By Bill Finley
“Inside the Winner’s Circle, Presented by Keeneland” is a series showcasing graduates of the Keeneland September sale who have gone on to achieve success on racing’s biggest stages.
When they convene at the annual Keeneland September sale, just about everyone is thinking the same thing. The buyers are all hoping to purchase a future star. They also hope the odds are with them and there are no hiccups on the way to the winner’s circle. And the sellers are all hoping that the bidding doesn’t stop until there is a very big number on the board.
Things don’t always work out that way, at least at first. But that doesn’t mean that the story doesn’t end well. There’s no better evidence of that than Bricks and Mortar (Giant’s Causeway).
A $200,000 purchase at the 2015 Keeneland September sale (watch the sale), the recent winner of the GI Manhattan at Belmont and the hottest horse in the sport, if voting were held today, he’d likely be named Horse of the Year.
But few know how close his career came to ending in 2017 when the biggest win on his record was a victory in the GII Hall of Fame Stakes. At the time, he had earned $336,800 and would not be nearly the sire prospect he is today: as a three-time Grade I winner with earnings of $4,303,650. Of all the top horses his trainer Chad Brown has trained, none has earned more.
Brown works closely with bloodstock agent Mike Ryan when he attends the sales and it was Ryan who first alerted him to Hip 118, a Giant’s Causeway colt out of the mare Beyond the Waves. The breeder was George Strawbridge Jr. and the consigner was Arthur Hancock’s Stone Farm.
“When I went to look at the horse, I thought he was very athletic, an attractive colt,” Brown said. “With the way he was made, I thought he was turf right away. He had a very athletic walk to him to him and he was in our price range. He came from a good family. He was George Strawbridge-bred, and I have a lot of respect for his program.”
Brown and Ryan weren’t wrong. Making his first start on Feb. 18, 2017 at Gulfstream for owners Seth Klarman and William Lawrence, he won a mile and a sixteenth maiden on the turf, his first of four straight. He was then third in the both the GIII Saranac and the GIII Hill Prince, but lost both races by just three-quarters of a length. Brown was so encouraged by the horse’s progress that he decided to ship him west for the GI Hollywood Derby. A few days later, he had reason to believe the horse would never run again.
“The horse was getting ready for the Hollywood Derby and he worked at Belmont and when he came out of the work that day he developed what is called a stringhalt walk,” Brown explained. “It’s very rare. It’s when a horse has an exaggerated extension with their hind leg, where they’ll pick it up like they’re walking over something. They really hike it up like they’re walking over something in their way. I was quite nervous about it. He had a remarkable record at the time and had two narrow defeats. I thought he easily could have been undefeated. I was really disappointed.”
Brown had Bricks and Mortar sent to Dr. Larry Bramlage at Rood and Riddle and Bramlage told him there was a 50-50 chance he could fix the problem. If the surgery didn’t work, the horse would have been retired.
“Dr. Bramlage said he must have aggravated a ligament in his hock area that caused this,” Brown said. “He had some success with this before but told us it was a complicated surgery. I told him to go ahead. I didn’t see any other option. It did alleviate the problem.”
From Oct. 17, 2017 until Dec. 22, 2018, Bricks and Mortar did not race. There were a few minor setbacks along the way, but when Ian Brennan, who had been caring for the horse while he was recuperating, called Brown and said he thought Bricks and Mortar was back and ready to go, Brown had every reason to believe that the horse was going to pick right up where he left off.
He didn’t know he’d be even better.
In order, he won an allowance, the GI Pegasus World Cup Turf, the GII Muniz Memorial and the Manhattan. Brown said the next goal is the GI Arlington Million.
Meanwhile, Strawbridge has been watching from the sidelines. Someone who keeps some of his young horses to race and sells others, he explained that he put Bricks and Mortar in the sale because he was sure he would sell for big money.
“I decided to sell him because he was a very good-looking horse and I thought I would get an awful lot of money for him,” Strawbridge said. “Instead, I got $200,000 for him and he’s gone on to win over $4 million, so it wasn’t a very good business transaction. He was a nice looking horse, a solid looking horse and we always liked him. I thought he’d go for $400,000. I did have a reserve, but it was $150,000.”
But Strawbridge has not been sitting around feeling sorry for himself. He understands the business as well as anyone.
“For me, this is a good story,” he said. “It’s very difficult to breed a multiple Grade I winner, so I am proud of that and I am happy for the horse’s owners. I also still have the mare and own some of Bricks and Mortar’s relatives.”
Beyond the Waves was just bred to Uncle Mo and, considering the success of Bricks and Mortar, that mating could produce a horse that sells well, or wins Strawbridge some major races. Bricks and Mortar also helped put Strawbridge’s name in the record books for the Manhattan as he has now bred the winner two straight years. He won the race in 2018 with homebred Spring Quality (Quality Road).
Meanwhile, Bricks and Mortar was Brown’s sixth Manhattan winner, and undoubtedly one of the most special.
“I am so proud of this horse, everything he’s overcome,” Brown said. “I’m proud of his versatility and his consistency. He’s very dependable. I’m so happy for the horse that he is getting the recognition he deserves. His brilliance and his consistency has finally put him on the front page, even though he’s a turf horse. It’s gratifying to see him get the respect he deserves.