A Pinhook to Justify Parrish Principles

A G.W. Parrish pinhook brought 17 times more than yearling price
Judit Seipert


You can do all those other things, if you like: expensive supplements and therapies, scans and samples. But none of it will do the slightest good unless your horse can trust its weight to the soles of its four feet.

Last September, veteran horseman G.W. Parrish was as usual scouting the later books at the Keeneland September sale for yearlings to pinhook through the small farm he operates at High Springs, Florida, along with wife Karen and daughter Kristin.

In the Gainesway consignment, he came across a gray colt by Justify. Lurking as low as Hip 1442, he obviously wasn't considered in the first rank of the Triple Crown winner's debut crop. The colt's dam had certainly appeared deserving of that level of cover, as a daughter of Tapit who had won the GII Pocahontas S. by five lengths. But she had been a disappointing broodmare so far, and her son was frankly lacking in size. Rather more seriously, he also appeared to be afflicted by some kind of deformity on a hoof.

As a result, most people were putting a line straight through his page. But Parrish took a closer look, and realized that it was the result of some adhesive repair treatment and essentially pretty superficial.

“He had some Equilox on the front of one foot, and it did look ugly,” Parrish recalls. “But I've been a blacksmith all my life, and I figured I could fix it. There was some white line, that was all. Most of the horses I get from Kentucky will have a spot of that and you can just grow it out.”

He cast his mind back to the time, a decade or so previously, when he had bought a Roman Ruler colt at the same auction for $4,000.

“With that horse, it looked like he was club footed on one foot,” Parish recalls. “But I thought, this horse just wore his toe off, where the blacksmith had tried to put a shoe on an intorsion. So I got him home and I kept that shoe on him for two months, and when OBS came to select for the February Sale, as it was back then, they said: 'How did you buy this Roman Ruler so cheap?' So I told them about the club foot, and they looked at him and said, 'Which foot was it?' And I said, 'Well I don't remember now!' You really couldn't tell anymore, it had just grown out. And as soon as they left, I took the shoe off, trimmed his feet, and just took care of them the rest of the time through.”

Dogwood Stable bought that colt for $100,000 and he won a maiden special weight at Saratoga on Travers Day.

Karen and G.W. Parrish | Courtesy of the Parrish family

So once again Parrish, 73, called on his decades of experience–for a long time he had trained at places like Atlantic City and Hialeah, getting to understand how to keep cheap horses sound–and took a gamble on the Justify colt. Nonetheless he was astonished when the bidding stopped at $25,000, one-sixth of his sire's opening fee.

“I could have doubled my money on the day I bought him,” Parrish admits. “Mark Casse offered me $50,000, but I'd have paid that for him myself. I was so surprised when they knocked him down to me. I just got lucky, because I thought he was a really nice colt, a super mover. Obviously Gainesway are pretty good at putting them in the right spot, and I guess he was a little small. But still with his pedigree, that shouldn't have stopped him. I guess it was just a case of getting the right advice about that foot. You'd think people could see that it could be fixed okay. It was always going to grow out, just like a fingernail would.”

Parrish took the Justify colt back to Florida, removed the shoe and trimmed the foot. “And I just kept him barefoot all winter,” he explains. “The foot grew out fine, wasn't anything wrong with it. Once I got the shoe off, I wasn't too worried. We're lucky, where my farm is: we don't have any rocks, and the track is really good, so I can train all my horses barefoot. I could just let his foot grow back. In fact, when I took him to the sale, that was the first time he'd had shoes on since September.”

Everything the colt had done in the meantime was heartening. He grew taller and stronger, and took to tack like a natural.

“He grew extremely well,” Parrish says. “He made a 16-hand horse, having been barely 15, I'd say, when I bought him. Grew at least four or five inches taller. And he just trained perfect all winter. He was the first horse we trained every morning, and nearly every time the rider would come back and say, 'You know, this is a really nice horse.' He wasn't scared of anything, he'd gallop right on. He had a really good mind, and just seemed to have this extra endurance. He never got tired.”

It was the same at OBS: he was just as sprightly when shown at the end of the day–and, indeed, just as eager to take a nip at Parrish–as he had been first thing in the morning.

Parrish had driven his six-strong draft into the grounds on Mar. 1, as he likes to complete his preparations over the track there.

“So I prepped him, and he went, like, 11 flat; 10-and-three; and the three-eighths in 34-and-2,” Parrish says. “I was on the podium on the backside, chatting with Jimbo Gladwell. And he said, 'I think your rider might need some help!' He was having trouble slowing him down, and they went right by me before I could get out there in front of him. And he ended up going all the way round the track again. He wasn't running off, just didn't want to stop. I knew then that he'd go a quarter! His endurance was just phenomenal.”

Some of the agents and the other consignors had witnessed that unscheduled extra exertion. The word was soon out. Sure enough, the colt clocked :20.4 in his breeze show, and was caught galloping out in :32.2 and :46.1.

“Pretty good for a baby,” Parrish remarks. “And switched leads on his own, like he always has.”

In the end, then, he had turned into just the type of youngster you would hope to get from a mating between Justify and a Tapit mare. And Rosedown Racing Stables/Oracle Bloodstock duly put their name to a $425,000 docket, 17 times more than he had cost six months previously.

At this stage of a long career in the game, Parrish is not one to be carried away. Only last year, after all, he pinhooked a $34,000 Midnight Storm yearling to realize $310,000 at OBS April. (Named India Ink, that colt recently won his maiden at Tampa Bay for Peachtree Stable and trainer Vicki Oliver.) But this was nonetheless a coup that deserves celebrating–based, as it was, on old-fashioned precepts of horsemanship.

For a time Parrish had emulated his father as a trainer of Quarter Horses, and his initial exposure to Thoroughbreds included galloping at $3 a head for Noel Hickey at Irish Acres. Earlier he had also had a formative experience at the Morven Park riding school operated at Leesburg, Virginia, by the ex-cavalry officer and Olympic eventing coach Major John (Joe) Lynch.

“That was 1968,” Parrish recalls. “I was 20-years-old and that was one of the best things I ever did, the year I spent with him. I rode some really good three-day eventers there. I don't gallop the horses much anymore. Used to, for years and years, but not at the age I am now. But I still break them myself, and pony them. We try to start all our babies by ponying them, until they jog well, get a good mouth on them, get used to the pony. We live right here on the farm, it's only 50 acres, so it's all pretty hands-on.”

Parrish and his family quit the racetrack some 15 or 20 years ago, and settled north of Ocala in a district that is, relatively speaking, something of a backwater in the local horse industry. Between their own investments, a few others made in partnership, and pre-training projects for a handful of clients, Parrish Farms will reckon to process only around 25 head of horse every year. But plenty of good performers have shown the benefits of their grounding here.

2018 Flower Bowl winner Fourstar Crook was a Parrish grad | Sarah Andrew

Fourstar Crook (Freud), whose GI Flower Bowl S. success crowned a $1.6-million career for Chad Brown, was sent here as a $55,000 Saratoga New York yearling purchase by Allied Bloodstock (sold on for $110,000). Stormy Embrace (Circular Quay) was broken here for Matalona Thoroughbreds before winning the GII Princess Rooney S. twice. And Hull (Holy Bull) for a time looked one of the best sophomores of 2009 in winning his first three, including the GIII Derby Trial at Churchill.

Horses on this farm tend to have been dredged from the lower reaches of the market. But Parrish's work with the Justify colt shows what can be done, if you go beyond the superficial judgements reached by people in a hurry, and then apply tried-and-tested principles of husbandry.

“I think when you've trained Quarter Horses, you'll always like them to have a good hip and hind leg,” Parrish says. “A nice 'V' in the chest, some muscle under the belly, and a good, deep shoulder. They've got to be pretty correct, and I like them to have a big walk. Those are the horses I try to buy, at least. They won't all work out, but it averages out okay.”

The idea being to lay a sustainable foundation, Parrish doesn't always feel comfortable with the industry's addiction to the bullet breeze.

“I do think we push them too much,” he says. “Back in '78, we sold horses in Hialeah just galloping. We didn't breeze them then, though of course they didn't bring the kind of money they do now. All the same, I like to put a lot of bottom and condition in these horses. I feed them well and try to start them very slowly, build up the bone. And last week [at OBS] they all did it no problem, came back good, no shins or anything.

“Most of our horses don't need any time off after the sale, people can go right on with them. They do tend to give horses time off, but that's when things can go wrong, when they're turned out. Mine can mostly go right on training: their mind is good, they gallop well, they're not hot, fiery horses. And that's because we try to do a slow process over the winter.”

But let's not forget one last, vital element. “They've got to have good feet, for sure!” Parrish says with a chuckle. “But while you can't fix a crooked leg, you can fix a foot.”

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.

Copy Article Link

Liked this article? Read more like this.

  1. Justify's Opera Singer Dominates The Marcel Boussac
  2. Saturday Insights: $625k OBS Grad Makes First Start At Delaware
  3. Keeneland Breeder Spotlight: How Greg Goodman, A Good Texan, Became a Brilliant Kentuckian
  4. Justify Colt Makes Belated Sophomore Debut at Hanshin
  5. 1.6-Million Book 1 Sensation Debuts At Newmarket

Never miss another story from the TDN

Click Here to sign up for a free subscription.