiently handled by Irad Ortiz, Jr., tracked to the outside from second position in the six-furlong sprint over the main track for state-bred juveniles as Detective Tom raced through splits of 23.28 seconds and 47.04.
Ortiz, Jr. gave Works for Me his cue through the turn and loomed large as a ground-saving Aggelos the Great waited for racing room from third. Detective Tom held a one-length advantage at the stretch call and dug in gamely in the drive for the wire as Aggelos the Great bid in tight along the fence, but Works for Me would not be denied the head score in a final time of 1:12.06. The winning effort garnered a 68 Beyer Speed Figure.
Works for Me was cross-entered in the following day’s $120,000 Central Park at one-mile on turf, but the connections decided to stay on the main track despite finishing a close third last out in his turf debut here in the six-furlong Atlantic Beach on November 4 that garnered a career-best 84 Beyer Speed Figure.
“He won well. This race was back in two weeks, so it’s not an easy time frame,” Lee said. “He came out of it really well. Now we’ll have to see what the owners want to do with him. His legs look good, his attitude is good and he’s been eating up. I think he’s a better grass horse. I don’t go by the Beyers too much, I generally go by my eye.”
Works for Me overcame a stumbled start to graduate at second asking in June at Belmont Park. He made his two starts prior to the Notebook travelling six furlongs against open company at the Big A, finishing a pacesetting second to Book’em Danno in the off-the-turf Futurity ahead of his Atlantic Beach effort.
Lee said he’s still learning about the talented chestnut, who has demonstrated a frustrating habit of troubled breaks from the gate.
“He seems to stumble out of the gate and even this last race he took a couple of steps sideways and grabbed his quarter and cut it a little bit,” Lee said. “When he broke his maiden here, he grabbed his shoe and turned it sideways. Fortunately, he turned it to the outside otherwise he would have torn his leg up. He won with it hanging off and sprung, so I give him a lot of credit to continue to run with a shoe like that.”
Works for Me, out of the Soldat mare Bella’s Game, banked $55,000 in victory while improving his record to 6-2-1-2.