By Joe Bianca
“Inside the Winner’s Circle, Presented by Keeneland” is a series showcasing graduates of the Keeneland September sale that have gone on to achieve success on racing’s biggest stages.
In order for a horse to do what Friday’s GI Kentucky Oaks heroine Monomoy Girl (Tapizar) has done–namely, win six of her first seven starts, on multiple surfaces, with her only loss coming by a neck–it takes an extraordinary level of talent and a fair bit of luck. More than that, though, it takes a special inner constitution. To develop that steadily with no hiccups in between, a horse has to be a fast learner and an even-keeled pupil capable of handling and adjusting to everything thrown at them. The chestnut filly’s unflappable mental makeup was on display under the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs, for sure. But it also showed itself when she was first introduced to her buyer, BSW Bloodstock’s Liz Crow.
Flash back to the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, and Crow was doing her due diligence examining horses for a specific price range. Sol Kumin, principal of part-owner Monomoy Stables and myriad other ownership groups, had given Crow an order to pick up four or five horses at the sale at an average of around $80,000 apiece. The bloodstock agent knew she had found a potential fit when she visited Hip 1611 and saw how the filly responded to her chaotic environment.
“It was quite busy, she was down at the bottom barns, and she showed a ton of professionalism and just a lot of class in the way she carried herself,” Crow recalled. “That’s what initially caught my eye. A lot of colts and other horses were acting up around her and she was very calm, never turned a hair the whole time I was looking at her.”
In addition to displaying the right mind to be a successful runner, Monomoy Girl checked the necessary boxes in her appearance.
“I loved her athletic build and physical,” Crow said. “I wouldn’t say her walk was outstanding, I’d say it was just OK, but what I loved is when she stood up, she showed a lot of athleticism, she had a nice strong shoulder, great forearm, very strong forearm and kind of looked like she could plow through the dirt pretty well. Really strong hind legs, from the top of her hip right down through her back legs.”
Sold on the filly’s conformation, Crow moved on to the final step of her evaluation process, pedigree, which would tell the tale on whether the yearling could join Kumin’s string.
“The way I do things is I look at the physical, and then I look at the pedigree page and that tells me if I can afford them or not,” she said. “Her page was just OK, a very unknown, untested page at the time. She was by a young sire out of a mare that hadn’t produced anything yet. I thought OK, well I love her physical and maybe this will make me able to afford her.”
The filly went through the ring during Session 6 of the sale and the hammer dropped at $100,000 even, slightly higher than the average Crow was tasked with, but well within the range for Kumin to trust his agent’s sharp eye.
“Sol deserves all the credit here,” Crow said of the purchase. “He gave me an order, but said, ‘If you love one, you can go to 100, 110, no problem.’ So he’s the one that let me go out and pick whatever I’d like to pick. He didn’t tell me, ‘Go buy a turf filly or a dirt colt,’ he just let me decide what I wanted to buy in that price range and she fit that mold.”
Monomoy Girl debuted for trainer Brad Cox going a mile over turf on a sleepy Tuesday at Indiana Grand last September, hardly the starting point one would envision for a future Oaks victress. Producing a sweeping, five-to-six wide run on the far turn, she took the lead in just a handful of strides and kicked away powerfully in the stretch.
“At first, they had some trouble getting her to break from the gate,” Kumin said. “Brad kept saying, ‘the longer, the better’, and they don’t write the dirt races long enough from the beginning, so he felt like the highest probability for her to have success early would be to put her on the turf even though she was bred for dirt.”
Despite her visually impressive maiden win, Monomoy Girl earned just a 59 Beyer for the effort, a number that doesn’t exactly scream ‘superstar’. After that, however, she showed a new dimension in taking a first-level allowance wire-to-wire on the Churchill Downs lawn, which piqued the excitement of Kumin and Cox.
“When she came back and won her second race in a little bit of a different fashion, Brad thought, ‘OK, it’s starting to look like we might have a real horse here,'” Kumin recalled. “Then he breezed her with one of the fillies that he really liked and she crushed the other filly. At that point, he called me and said, ‘Dude, we’ve got a serious horse here.'”
Monomoy Girl’s true breakout came in her next outing, as she stamped herself the star of Churchill Downs’s annual “Stars of Tomorrow” all-juvenile card when romping by 6 1/2 lengths in the Rags to Riches S., her dirt bow, Oct. 29. She suffered her one and only defeat when narrowly out-gamed in the GII Golden Rod S., and following a brief respite, returned with impressive tallies in the GII Rachel Alexandra S. and GI Central Bank Ashland S. in her first two 3-year-old tries.
Then came the Oaks. Made the narrow second choice despite being marooned in the 14-hole, Monomoy Girl pressed the pace and made her customary blitz for home on the far turn. She was hooked by Wonder Gadot (Medaglia d’Oro) in early stretch, however, and appeared to be in deep water past the eighth pole. That’s when the filly in the sky-blue silks showed yet another dimension, battling back after being passed to earn the hard-fought victory, one that her connections trace back to her unflappable attitude.
“She showed a ton of grit and a ton of heart,” Crow said. “My initial impressions of her class and professionalism, she has really shown that her entire career. I was really proud of her. Even watching her in the paddock for the Oaks, there were a million people in there, cameras, people screaming, a huge crowd and she never turned a hair, was very calm. I was very proud of her in the paddock. And the way she handles herself on the track in the mornings is the same. She’s full of class.”
Kumin concurred, going so far as to compare Monomoy Girl to the superstar filly who put him on the map.
“You just see the way she handles race day,” the founder of hedge fund Folger Hill Asset Management said. “You look at the way that she’s standing in her stall and she just doesn’t look fazed by it all. The good fillies, it’s almost like they know when it’s time for business. She looked a little bit like Lady Eli to me. In the paddock, I’m always watching every horse come by, getting the saddles put on, and you’re kind of like, ‘OK, who looks like I don’t want to rumble with them?’ They just look calm, they look cool, they’ve got the right demeanor. That day, she looked the best to me, and she turned out to be.”
Kumin made sure to credit Cox and his team for the training job they did to get their filly from a turf maiden at Indiana Grand to an Oaks winner.
“Brad’s done a terrific job with her,” Kumin said. “He’s spent a lot of time with her. He’s got a lot of horses, but he knows where she is every day. I’ve been on the phone with him when he’s leaving Oaklawn at 7 at night to drive all the way back [to Kentucky] because she’s going to breeze the next day. That type of commitment is a big deal, and I think when you get that from a trainer, that’s sometimes the difference between being very good and being elite.”
Crow also spoke to Cox’s ability to get Monomoy Girl ready for the dogfight she encountered in the Oaks after she coasted to a facile victory in her final prep.
“Brad’s done an outstanding job preparing her for that because she had such an easy run in the Ashland, going wire to wire with everything her way, so I thought in the Oaks, Brad had prepared her for that moment,” the former assistant to Eoin Harty and Jonathan Sheppard said. “In some of her breezes, she had gone head to head and pulled away, so maybe she drew back on that. I was just extremely proud of her performance.”
As was Kumin, who had one of the all-time weekends for a racehorse owner, returning to the infield a day after Monomoy Girl’s heroics to celebrate as one of the partners on GI Kentucky Derby winner Justify (Scat Daddy).
“It was a good one,” he said with a laugh. “Hard to be back at the office this week.”