Tom Knust, racing secretary at Santa Anita, remembers one well-known Southern California trainer who approached him before last year's Santa Anita Derby and said, "That uppity broad doesn't know what the hell she's doing with that horse. Look at his legs."
"The horse's legs were fine, of course," Knust says. "But it's such a competitive industry, with a high good-ol'-boy quotient. If a man had done that with a $7,500 horse, he'd be a genius."
Knust acknowledges that the resentment of Riley is exacerbated by her determination to answer every criticism with a snappy retort. Riley took particular offense at a comment attributed to a well-known trainer during last year's Preakness when he referred to her training methods as "somewhat unorthodox" and suggested that perhaps she hadn't paid enough dues.
"I don't know what we do that's so unorthodox," she says. "We take him out to the track and run him in a circle, same as they do. We don't strap the saddle on underneath him. And I don't know anyone who has paid more dues than Jim."
Riley wishes her critics had been around for Stanley's early workouts. She recalls the first time she and Jim worked with the horse after he had been shipped to Pleasanton from Kentucky. Those first days at the track with Stanley were "uh, memorable, I guess you could call them," Riley says. Once, he ran straight into the outer rail with Jim on his back. On another occasion, Stanley saw a filly jogging nearby and quickened his pace considerably. Jim stood up in the saddle and tried to hold him back, but Stanley grabbed the bit and dug in. That was when Shelley knew she had something.
Had Casual Lies come in ahead of third-place finisher Pine Bluff at the Belmont, he would have won a $1 million bonus as the horse with the best finishes in the Triple Crown races. Stanley had an excuse for his disappointing Belmont performance. He had "popped a quarter crack" during the race, which is not unlike a split at the base of a fingernail. Afterward the racing press, which had embraced Riley for the shot of adrenaline she had administered to the moribund sport, saw her as a small-timer who treated her horse more like a house pet than a meal ticket. Some writers thought she had taken herself too seriously, while others scolded her for "selling herself." Typically, Riley had a scorching reply and even canceled her subscription to The Blood-Horse after one of its writers compared Casual Lies to Dumbo.
Riley has been training horses since she got her first one, a bay mare named Bit O' Honey, as a gift from her parents on her 16th birthday. After earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from California State University at Sacramento, she spent two years in the city as a sheriff's department dispatcher. During this time she worked with horses at the nearby California State fairgrounds until she received her trainer's license and was able to pursue her dream full-time.
She and Jim derive their principal income from "pinhooking," a term for buying yearlings, teaching them racetrack decorum and reselling them as 2-year-olds. Stanley was purchased as a pinhooking prospect and was then entered in the Barrett's Two-Year-Olds-in-Training Sale in Pomona, Calif., in 1991. Riley says Stanley failed to attract a single bid because he had a small scar on the outside of his ankle that scared away some people and because he had been trained by an "unknown" (who was also a woman), which others found equally worrisome.
After last year's Triple Crown tour, the Rileys returned to Pleasanton to give Stanley a rest and to allow his still-tender hoof time to heal. They took him to Southern California last fall, where he had three consecutive fourth-place finishes, beaten by a combined margin of 6� lengths. An X-ray in December revealed a splint in Stanley's right leg, and he was taken out of training until March.
After a 7�-month layoff, Casual Lies returned to the races on June 26, welcomed by a throng of hometown supporters attending the $100,000 Golden Gate Fields Budweiser Breeders' Cup in San Francisco. With a perfectly timed ride by his new jockey, Gary Boulanger, the colt zipped around the 1[1/6]-mile course in 1:40.96 to finish full of run and two lengths ahead of the next horse.