By Chris McGrath
Not his time yet, surely. Can't be. A son of two-turn titan Giant's Causeway; a half-brother to late-blooming Liam's Map. Yet there it is, in black and white: three starters, two winners. Hopeful Princess hurtling just 4 1/2 furlongs at Churchill last week; and Swaggy George at Gulfstream the next day, circling the field into the stretch and sprinting four lengths clear.
So while these remain the very earliest of days, Not This Time could not have made a more auspicious start to his stud career.
On the one hand, we should all resist complicity in the annual hype around freshman sires. Stallions trying to establish their merit tend to get far too much attention, to start with; and then not enough. But it must be said that Not This Time must be a stallion of unusual promise if can so quickly shrug off the burden of consecutive awards of gold, among his intake, on the “value podium” in our mid-winter stallion survey. Especially as a son of Giant's Causeway would have been readily pardoned a much more diffident start with his first runners.
As it is, these flashes of precocity remind us that Not This Time, confined to a track career spanning barely four months, only earned his chance at Taylor Made Stallions by proving himself top-class at two; and also that his genes contain a ton of old-school Florida dash.
In fact, his pedigree is one of those that balances Classic caliber on top with speed–class speed, mark you–through the bottom half. How often matings strive for some such equilibrium; how seldom does the best of both worlds play out in a speed-carrying racehorse.
The first thing that leaps out from Not This Time's pedigree is the replication of the Hall of Fame sprinter Ta Wee–a half-sister, of course, to another icon in Dr. Fager–behind his second dam Yada Yada. Though she showed scant ability in a light career, Yada Yada was by a son of Ta Wee in Great Above; and her dam was out of Ta Wee's daughter by Secretariat.
Yada Yada was largely bred to forgettable stallions, but her mating with the brisk Trippi produced much her most accomplished foal in Miss Macy Sue. Picked up at OBS June in 2005 for just $42,000, Miss Macy Sue can be found among past winners of the GIII Winning Colors S., renewed at Churchill May 30; she broke the Presque Isle track record in 1:08.21 on her synthetics debut; and placed in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. On her retirement, Dennis Albaugh bought out his racing partner and decided to give her every chance by paying a series of purposeful cover fees.
Her second foal, a colt by Unbridled's Song, made $800,000 at Keeneland September. His purchasers had to wait two years to see Liam's Map win a maiden, but he then got rolling and at four, finished up with consecutive Grade Is in the Woodward S. and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. That same year, when asked if Miss Macy Sue's yearling by Giant's Causeway would also be offered for sale, Albaugh and his son-in-law Jason Loutsch, general manager of Albaugh Family Stable, were so emphatic in their reply that they preserved it in his registration. Not This Time.
Dale Romans soon assured them they had done the right thing.
“From day one, he was just natural,” the trainer recalls. “He had perfect conformation and he just had an air about him. I've been around a lot of really good horses. They look different, they think different, they act different. He was one of those. You just knew there was something special there, that you were around greatness. He had pedigree, he had looks, he had intelligence, he had natural ability. He had everything a top racehorse should have.”
When giving Not This Time his debut, in a Churchill sprint maiden, Romans informed Robby Albarado that he was legging him up on as good a horse as he had ever ridden. In the event, Not This Time dozed at the break and made late ground into fifth. Romans was unconcerned.
“It's not my forte to crank them up first time out anyway,” he says. “But he had a bad break, a rough trip, it was just a juvenile thing. We didn't lose any faith and when he broke his maiden at Ellis Park next time, by 10 lengths, he was spectacular. And the same when he won the [GIII] Iroquois S. from a very good horse [Lookin At Lee (Lookin At Lucky)], who went on the next year to run second in the Derby from the one hole.”
In the meantime, unfortunately, Not This Time had emerged from his only subsequent start, in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, with a career-ending soft-tissue injury. Drawn wide and bumped early, he had closed to within a neck of Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile), who had first run, the pair a city block ahead of Practical Joke (Into Mischief) in third.
Classic Empire was duly awarded the divisional title but Romans is adamant. He doesn't need to revisit the mitigations of that day: the tougher trip, the injury, the top Beyer and Ragozin of any juvenile colt that year.
“I think he wasn't just the best horse in the crop, I think he was the best horse in a long time,” he says. “He was just flawless, I'm telling you, a true superstar. He had such a great turn of foot, and I never saw him tired. I don't know how good he could have been.”
The silver lining was that at least an immediate call had been possible on his future. Had it been a marginal case, and Not This Time had tried and failed to resume at three, he would have been much harder to launch one year on. As it was, he was set a highly workable $15,000 fee. (Quite a contrast, given his exemplary physique and family tree, with the rivals who shared the podium at the Breeders' Cup–who would start their own stud careers at $35,000 and $30,000 respectively.)
“That was as devastating a call as we've had in this business,” Loutsch says, recalling the day Romans rang about the injury. “The horse had shown so much talent already and we really thought he could have a huge Classic year. But yes, at least he was fresh in people's minds. He's such a great-looking horse and, with that pedigree, we thought he would be well-received in the breeding shed. We priced him to give breeders every opportunity.
“But I give a lot of credit to Taylor Made. We think an awful lot of the Taylor family and we've long had a great partnership. My first call, when Miss Macy Sue retired, was whether they would take this mare, which they were excited to do. And they've done a tremendous job getting quality mares to Not This Time. To think that this is his fourth year, always the toughest for a stallion, yet once again he's close to 140 mares. So that's a real testament to Taylor Made–but also to Not This Time. Because when they bring him out of the barn, he is just an unbelievable horse to look at.”
In his meteoric career, as brief as it was bright, Not This Time managed to establish himself as probably the most accomplished juvenile by his sire–whose death, since, has intensified the competition among his North American sons to match the stature of Shamardal in Europe. Not This Time covered 145 mares in his first spring; and his second book featured a quite remarkable coup, in the blue hen Leslie's Lady (Tricky Creek). With an aggregate 500 covers now under his belt, he has the necessary reserves to follow through any momentum he can achieve this year–not least because these immediate sparks of precocity, in however limited a sample, are surely just firing the ignition for a much longer journey.
For one thing, memories of Giant's Causeway himself have been clouded by his Classic profile as a sire. He was an unbeaten Group 1 winner at two who won a sprint maiden on debut by seven lengths. Liam's Map, for his part, last year produced two Grade I winners from his first crop of runners. And then there is this John Nerud–Tartan Farms bedrock behind Miss Macy Sue.
Ta Wee only produced five named foals, and two of them, as already noted, are right behind Yada Yada. Dr Fager's sire Rough'n Tumble, moreover, gets a stake in this family as grandsire (through Minnesota Mac) of Ta Wee's son/Yada Yada's sire Great Above. The daughter of Ta Wee who produced Yada Yada's dam (by Dr Fager's rival Damascus), meanwhile, was a stakes winner by Secretariat–who recurs in the top of Not This Time's pedigree as sire of Terlingua (whose son Storm Cat of course sired Giant's Causeway).
As Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made notes, then, Not This Time is absolutely entitled to produce fast and early horses as well as maturing animals that carry their speed into a second turn.
“His [half-]brother Liam's Map wasn't as early,” Taylor accepts. “But I think that was more because Todd [Pletcher] had by then had enough Unbridled's Songs to know they were on the unsound side, and he just wanted to give that horse plenty of time to mature before he really put the pressure on.”
The Taylors, of course, stood Unbridled's Song for 17 years. The ferrous qualities of Giant's Causeway could hardly be in more celebrated contrast. And Taylor says that while Miss Macy Sue herself showed all the speed in her ancestry, physically she can complement the Classic imprint of Giant's Causeway.
“She's 16hh, very well balanced, with a really pretty head,” he says. “She's just a very classy mare, you can't knock her: correct, with plenty of substance. And you know, there's scope to her. She looks like she could run two turns. Not a mile-and-a-half-but a mile, mile-and-eighth, without any trouble. Not This Time definitely has a two-turn look. He has the same color as Storm Cat but is not typical of him. He has the muscle, but more scope. Where Storm Cat had a Mike Tyson kind of build, really powerful all over and strong, Not This Time would be more of a Jordan type of athlete.”
Taylor acknowledges that it's far too soon for any conclusions, but noted the coincidence that both Not This Time's first winners had a second dam by Meadowlake, whose own grand-dam was a half-sister to Hail To Reason.
“And Not This Time has a cross to Hail To Reason through Roberto,” he says, referencing the sire of Giant's Causeway's grand-dam. “I don't know if that's something you'll see more of, or not, but I found it interesting.”
The other he highlighted by Taylor traces to the days when Unbridled's Song was on the farm. They would analyze six-generation pedigrees to determine which ancestors recurred in his most proficient runners, and the name that figured most prominently was In Reality–who was responsible for the granddam of his sire Unbridled.
She was out of Magic, an unraced half-sister by Buckpasser to Ta Wee and Dr. Fager. And Dr. Fager himself sired the dam of Unbridled's sire Fappiano.
Aspidistra–the great dam of Dr. Fager, Ta Wee and Magic–
duly pegs down Unbridled's page top and bottom. One way or another, then, there is plenty of mutual reinforcement available between Unbridled and Not This Time.
“There's a lot of Unbridled and Fappiano blood out there and while I wouldn't want to state that Not This Time is going to cross good with that, I think he very well could–just because Unbridled's Song crossed so good on the mother [to produce Liam's Map],” Taylor remarks. “If you look at the bottom side of Not This Time, he's got a couple of crosses of In Reality's sire Intentionally.”
Those come through Intentionally's daughter Ta Wee; but In Reality himself also has a tenuous foothold, in fact, as his son Valid Appeal sired the dam of Trippi (Miss Macy Sue's sire). It might also be worth noting that In Reality was out of a daughter of Dr Fager's sire Rough'n Tumble.
However all these strands play out, the starting point remains the heritable attributes of Not This Time himself. Romans, for one, is not at all surprised to see his first runners flash so much dash. Having just welcomed the first of several Not This Times to his barn, moreover, he expects all trainers to appreciate another of their sire's traits: an amenable mentality.
“To be a super horse, you need to have speed at any distance,” he remarks. “It's just how far you can carry it. So I'm not shocked they're winning this early, but I do think the best is still to come. I've seen a lot of his babies, and it's amazing how they're cookie-cut like him. The filly that won at Churchill, John Hancock's been saying all winter what a great mind she has. You could see that mental toughness in her race. I thought the horse in Florida looked pretty special too. Didn't break good, but that turn of foot he showed, going round those horses on the turn.”
For the Albaugh family, the rookie's flying start is the perfect tonic after Dennis' Moment (Tiznow), who emulated Not This Time by adding the Iroquois to a stunning Ellis maiden success, has so disappointed since. Another talented sophomore, Thousand Words (Pioneerof the Nile) has also been given a break after losing his unbeaten record in the GII San Felipe S.
“Thousand Words had his first work back last weekend,” Loutsch reports. “Bob [Baffert] gave him four weeks off and he's put on 50-60 pounds. He has all the talent in the world, we're just trying to get his mind right. Dennis will hopefully be shipping to Churchill soon, there's nothing major wrong with him, we'll just keep monitoring him.”
Now, at any rate, they have a fresh stimulation–with plenty more to come. They did cash in Miss Macy Sue's 2017 Tapit filly, for $1.4 million at Keeneland September to Don Alberto, and she broke her maiden for Dan Ward at Santa Anita over the winter. But the “not-this-time” policy continues with her sons.
“After selling Liam's Map, we said we'd pretty much keep all the colts,” Loutsch says. “Our family plan is to try and get horses for the big races, and we've tried to breed Miss Macy Sue to the best stallions in the world. We owe all our racing to her: she got us in the game, as one of the first we ever bought; she got us hooked; and she took us to the next level. And she's continued to produce for us.”
Not This Time, meanwhile, is showing a useful flair for self-promotion. Getting Leslie's Lady into his harem was a genuine coup; and these instant dividends on the track should help redress the opportunities he forfeited out there himself.
“I just wish we could have seen him run in those big races as a 3-year-old,” Loutsch says. “But now we can hope that those babies will show all the talent he had. He's got off to an exciting start and we think there will only be more to come as his horses mature. Giant's Causeway was such an awesome horse, one of my favorites growing up, so how cool it would be if he could follow in his father's footsteps.
“This is a tough business, especially with what's going on right now,” Loutsch continues. “But we have a great team, and it's fun every day to be waking up and looking out for those Not This Time babies. We obviously thought an awful lot of him as a 2-year-old, and his mother was very precocious, so it's not surprising to us to see him get success right out the gate. But I can't wait to see them stretch out into two turns. To get these winners is just an indication of how talented he was. I think he'll be able to throw any kind of horse. I think they'll run on every surface. Dirt, turf, synthetic. Short, long. I think he can do it all.”