By Katie Petrunyak
Elliott Walden has nothing but confidence in WinStar Farm's two new stallion recruits for 2024 and he has the numbers to show it. The speedy Two Phil's (Hard Spun) posted some eye-catching figures this year as a 3-year-old, including 105 Beyer Speed Figures in both the GIII Ohio Derby and his runner-up performance in the GI Kentucky Derby. Meanwhile his new studmate Country Grammer (Tonalist), winner of the G1 Dubai World Cup, retired as the third highest-earning North American-bred horse of all time–behind great company in Arrogate and Gun Runner– with earnings of over $14.9 million.
“We've been very excited with how they've been received,” said Walden. “Both horses bring something a little bit different to the table. Country Grammer is a Seattle Slew-line horse through Tonalist and Tapit and he comes from a great Juddmonte family, so he brings stamina to mares that have a little kick to them and he's going to give a great physique. Two Phil's is a horse that people are really responding to. They know how good of a racehorse he was and for $12,500, when the other 3-year-olds in the crop are probably going to be standing for three times that, he provides great value.”
Trained by Chicago native Larry Rivelli, Two Phil's was the feel-good story of the Windy City as he claimed four stakes wins and earned over $1.5 million for fellow Chicagoans Philip Sagan and Patricia's Hope LLC, with Madaket Stables also joining the ownership group this year.
The son of Hard Spun came on WinStar's radar after his dominating score in the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks, where his 5 ½ Ragozin figure ranked him at the top of the list of Kentucky Derby contenders. The colt's second-place performance on the first Saturday in May confirmed WinStar's belief in his ability.
“He was up close to a very fast pace,” Walden recalled. “To turn for home and take the lead, obviously he had to be exhausted because it was a very fast pace, but he just tried to hang on and fought Mage (Good Magic) all the way to the wire. Then when you look at the gallop out, he actually comes back and gallops out in front.”
In Two Phil's final career start in the GIII Ohio Derby, he recorded a near six-length win over Bishops Bay (Uncle Mo), a colt co-owned by WinStar that had finished second by a head to MGISW Arcangelo (Arrogate) in his prior start in the GIII Peter Pan S.
“That just shows the kind of quality that Two Phil's had as a racehorse,” said Walden. “He had form on multiple surfaces and on multiple racetracks. He also won a graded stake in the slop as a 2-year-old. He was just a racehorse.”
While Two Phil's racing career is reminiscent of his sire's–as Hard Spun also recorded two stakes wins as a juvenile and won the same Derby prep at three–it is the sire line in and of itself that Walden said made Two Phil's a good fit for their stallion program.
“We've been looking for a Danzig horse for a long time,” he explained. “Danzig is a horse that keeps giving in this industry. When you see Danzig in a pedigree–Uncle Mo, War Front, now Omaha Beach is coming on–you need to take notice. Hard Spun is a very underrated stallion and the thing that Two Phil's brings is that he's a very good-looking son of Hard Spun. He's well-balanced, has a great head and good topline and he's well-sprung on his hocks. I think he'll compliment mares just because of his size and his balance.”
Country Grammer is another horse that Walden said has caught the eye of breeders visiting the stallions at WinStar.
“We did a showcase last summer of Life is Good, Nashville and Country Grammer and there were as many people that were as taken back with Country Grammer as they were Life Is Good and Nashville,” he recalled. “We know how popular Life Is Good and Nashville have been, so we're really excited about Country Grammer for 2024. He's a big, scopey horse that has a long, sloping shoulder. He's the kind of horse that you would expect to run two turns and I think he'll compliment mares because he'll help mares get the kind of physical that breeders would want at the sales.”
A $450,000 2-year-old at the OBS Spring Sale, Country Grammer started out in the Chad Brown barn and was originally campaigned by Paul Pompa. After breaking his maiden at two, the colt went on to claim the GIII Peter Pan S. the following year. He caught the eye of the WinStar team while spending time at the farm on a layoff. Following the passing of Paul Pompa, WinStar acquired the colt at the 2021 Keeneland January Sale.
From there, the son of Tonalist was sent to Bob Baffert and collected victories in the 2021 GI Hollywood Gold Cup S., the 2022 G1 Dubai World Cup over a field that included Life is Good, Midnight Bourbon and Hot Rod Charlie, and the 2022 GII San Antonio S. He also placed in four additional Grade I contests over his five-year career, including a runner-up effort in this year's G1 Saudi Cup.
“He ran at a high level on the East Coast, West Coast and the Middle East for a long time,” said Walden. “In this day and age when soundness and race record is important, I think he's a high-quality horse. He comes from a great Juddmonte family–the family of Obligatory (Curlin) and Bonny South (Munnings) that has been giving good runners for a long time. It's really exciting to have a horse like him at the price that we have him at for 2024.”