Gormley Takes up Twin Legacies

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Gormley's High Oak | Chelsea Durand

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While it's obviously an extremely poignant day to be reflecting on a breakout success for one of the youngest stallions at Spendthrift, then at least those now mourning the farm's owner know that his own legacy to the breed could scarcely be more secure. For the same cannot quite be said of the horse who started it all for B. Wayne Hughes, Malibu Moon, whose loss earlier this year has now obtained a tragic symmetry.

Between the farm's consecutive bereavements, there's no denying that the equine patriarch cannot yet match the human one in being guaranteed a lasting say in the development of the 21st Century Thoroughbred. How apt, then, if High Oak's performance in the GII Saratoga Special S. last Saturday should prove to be the moment his rookie sire Gormley announced himself a legitimate heir to a stallion whose overall resumé surely merits his own branch of the A.P. Indy line.

Malibu Moon, of course, had long shown an inconvenient propensity to concentrate his elite stock among fillies. Though no two horses did more for his career than Declan's Moon, a champion juvenile from his second crop, and 2013 GI Kentucky Derby winner Orb, they were the only two males among his first 10 Grade I winners.

And Declan's Moon was a gelding, which left a lot of eggs in Orb's basket. We know what happened there. Despite his exemplary breeding (family of Ruffian) and management, Orb's slow start at stud was ruthlessly punished by commercial breeders. By 2020 he found himself reduced to a pitiful book of seven mares, and earlier this year he was sold to Uruguay.

In the meantime Malibu Moon maintained his conveyor belt of fillies: Life At Ten, Carina Mia, Ask The Moon, Malibu Prayer, Devil May Care. By the time he left us in May, towards the end of his 22nd breeding season, he was depending on a group of inexpensive young sons to contest the succession.

Calumet, for instance, were giving a chance to Ransom The Moon and Mr. Z, while there were high hopes in California for Stanford. And then, standing right alongside his venerable father at Spendthrift, there was Gormley.

He had been launched in trademark Spendthrift fashion, with a debut book of 180 in 2018 at $10,000. Though he maintained traffic at 127 and 72 mares through the next two years, this time around he was offered at just $5,000 for that ticklish fourth season–a fee that earned Gormley a place on the value “podium” in our annual winter survey of Kentucky stallion options.

Things began well, on the face of it, a $550,000 colt at OBS March proving the highest by a freshman sire–and a notable pinhook, Eddie Woods having taken him aboard as a $160,000 yearling at Fasig-Tipton the previous September. Similar touches were landed at Timonium, where a couple of Gormley's other sons realized $450,000 and $425,000, having respectively reached $49,000 (RNA) and $140,000 in their previous visits to the ring.

Clearly, however, those were only the headline acts. As usual when sheer volume gives the market so much choice, plenty of vendors found things tougher. On the other hand, there's no denying the athletic appeal of that first crop. If $37,544 had been just a workable average at the yearling sales, then 59 sold of 73 represented brisker trade than for many with a higher notional yield. (I always feel stallions are flattered by the exclusion of RNAs from their averages, as these will typically include their weakest stock.) Interestingly as many as 52 Gormleys went to the juvenile sales, a tally exceeded in the intake only by Klimt (68) and Practical Joke (56). The market consensus, plainly, was that they were built for the job.

Moreover the $550,000 colt, aptly named Headline Report by purchasers Breeze Easy, promptly gave Gormley his first winner, as his first starter, over 4.5 furlongs at Keeneland in April. And he then held out best behind the dazzling Wit (Practical Joke)–himself performing a very similar service to his own sire, as the most expensive yearling in an even bigger debut book–in the GII Sanford S. at Saratoga. With High Oak, Gormley has now found another colt with the potential to square up to Practical Joke's flagship.

True, we must also give an honorable mention to Saturday's runner-up Gunite, a son of class leader Gun Runner, whose graded stakes on either coast the previous weekend represented remarkable laurels for a late-maturing, two-turn horse.

Not that Gormley himself should be expected to produce merely precocious types. Yes, he won his first two juvenile starts, including the GI Frontrunner S. And yes, he did not last long after a midfield Derby finish. Yet a pedigree of such depth and quality would not only have entitled him to keep progressing, but will hopefully prove a genetic repository for his foals to do the same.

It also has a conspicuous flavor of grass, which might yet be drawn out in Gormley's stock despite Malibu Moon having confined all 17 of his Grade I winners to dirt. Don't forget that the first two dams of Malibu Moon himself were both Group 1 winners in France, while his mother's half-brother Septieme Ciel was perhaps the most accomplished turf performer by Seattle Slew. And these chlorophyll elements are handsomely complemented by Gormley's own family.

Indeed, given the vexing situation in Chicago, it is bittersweet to recall that his fourth dam is none other than Estrapade, now destined to remain the only female to win the GI Arlington Million. She was six when doing so and, as a daughter of that very hardy influence Vaguely Noble (Ire), she really pegs down Gormley's bottom line. Her half-brother Criminal Type (Alydar) put together his Horse of the Year campaign at five, while the mating that produced Gormley's third dam Troika was with an even sturdier animal in the globetrotter (and fellow 12f winner) Strawberry Road (Aus), who kept going until he was eight.

Estrapade had a troubled breeding history and Troika was one of only two foals to make the racetrack, where she won four of eight on turf. Unfortunately her own breeding career would prove still more curtailed, confined to a single starter, Miss Mambo (Kingmambo), who was Classic-placed over a mile in France before being imported to join the Castleton Lyons broodmare band. Once again she would only really be redeemed by a single foal, a series of duds having followed a very promising first one.

That was Race To Urga (Bernstein), who was on a roll of four–on turf, of course, given her background–and had just won her first stakes when her career was cut short by injury. Her first date was with Malibu Moon: Castleton Lyons had a leg in the horse, and indeed hosted him between his Maryland and Spendthrift stints. And the result was Gormley.

The literal bottom line, then, is just layer after layer of grass: all his first four dams, and those seeded by Vaguely Noble, Strawberry Road, Kingmambo and Bernstein (sire of two GI Breeders' Cup Mile winners). Throw in that cluster of toughness and stamina around Estrapade and Strawberry Road, and there's no way anyone should be treating Gormley as just a mass-output sire of commercial juveniles.

The classy genetic brands packed behind him were always evident in his physique, which earned him a slot in Book 1 at Keeneland. Admittedly, he failed to reach his reserve at $150,000, evidently a victim of one of those exasperating scopes that often give buyers needless jitters. But he was good enough for David Ingordo, which would be good enough for most of us, and was duly secured privately by Jerry and Ann Moss for whom he supplemented his big juvenile score in the GI Santa Anita Derby.

It's fitting that Gormley's first star should be supervised by Bill Mott, who also trained Estrapade's daughter Troika.

Bred by Catherine Parke of Valkyre Stud, High Oak is out of the 17-year-old Elusive Quality mare Champagne Sue, a moderate dirt sprinter recruited for $80,000 at the Keeneland November Sale of 2010. She hasn't produced anything of this caliber, which must augur well for Gormley, though there plenty of potential has always lured in a family developed by the late equine insurance agent, William Carl: two half-sisters won graded stakes and another produced GI Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Shared Account (Pleasantly Perfect), herself dam of another Breeders' Cup winner in 'TDN Rising Star' Sharing (Speightstown). Deeper in, this is also the family of New Year's Day (Street Cry {Ire}) and Mohaymen (Tapit).

With a grandson of Mr. Prospector as damsire, High Oak replicates that ubiquitous presence behind Gormley (as noted, granddam Miss Mambo is by Mr. P.'s son Kingmambo; while Mr. P. also gave us the dam of Malibu Moon). But while High Oak's first and second dams are by extremely familiar distaff influences (Elusive Quality and Dixieland Band), the third is by a pretty arcane one in Nalees Man, a largely forgotten Louisiana sire by Gallant Man out of a sister to Shuvee. (The fourth dam, in contrast, introduces a name for the ages in Turn-to!)

All in all, both on paper and visually, High Oak must have every chance of stretching out the dash he has shown in his first two starts. Certainly he was well found at $70,000 last September by Lee Einsidler (who races him with Mike Francesa), having been picked up from Valkyre in the same ring the previous November by Donarra Farm as a $37,000 weanling.

Mott certainly has a barn full of momentum for the second half of the season. The race previous to the Saratoga Special was won by Speaker's Corner (Street Sense), the sophomore “sleeper” everyone has been anticipating so long; while I'm told that White Frost (Candy Ride {Arg}), the only American filly to have beaten Con Lima (Commissioner) on grass, is making a good recovery from the injury that has sidelined her since. Now Mott also has the chance to polish the legacy of Malibu Moon.

With the genetic goods for distance, maturity and indeed different surfaces, Gormley has made an auspicious start with seven scorers from 21 starters to date, already including a Grade II winner and runner-up. Of course, these remain the very earliest of days. And it must be said that for now he's only just keeping step, by earnings, with Stanford. The Tommy Town sire, from the family of Pulpit and Johannesburg, has had no fewer than nine winners from just 14 starters to date. Mr. Z is up and running, too, with four from 12.

But this week of all weeks, we have to hope that Gormley can keep their sire's flame alive at Spendthrift. As part of its “Safe Bet” program, after all, he exemplifies the enterprise and dynamism of the extraordinary man who relaunched the farm. This had guaranteed at least one graded stakes winner for Gormley in 2021, failing which no covering fee would be charged to those backing him for his fourth crop. A classic Hughes initiative–and it's a comfort that he had, at least, been able to welcome Gormley keeping his part of the bargain so soon.

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