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Saratoga Special Article 2011

Brandon Rice and Alexandra de Meric stood outside of the first stall in Barn 17 and caught up with the horse that put them on the map. Humble And Hungry, who runs in today's Grade II Hall Of Fame, dove eyeball deep into his bedding and paid minimal attention to his visitors: he's big-time now.

"Good boy, son," Rice said, leaning against the frame. "You remember me?" Two years ago, Rice and de Meric bought the son of Limehouse for $7,000 at Fasig-Tipton October, spent the winter coaxing along the lot sum of their combined worth, and watched Bob Feld put his hand up for Sagamore Farm - to the tune of $200,000 at OBS April. Rice was 26 and de Meric was 24. At the time Humble And Hungry was going through his prep work, de Meric was finishing school and Rice was running the Overbrook barn at Scanlon Training Center and dreaming of autonomy.

"The Overbrook job was swamping me," Rice said. "It was a highly demanding job with a lot of information flowing, so it was nice to have your own two horses at the end of the shedrow. It was like therapy: These are mine. I get to take care of them the way I want."

Named after the internal motto of Under Armor, whose founder Kevin Plank owns Sagamore Farm in Maryland, Humble And Hungry has lived up to his moniker. The bay colt opened his career with a couple of close-but-no maiden tries at Laurel before breaking through in his first start on the turf at Belmont. Trainer Ignacio Correas sent the colt to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill, where he finished just 3 lengths adrift, albeit in eighth place. The colt has finished no worse than third in three starts this year, including the Grade III Hill Prince most recently, where he was third to today's rival Street Game.

Humble And Hungry and Street Game are two of seven 3-year-old entered in the $150,000 stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf. The feature goes as the seventh race today.

"When they run on and be successful, it's the most rewarding thing," de Meric said. "It's like, 'I did something right. They learned something when they were with me.' When you see them doing stuff like weaving in and out of traffic, you're going, 'Yes. Good job. Go, don't be scared.' " Rice and de Meric, who now rent a section of Rice's father Bryan's Wood- side Ranch in Ocala, Fla., didn't make it to the Breeders' Cup to watch their charge. They were too immersed in duties at home.

"We knew that we would take this money, get re-invested, try to find the next Humble And Hungry and present him at sale," Rice said. "For a debut consignment, he was more horse than anybody could ask for. He trained like a freight train. We had our brand-new shirts, brand-new hats, business cards and here we are with a star horse. It was awesome."

Humble And Hungry still looks like a star - well-muscled and gleaming, systematically eating his bedding while de Meric worried over the status of his hay net. Old habits die hard. It may be the off-season for Rice and de Meric, but the status of their operation is never far from the mind of either.

"Last year we had three client horses and six of our own," Rice said. "We had to hold down jobs to support that. It's almost nice to be the small tidy, dozen head so that we can ride them, feed them, develop your system how exactly you want things done."

Humble And Hungry pulled his nose out of his bedding, a few flakes dropping from his lips. de Meric picked the whisps off the Sagamore stall guard and called him a baby face.

"That's what we called him all season, little baby face," Rice said. "He had this little head and this ginormous body. He was such a chilled out, easy keeper, we had him in a barn full of 11 fillies and we were kind of worried about it, we got this one colt sitting there and, no problem at all. He liked the little girlfriends that were surrounding him."

Jose Lezcano will take the reins of the 5-1 shot, who adds blinkers for the first time today.

© Katie Bo Williams - 8/12/2011 Saratoga Special