My Preakness Weekend: Highs, Lows and the Fragility of Life

Susan Knoll and Edgar Prado at Delaware Park | Dan Liebman


As has been said many times about the Thoroughbred industry: it is a business with highs and lows; more lows than highs; the highs are very high and the lows are very low.

It was an emotional weekend of racing for me. The highs have been the results of two races. The lows, the thoughts of those not here to celebrate with me.

First, Dazzling Blue ran her record to three-for-three Friday with a, well, dazzling performance at Churchill Downs. Then, Sunday, Weehawken broke her maiden by three lengths at Woodbine.

I planned the mating of Dazzling Blue's dam, the Curlin mare Blue Violet, and I am the managing partner of Redd Road Stable, which, by design, owns exactly one horse–Weehawken.

Nineteen years ago, my late partner, Susan Knoll, after being a member of a partnership group, made the decision to begin her own small racing and breeding operation.

She was what the industry constantly needs, a person passionate about horses who, when they find themselves financially able, decides to race and breed.

At the 2004 Keeneland September yearling sale, trainer Larry Jones purchased three fillies for Susan. The least expensive of the group was a filly by Silver Deputy out of the Theatrical mare Gaslight, purchased for $12,000.

Though most yearlings sold at auction are not already named, that was not the case with this filly, who was named Speedy Edy, which Susan did not like.

Susan changed her name to Gasia, after Gasia Mikaelian, then a television newscaster in Houston, where Susan lived and practiced law. The name is actually pronounced goss-e-a, but those in the barn, and then track announcers, pronounced it geisha, so we let them have their way, and their say.

In Susan's colors, Gasia won six times, three of those races stakes: the Susan's Girl Breeders' Cup at Delaware Park, and the Bayakoa and Instant Racing Breeders' Cup Stakes, both at Oaklawn. She raced through age 4, earning $434.231.

Retired to Catherine Parke's Valkyre Stud near Georgetown, Ky., Gasia was mated to Pulpit, producing a colt in 2009. When it came time to breed her back, there was a new stallion taking up residence at Lane's End Farm. I begged Susan to breed to him. His name was Curlin.

I loved everything about Curlin: his pedigree, his race record, his conformation. I was totally convinced he would be a wonderful choice for Gasia.

Susan decided to breed Gasia to Curlin (his first-year fee was $80,000) with the thought of selling the resulting foal if a colt and retaining to race if a filly.

Gasia produced a filly in 2010 Susan named Blue Violet. The name was chosen for three reasons: she had been sent poems that began “roses are red, violets are blue,” violets were her favorite flower or plant; and there is a crayon in the Crayola box named Blue Violet. Also trained by Larry Jones, Blue Violet won four races and $237,356, including the Lady's Secret Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Straight off the racetrack, Blue Violet was one of the first through the ring at the 2015 Keeneland November sale. She was purchased by WinStar Farm for $350,000. Though she produced two winners from her first three foals, Blue Violet was slated to be sold by WinStar at the 2023 Keeneland January sale. But a funny thing happened. Her third foal, Dazzling Blue, by Into Mischief, showing at the time the catalog was printed as unraced, had won her first two starts including a stakes.

WinStar withdrew Blue Violet from the sale, and she has since produced a colt by Bold d'Oro and been bred to the farm's newest stallion, Life is Good, a grade I-winning son of Into Mischief.

In the fall of 2021, at a cocktail/anniversary party at the farm of Joe and Annie Markham, I was approached by Joe about forming a partnership among friends and acquaintances. Before the night was over, we had enough commitments.

I told Joe I wanted the stable to be named Redd Road because that is the location of his farm not far from the back entrance to Keeneland. He said that was fine as long as he could name the horse Weehawken, the name of the street in Frankfort, Ky., where our good friends Phil and Chris Perry grew up. Both are also partners in the filly.

As the managing partner of Redd Road Stable, I asked another old friend, Mark Casse, if he would select us a horse at auction and become our trainer.

At the 2022 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's March auction, Mark bought a filly for us by Daddy Long Legs out of the Forest Wildcat mare Wildcat Gold for $85,000.

With her pedigree, we figured Weehawken would prefer grass racing, but that proved difficult last year. We entered at Ellis Park and rain forced the race to the main track so we scratched. When that happened a second time, we ran and she finished a credible third in her maiden voyage.

After a good fifth at Kentucky Downs, twice we entered turf races at Keeneland and twice we were excluded. We finally ran on dirt, where she tired badly going seven furlongs.

With Churchill Downs not an option because of issues with its turf course, we opted for the synthetic surface at Turfway Park, where she was beaten a neck in her first start there, and then ran third and sixth.

Because she had been in training since the previous summer, we sent Weehawken to Casse's training center in Ocala, Fla., for a few months freshening, then, at my suggestion, shipped her to Woodbine, where he has a large stable and she would have the option of synthetic or turf.

Sunday, after three months off, Weehawken broke sharply as usual, eased her way up the lead and, under Kazushi Kimura, coasted home three lengths in front.

The Redd Road silks were in the winner's circle for the first time, representing 18 partners, nearly all newcomers to the sport.

Honestly, I was confident Weehawken would win, this being her first start since our founding member, Joe Markham, lost his battle with cancer.

Redd Road Stable plans to send Mark Casse to next month's OBS sale to find us another runner. The stable was fortunate to enlist the services of Casse, but also his assistants, Allen Hardy in Kentucky and Kathryn Sullivan in Toronto.

Everything Susan raced or bred was in her name, primarily because it was her money. But, also because I was working at the time for an industry trade publication and wanted no appearance of a conflict of interest (each year I supplied my superiors a list of her horses, matings, etc.).

In retrospect, maybe this isn't really a story of highs and lows. The deaths of Susan Knoll and Joe Markham aren't lows but reminders to us of how fragile life is, how much our hearts are broken when we lose those we love. How we should enjoy each day, each experience…truly celebrate the highs. How decisions made at auctions, in racing and training schedules, in planning matings…can lead us into the winner's circle.

Dazzling Blue looks like something special; Weehawken's future appears bright. One is owned by a leading stud farm; the other by a new partnership of friends.

The industry needs both. Through its many highs and lows, the industry needs both.

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