By Chris McGrath
It’s a French word, applied to a young woman of attractively boyish features. But the naming of Gamine (Into Mischief) appears to reflect a less elfin quality; to suggest something closer to the power and masculinity of the “tomboy.” For here is a young female with all the assertive virility of her barnmates Charlatan (Speightstown) and Nadal (Blame), who followed in her scalded prints when also scoring on the final card of the Oaklawn meet 10 days ago.
The two colts, of course, won a division apiece of the GI Arkansas Derby; Gamine was keeping lesser company, stepping up to allowance level after her spectacular ‘TDN Rising Star’ debut success in a Santa Anita maiden. Nonetheless she was able to rub shoulders with her brawny companions in terms of the ratings they took back to California. Even though she ultimately held out by just a neck from Speech (Mr Speaker), Gamine’s 98 Beyer was a match for Nadal and edged Charlatan’s 96; and she is ranked third in Bill Finley’s latest Kentucky Oaks Top 10.
As things stand, then, Gamine has managed to maintain her value as she approaches the anniversary of the Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale. And that’s no mean achievement–because the $1.8-million docket signed there by Donato Lanni, on behalf of Michael Lund Peterson, qualified her as the most expensive animal ever sold at that auction.
It also represented a wonderful yield on the $220,000 staked by Grand Oaks at Keeneland the previous September. But if Gamine is looking comfortable with that kind of profile, then so too is Grand Oaks–even though the Florida farm where she was prepped by Bobby Dodd was only acquired by Brad Grady in December 2012.
The Grady-Dodd partnership landed running. That first summer at Grand Oaks, they picked out a Malibu Moon colt at Saratoga for $200,000. He was sold at OBS the following March for $1.3 million. In 2017, a son of Tiznow found for just $125,000 at the September Sale broke the OBS April record at $2.45 million.
Gamine, then, only extended an apparent Midas touch. Certainly there seems to be something ideally complementary about the drive and ambition of Texan businessman Grady, a relative newcomer to the business, and the veteran horsemanship of Dodd.
Both, in fairness, were raised on cattle ranches. But Grady was not even born when Dodd was learning stockmanship from Florida horsemen of the old school, in J.L. Gladwell and Carl Bowling. Dodd then entered a long partnership with Bowling’s son Tony, between 1980 and 2008. But he must have assumed himself to be approaching the evening of his career when Grady’s advent suddenly opened up all these unexpected and thrilling new horizons.
“Oh, it’s just been a pleasure working for the Gradys,” Dodd says warmly. “Yeah, it’s been a breath of fresh air. I’m really enjoying being settled on Grand Oaks, and Brad and Misty are such wonderful, loyal people. Meeting Brad has obviously allowed me to buy a better horse. And I will say this about him: he takes the good and the bad equally. If it’s good, he’s happy; and if it’s bad, he doesn’t get upset, doesn’t get mad, doesn’t blame anybody with anything. He knows how it goes. It’s a numbers game. Some of it’s going to work, and some of it isn’t.”
In other words, Grady never brought unreasonable expectations to an unpredictable business. Dodd knew the investment had a level base and Grady knew the same about the prospecting and preparation of young stock. Dodd could carry on using the same set of eyes, just raise them higher in the marketplace.
He had handled many stakes horses, after all, during his years with Bowling. In 1994, for instance, they gave $68,000 for a Valid Appeal colt from Mockingbird Farm; they sold him at Calder the following February for $225,000.
“Even though he was a May 28 foal, he showed us he was going to be early,” Dodd recalls. “He came right around–not very big, but very correct and very fast.”
That speedball turned out to be Valid Expectations–one of Steve Asmussen’s first big horses, and later something of a Texas legend at stud. (Actually Dodd and Bowling pinhooked his G1 Golden Shaheen winner Saratoga County.) But it was another connection to the Lone Star state that would ultimately lead Dodd through the crossroads he reached in 2008. For among those with whom he was still doing business was an old friend in Texas, Dr. Joe Cannon, who happened to count Grady’s in-laws among his veterinary clientele. On hunting trips, Cannon shared some insights into the bloodstock world with Grady. Emboldened to try his luck with pinhooking, Grady bought a Malibu Moon filly for $90,000 at the 2011 September Sale. Eddie Woods took her to Gulfstream the following February, where she made $490,000.
Before the year was out, Grady had bought the former Gulf Coast Farm at Reddick, in northwest Marion County: 415 acres with a 7/8th training track, 144 stalls, and a swimming facility. Dodd, who had been introduced to Grady by Cannon and assisted some of his early projects, was hired as manager and trainer; he also hones those horses retained for the racing barn, then sent to Joe Sharp.
Their success since has not been confined to the sales. Horses that don’t look like achieving their full value, within the pinhooking window, are retained for the racetrack division (split between Joe Sharp and Bret Calhoun). As a result, Grady found himself represented in the 2017 GI Kentucky Derby both as consignor, of Irap (Tiznow), and owner, of Girvin (Tale Of Ekati).
“We try to offer everything for sale,” Dodd explains. “But if the horse is not coming around as we expect, and we really like him, then we have the option of keeping him and doing something different later on. Girvin had a little issue in April, he’d stepped on his coronet band and it got infected. He’d have been ready for Maryland, but he was showing a lot of talent and, with his pedigree, we didn’t think he’d bring what he was really worth. So Brad opted to keep him, and everything worked out.”
Girvin, named for the remote West Texas community where Grady was raised, won the GII Risen Star S. and GII Louisiana Derby. And while he disappointed at Churchill Downs, he landed his Grade I that summer in the Haskell Invitational and in between ran Irap to a nose in a memorable GIII Ohio Derby for Grand Oaks.
The program is proven, then, inside and out. So when Dodd rang after one of Gamine’s first breezes, and declared her “a freak,” Grady knew he would have either a smart racehorse or a good payday. After she worked :10 flat at Timonium, it was pretty obvious which it was to be.
“We had no idea this filly would bring that kind of money,” Dodd recalls. “We did think she’d bring $700,000 or $800,000 and maybe $1 million, after the vettings she was getting. But everything came together. We got two or three ‘money people’ hooked on, and it was the perfect storm, if you will.”
Gamine hadn’t put a foot wrong throughout her preparation. Dodd remembers finding her in the Summerfield consignment at Keeneland, perfect for his specifications.
“Colts or fillies, that’s the kind I try to buy: well-balanced, big and strong,” he says. “She has a huge, strong body, like a colt, so the name’s probably appropriate. But as far as her head and her neck and all, she’s quite feminine. She was quite correct, and looked like a horse that would go fast, but then also go two turns–because she was big and stretchy. And obviously Into Mischief was getting runners right and left.
“But I don’t know that anybody has that crystal ball or can see the kitty in the barnyard. You just buy a horse you really like, a horse you hope will work out. A lot of times it does, and a lot of times it doesn’t. I mean, I don’t go to a horse sale just looking for the special, special horse. It’s only when you start getting into them that you know. This horse, we were just lucky she fell into our price range. But I’ve been doing this since 1980, and I honestly do not think anybody can just pick one out and say this is going to be a stakes horse.”
So Gamine went into the program, same as all the rest, and set Dodd the usual challenge: how to draw out as much athletic potential as possible, without causing her to recoil from his demands. Striking that balance, reading the mute responses of a developing adolescent, is the key for all consignors.
“Well, it’s a hard signal to detect,” admits Dodd. “You have to listen to these horses. You can’t just buy one and say, ‘Well, I’m going to take this one to Gulfstream in February, or OBS April, or wherever.’ They’re going to tell you where they’re going. You have to give some of these horses time. Sometimes a horse will get really forward, really early, but then just get into a spot. And then you have horses that you think they’re clumsy and awkward, and they just steadily get better and better.
“They just tell you. I can’t really explain that. I’ve been doing this a long time, and if it’s too early, something will happen. They’ll get sore in their back or somewhere. Or some of them are just immature mentally. Because if they get rattled or nervous, that takes a lot out of them. That’s when horses wash out.”
Gamine had her head in the game from the outset and responded adeptly to every challenge. Nonetheless Dodd wanted to reserve her for the Maryland sale.
“She was real easy on herself,” Dodd says. “She was really smart, just took everything in stride, nothing ever bothered her. I think we could’ve gone anywhere with her. But I always like taking at least one really nice horse up to Maryland. That sale has been good to me and, just feeling that she was going to be a really nice horse, I wanted to go easy with her, give her time, not hurt her in any way. I really wanted to make a good impression with her at the sale. And we did that.”
Dodd, demonstrably, knows how to play to the market’s commercial prejudices but argues that these are not confined, as we so often hear, to the single dimension of a “bullet” time.
“I don’t think the money is eight-pole to the wire anymore,” he explains. “I think it’s from the wire to the half-mile pole. And this filly was really fit. We had already worked her a quarter, several times, and she was probably ‘three-eighths’ fit. I knew she was going to be fast, and I wanted her to gallop out. I was concerned about that five-eighths track up there. But she navigated those turns very well.”
Grand Oaks is drawing plenty of attention, then, but while some external clientele are accommodated, Dodd is wary of diluting his own. He believes that these results have been achieved precisely by keeping the scale tight.
“Some of the bigger consignors in the Ocala area have 150 to 200 2-year-olds in training,” he says. “We never have more than 60 or 75, and that’s really enough for us–because we’re all on hand here, seven days a week. Honestly, I don’t think that I could do as good a job with that many horses.”
As it is, the focused approach of Dodd and his team has produced the most expensive Into Mischief sold to date. True, Gamine’s two-turn debut at Oaklawn raised the possibility that she may prove another whose brilliance might not quite stretch to Classic distances. Dodd declines a verdict, simply being delighted by how she has started out.
“I think she can go maybe a little farther, but that’s not for me to judge,” he says. “That would be for Bob Baffert and he obviously thinks so. I’m just glad it’s all working out to the owner’s advantage. We knew we had a really, really nice horse to take up to that sale, and we’re really proud of her.”
Whatever happens from here, Gamine symbolizes a wonderful new lease on life for a veteran horseman who had found himself renting a couple of barns from the McKathan brothers just a few years ago.
“Tony Bowling and I were partners for 28 years,” Dodd recalls. “He’s a great guy, it was just kind of time for us to move on. He wanted to do some different things, I did as well. It just shows you never know what the future’s going to bring. I didn’t know what God’s plans for me were, but obviously he had plans–and this is what happened. It really is an awesome story. I can’t say enough about the Gradys, what great people they are, just really good, down-to-earth, Texas people. They love the game, and the people. This whole scenario around here, my whole situation… I don’t want to say it’s been a fairytale, but there’s just been no negatives. It’s all been a plus from the very beginning.”