By Alan Carasso
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — Brooke Hubbard remembers the 2018 Keeneland September Sale almost as if it happened yesterday.
A little past the midway point of the sixth day of bidding in Lexington, hip 1683–a colt from the first crop of Tonalist and offered by Dermot and Emma Quinn's Garrencasey Sales–walked into the back ring and immediately caught Hubbard's attention. A few minutes and $60,000 later, the May 11 foal was hers.
“I bid twice and I was looking around thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, I must have missed something that someone else saw or noticed,'” Hubbard recollected. “But overall, he was just a really nice-shaped horse. His legs, he had good angles and he had a little pot-belly, but you could see the raw shape underneath it all.”
The immature, young and unrefined racehorse she'd plucked out of the sale on behalf of Sayjay Racing's Steve Young, now named Country Grammer, can become North America's first $20-million racehorse should he successfully defend his title at Meydan Racecourse this Saturday.
Making the Short 'List'
To call any son or daughter of Tapit a surprise package would be a bit of a stretch, but Tonalist proved to be one of the more versatile gallopers in recent memory. Winner of the GII Peter Pan S. at a mile and an eighth in May 2014, the Shel Evans homebred successfully stretched out to 12 furlongs to annex the GI Belmont S. and closed the campaign victoriously in the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup over a mile and two furlongs.
A razor-sharp winner of the one-mile GIII Westchester H. on his 4-year-old debut, he was third to his fellow future Lane's End stallion barnmates Honor Code and Liam's Map in the GI Whitney S. before joining the likes of Slew o'Gold, Creme Fraiche, Skip Away and Curlin as back-to-back winners of the Gold Cup. Following a fifth behind American Pharoah in the 2015 GI Breeders' Cup Classic, Tonalist earned an all-important Grade I at eight panels in the Cigar Mile H.
Hubbard was more than willing to roll the dice on the son of the Forestry mare Arabian Song, whose female family includes Juddmonte luminaries such as Group 1 winner Etoile Montante (Miswaki), her MGSW daughter Starformer (Dynaformer), GISW Obligatory (Curlin) and MGSW/MGISP Bonny South (Munnings).
“I liked the idea of Tonalist as a first-crop sire, and I looked at a couple,” Hubbard said. “I don't generally just try to cherry-pick stallions. I just look at everything and what looks athletic and has a shape to it. When I saw him, I had followed up another Tonalist the day before, got outbid, went back to [the Arabian Song colt] and I thought he was a nicer physical than the one the day before.”
Neither was she put off by the colt's foaling date.
“I generally like to find a little bit later horses, just because we don't care about waiting on him and starting them a little bit later,” Hubbard said. “I remember talking to the consignor after I got him and she was asking about our plans.”
Though she had previously bought horses to race for Sayjay–including three-time Grade III winner Blended Citizen (Proud Citizen) in whom she was a partner–the Tonalist colt was bought as a potential horse for the 2-year-old sales and was turned over to Wavertree Stables' Ciaran Dunne.
“Right from the get-go, [Dunne] liked him,” she said. “I remember in December, he called me and he told me, 'The belly's gone. He's starting to shoot up and he's growing all the right ways. It was truthfully about December or January that he just looked like he was already maturing, which was surprising for a May foal, but yeah, he never missed a beat. We waited until April to sell him only to give him a little bit more time, but when I went there in March, I remember I was there with Neil Drysdale and there was a couple of other guys. We all pulled him out and everyone said the same thing, 'Wow, that's a nice two-turn horse.' At that time, I was pretty excited to continue with selling him in April.
She continued, “I looked at [the colt] in March when I went out [to Ocala], and Ciaran was raving about him,” she recollected. “I'm like, 'Well, we're going to continue with the sale. When I got back, [Steve Young] looked at me and he said, “This isn't a Grade I winner, is it?” I looked at him. I'm like, 'You never know.' When he went back up for sale, I tried to get him back interested and he said, 'Well, we already made money. Let's just watch him with his career.'”
The colt advertised himself at the breeze show for the OBS April Sale, covering a quarter-mile in :21 flat, even if the clocking was not entirely his selling point.
“The way he moved was all at the one pace and effortless,” Hubbard said. “It obviously showed that he was going to be a horse that could cover distance.”
And that he certainly has.
Pete Bradley would go on to give $450,000 for the colt–that part of the story will appear in this space in Thursday's TDN.
Hubbard will be thirty-some thousand feet over the country, destination Ocala, when the World Cup jumps around 12:35 Saturday afternoon.
“He looks good in there. That's for sure,” she said. “We're excited to watch him. I'll be on a plane back to Florida, but I'll definitely still be keeping in touch with that.”
If her fellow passengers experience any clear-air turbulence, they might not want to point a finger at the pilot.
Current favorite & defending #DubaiWorldCup champ COUNTRY GRAMMER in his final breeze @RacingDubai for the $12 million test, going 5f with @Antonio1Fresu in the saddle, substituting for amico 🇮🇹 @FrankieDettori. #DWC23
📺Full video⬇️https://t.co/KzNHTXzaon pic.twitter.com/JvslRnnDTF
— Michael Adolphson (@AdolphsonRacing) March 20, 2023
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