Ce Ce Extends 'Magical' Hirsch Legacy

Ce Ce | Coady


Well, I guess even Clement L. Hirsch might have had to scratch his head once or twice, if he were still around, to help confront the challenges facing Santa Anita over the past year or so. But there's no doubt that we could all, in the present crisis, usefully emulate the spirit of altruistic dynamism by which he sustained Californian racing in his own time.

In 1969, Hirsch and his partners began a game-changing, not-for-profit enterprise at the Oak Tree Racing Association and established a similar regime at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club the following year. Fifty years on, as we grope for a way out of this lockdown maze, we could all take our bearings from the same compass–one that points the needle away from self-interest, and towards the greater good.

Hirsch showed that you can be an idealist without being a dreamer. There could not be anything woolly or impractical about a man who had fought with the U.S. Marines at Guadalcanal; who made a fortune in the hard-nosed world of building and trading companies; and whose fund-raising for Nixon secured dinner invitations on the presidential yacht. But he was one classy guy. On his death, the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association saluted him as “the epitome of a gentleman,” and Warren Stute, who had trained for him for 48 years, called him “the nicest, most intelligent and honest person I've ever had the pleasure of having as a friend.”

Hirsch's sporting career began when he and a buddy salvaged a racing greyhound from threatened euthanasia, for $2.50, and nursed him back to health and success. This experiment in canine nutrition had momentous incidental consequences, as he launched his business career as a door-to-door pet food salesman. But his Thoroughbred career would need no less adventure and perseverance.

The adventure took him to South America, where he found several of his best runners. And the perseverance, ultimately, has given us one of the brightest of the few sunbeams to have penetrated our benighted racing program this spring.

For in extending Grade I success to a third generation, Ce Ce (Elusive Quality) has set an extremely rare seal on the kind of acuity and patience required by any breeder trying to cultivate a family. The sequence began with her granddam Magical Maiden (Lord Avie), who was foaled in 1989 and won the GI Hollywood Starlet S. and GI Las Virgenes S. in Hirsch's silks. Early in 2000, she delivered a filly by Belong To Me. Unfortunately, her breeder died seven weeks later, aged 85, but his son Bo–advised by agent Kathy Berkey–made this the only weanling among five horses picked out from the dispersal to keep the family stable going.

Stute was evidently unimpressed when Bo Hirsch introduced him to the filly, exclaiming, “I hope you didn't pay too much for her!” But Miss Houdini's GI Del Mar Debutante S. success very aptly book-ended his career, Stute having saddled a Polynesian filly named Tonga to win the inaugural running in 1951.

Though confined to just three other starts, Miss Houdini soon delivered in her second career, as well, her millionaire son Papa Clem (Smart Strike) putting the family on the Triple Crown trail after winning the GII Arkansas Derby. He finished fourth to Mine That Bird (Birdstone) at Churchill Downs, but unfortunately had to be retired after winning the GII San Fernando S. on his sole start at four. Nonetheless Papa Clem–named for the way Bo's kids knew their late grandfather and conditioned by Stute's nephew Gary–had taken them all on a stirring journey.

Ten years after delivering Papa Clem, Miss Houdini produced a filly by Elusive Quality. She made her debut just over a year ago, winning a Santa Anita sprint, and finished miles clear of the rest when beaten narrowly next time. That emboldened trainer Mike McCarthy to ship Ce Ce to Belmont for the GI Acorn S., where she missed the podium by a head.

Promising as those foundations were, she has built dizzily since her return from an eight-month layoff. After a straightforward resumption on her home track in February, she administered a startling defeat to the charismatic Hard Not To Love (Hard Spun) in the GI Beholder Mile. Then, last Saturday, she visited the scene of her half-brother's big success in Hot Springs for an exceptional edition of the GI Apple Blossom H. Though Ollie's Candy (Candy Ride {Arg}) proved insanely game, after contributing to scalding fractions, Ce Ce nailed her on the line.

Ce Ce has come a long way in six starts, but the genetic foundations go very deep–and beyond the elite streak she has extended from dam and granddam.

The family, tracing to 1946 Irish Oaks winner Linaria (Ire), has notably interested the unerringly astute Glennwood Farm. When Clement Hirsch's stable was dispersed, John Gunther bought both a daughter and a half-sister of Magical Maiden at Barretts in January 2001. He gave $100,000 for an A.P. Indy filly, the unraced 3-year-old Miss Brickyard (subsequently won a maiden); and $175,000 for the 11-year-old Miswaki mare, Magical Flash, who had shown respectable ability on the track and already produced a couple of stakes performers.

Gunther first sent Magical Flash to Chester House, and the result was the Grade I-placed, Grade III winner Take The Ribbon. Magical Flash has since produced a litany of stakes performers and producers, the standout being Glinda The Good (Hard Spun), the dam of champion juvenile Good Magic (Curlin).

Gunther and his daughter Tanya obviously liked Hard Spun for the family, because the year after Magical Flash's visit they sent him Miss Brickyard. She delivered a tough British sprinter named Moviesta (Hard Spun), who won a Group 2 on the downhill five at Goodwood and was also placed in Group 1 company.

Magical Maiden had been only one of several siblings purchased by Clement Hirsch–the others included Magical Mile, a Grade II winner who broke the Hollywood Park track record at :56.40–and Warren Stute was always asking him why he didn't just go ahead and buy their dam outright. Her name was Gils Magic. Down the field in her solitary start, she was by a forgettable son of Northern Dancer, Magesterial; but her half-brother by Lord Avie did finish third in the 1987 GI Kentucky Derby. Hence, presumably, the selection of Lord Avie for Gils Magic the following spring.

The resulting filly was Magical Maiden, acquired by Hirsch as a 2-year-old in training for $26,000. The legacy of that transaction is still evolving. Aside from Papa Clem and Ce Ce, Miss Houdini has obtained a couple of other minor distinctions–notably the stakes-placed daughter by Victory Gallop who produced Grade III winner Hot Springs (Mo Town). (He had made $750,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, sold through Columbiana Farm where Bo Hirsch boards half a dozen mares.) And Miss Houdini is still going strong at 20. She has a yearling colt by American Pharoah and, though she reportedly slipped the foal due this spring, has now been successfully covered by Midnight Lute.

That underrated stallion looks a value call, much as was the aging Elusive Quality when Berkey urged him as a mate for Miss Houdini. Though he had become rather criminally neglected by the time he died, two years ago, Elusive Quality remained ever a golden conduit of class and versatility.

Those Gone West trademarks, also so evident in Speightstown, had been immediately signalled when his first two crops (at $10,000) produced a precocious turf sprinter in Europe, in the G1 Prix Morny winner Elusive City, and then Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones. Happily, moreover, Elusive Quality's legacy seems meanwhile to have been secured by excellent sons at stud, at both ends of the fee spectrum, in Quality Road and Raven's Pass.

Ce Ce herself compounds one or two of his key appeals. Both Elusive Quality's parents were out of mares who brought sons of Somethingroyal into the equation: one being by Secretariat, the other by Sir Gaylord's son Sir Ivor. And Magical Maiden's sire introduces an extra strand, Lord Avie being a grandson of Sir Gaylord. Another nice balance in her pedigree concerns Elusive Quality's damsire Hero's Honor and Miss Houdini's sire Belong to Me. Both share a fourth dam in Big Hurry, arguably La Troienne's most influential daughter.

Those parchments of scroll won't interest everyone, but three Grade I-winning mares in a row is too rare a feat for such tendrils to be weeded out. Storm Flag Flying (Storm Cat) remains still more accomplished, perhaps, as a third female in a row to win her Grade I at the Breeders' Cup; and Clear Mandate (Deputy Minister) surpasses both, being not only a third-generation Grade I-winning female but also dam of an elite male scorer in Strong Mandate (Tiznow).

Regardless, as and when it becomes possible to plot any kind of dependable program for Ce Ce, there's no doubt what her priority will be. For before it was renamed in 2000, following the death of the man it now honors, the Clement L. Hirsch S. was known as the Chula Vista H.—and had been won, in 1993, by none other than Magical Maiden.

Meanwhile elevated to Grade I level, it would be the perfect cue for Ce Ce to renew the gratitude of the Californian sport to its modern architect. The landscape has changed since, of course. But let's remember the boldness, generosity and imagination with which Hirsch and his partners guaranteed an apparatus that also sustained many community projects, research programs and charities.

We still have the same, wonderful stage; perhaps the best backdrop in the racing world, at Santa Anita. Let's hope we also still have the actors equal to the challenging roles now being cast.

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. Oaklawn Names Dinerman Track Announcer
  2. Oaklawn's Purse Growth Continues
  3. Richest Prep Series Gets Richer At Oaklawn
  4. Knuckley, Clary Keep Neatherlin Legacy Alive With Don'tcrossthedevil
  5. Trainer David Vance Retires

Never miss another story from the TDN

Click Here to sign up for a free subscription.