By Chris McGrath
A Chad Brown trifecta in the first Grade I at the Spa this summer last Saturday was the work of established distaff benchmarks, featuring two Breeders' Cup champions. There could hardly be a more exciting contrast in the barn's big candidate for the second elite contest of the meet, a week on, with Guarana (Ghostzapper) seeking to corroborate the stunning impact she has made in her first two starts.
Brown himself has shared the general sense of awe, admitting that Guarana reminds him strongly of her sire, Ghostzapper–whose 2004 Horse of the Year campaign he observed at close quarters as assistant to the late Bobby Frankel. Even from the outside, her raw talent has been vividly measured by immediate graduation from a 14 3/4-length maiden success at Keeneland to beat GI Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress (Alternation) by six lengths in a stakes record time for the GI Acorn S. on Belmont day.
It's still early days, as such, but the stage is set for Guarana in the GI Coaching Club American Oaks to raise hopes that she could yet redeem a muddled crop of male sophomores. Whatever happens, Guarana has already vindicated a significant investment in her dam by her owner-breeders at Three Chimneys–and, what's more, she has not been doing so single-handed.
For Guarana's 2-year-old half-sister Magic Dance (More Than Ready), anointed a 'TDN Rising Star' after her debut for Steve Asmussen at Churchill on the eve of the Acorn, has since followed up with black-type success in the Debutante S. over the same track, clocking 1:10.26. She too has proceeded to Saratoga.
The great news, for Three Chimneys owner Goncalo Torrealba, is that the mare who produced Guarana and Magic Dance is only nine years old. Magical World, a daughter of Distorted Humor out of GI Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Pleasant Home (Seeking The Gold), was a private purchase from the Phipps family after a solitary success in seven starts for Shug McGaughey.
It was there that she first came to the notice of Doug Cauthen, through his brother-in-law Gene Recio.
“Obviously, it's one of those great Phipps families and any time you can get into those is an opportunity,” says the Three Chimneys advisory board vice-chairman and president of Doug Cauthen Thoroughbred Management. “But the history on her was a little interesting: I have to give Gene some credit.
“He was helping me a little at the 2-year old sales, so we were down there [at Palm Meadows] early watching the breeze preps. And he's worked with, and is friendly with, the McGaughey barn and they had told him, 'Hey, this is a nice filly. You need to come watch her race.' So we went and I was really impressed with her, physically, in the paddock and she ran a bang-up race: she battled the whole way and looked like she was going to grab the lead at the eighth pole but just flattened out a little, got beat a length or so.”
Magical World ended up needing another five starts to break her maiden and was ultimately a disappointment on the track. But when Daisy Phipps alerted Case Clay that the mare would be available, at the right price, the Three Chimneys team could not fail to like the pedigree. Pleasant Home, after all, was out of a half-sister to champion Sky Beauty, from the family of Point of Entry, Dayjur, Tale of Ekati, etc. And then Cauthen, casting his mind back, was able to give them a short cut on her physique.
“While she never quite went on, in the way they thought she had the capacity for, she was a memorable physical,” he recalls. “I shared how impressive she was to me, that first race, so once vetted, Three Chimneys bought her without having to see her. At the price, I'd say it wasn't a cull! I think it [was] simply a business decision: the Phipps limit their broodmare band numbers and had the luxury of having a lot of the family. But Goncalo was bold enough to pay the asking price and, when she arrived, I was pleased to see how she had actually continued to grow up since seeing her 16 months prior: she's now a big, scopey mare.”
Magical World's first son, by Awesome Again, was deemed “athletic, but a little small, a little feminine.” With Michael Youngs contributing to the matings council of Cauthen, Steve Jackson, Chris Baker and Torrealba, it was resolved to go back to the same line but to seek a little more size and substance from Ghostzapper. “Ghostzapper gets all different types, but the Pleasant Home side of it added just enough stretch and size to the mating,” Cauthen says. “And Ghostzapper added substance and brilliance.”
The resulting filly might have been offered at the sales as a yearling, but it was feared that she wouldn't achieve her true value as being “a little busy in front.” Instead Recio entered her story again.
“She was sent to the Recios' Lynwood Stable to be broken and–though she had this great body, and looked really fast and early–she took a long time to come to hand,” Cauthen says. “And if you look at the history of most Ghostzappers, they usually take a little more time, McCraken being one of the few really precocious ones. And sure enough, Guarana just had a little filling here, a little immaturity there as a 2-year-old. Nothing major, she kept training throughout, but I don't think she went to the track until late September.
“So she's a great example of how patience pays off. You've got to listen to the horse. Her profile and musculature looked like she was 'now,' but her body said give me a little more time to mature. And she grew up a lot: she's real impressive when you look at her now. Time was key. And then she went to someone who's patient, in Chad.”
With that background, it might seem even more daring to fast-track an untested maiden winner straight to Grade I company.
“It was certainly Goncalo who first mentioned the Acorn,” says Cauthen. “He wants to run against the best, and threw it out as an option to Chad. But once we saw Serengeti Empress going in there, it was like, 'Hey, you don't have to do this.' But she really gave Chad a great feel because after her last two works prior to the Acorn he said, 'Let's go for it.' Talking to him the day before the Acorn, I couldn't believe his confidence. And he was right.”
Instructively, jockey Jose Ortiz thought so too, renouncing the Oaks winner.
“The thing is that Chad, like many of the top trainers, can breeze them with other really good horses,” Cauthen says. “He can test them against top competition any morning he wants. So Chad deserves full credit for pulling the trigger. And the race was phenomenal.”
Having also had the option of waiting to drop back for the GI Longines Test, Torrealba has again shown adventure in testing the two-turn water. “Goncalo always wants to take on the best and stretch them and see what happens,” Cauthen says. “She has proven she can rate, so hopefully that will help her stretch it out.”
As for her kid sister, she too might have been undervalued at auction, for one or two growing pains, specifically tendonitis as a yearling during sales prep; and obviously Guarana had yet to advertise her genetic wares at that stage. In the event, it was Asmussen who was captivated by Magic Dance when he came to tour the farm yearlings, and she duly arrived at his barn via his father Keith.
“She never missed a beat with Mr. Asmussen in El Paso, she was always one of his favorites,” Cauthen reports.
All in all, these are interesting times at Three Chimneys, with a group of promising young stallions clustered on the roster–though a personal instinct is that very few new sires, here or anywhere else in Kentucky, will ultimately prove better value than the established stalwart, Sky Mesa, at $15,000.
Be that as it may, there was legitimate cause for celebration the other day when Fast Anna (Medaglia d'Oro) sealed his brisk start (four winners from ten starters to date) with a first stakes winner: Fast Scene, bred and co-owned by the farm, in the $100,000 My Dear S. at Woodbine.
“It's a renewed operation that needed to add new blood,” Cauthen explained of a roster rejuvenated under the Torrealba family. “So plenty of new sires were brought to the table. Fast Scene was a good physical and it's a really nice family as well; the second dam is a sister to a Derby winner [Monarchos]. I think our expectations were that she was probably a $75,000 yearling, so when she RNA'd [at $32,000 at Keeneland last September] she was kept. Tim Hamm has done a wonderful job, he was high on her all spring and he was real confident for that race.”
Fast Anna is also responsible for the knockout de Meric pinhook Anna's Fast, who was picked out for $32,500 at the Fasig-Tipton July Sale last year and turned round for $470,000 at OBS March.
“She won impressively at Keeneland and then unfortunately the really soft ground at Royal Ascot wasn't to her liking,” Cauthen says. “I think we'll see plenty more from her. So yes, Fast Anna is off to a good start. It's funny because while he was such a fast horse himself, he didn't really get rolling until he was a 3-year-old. So what we've seen is that, for the most part, his progeny start off a little immature and gawky; and they were kind of average weanlings, better yearlings, and then I saw a whole lot of them that were really nice at the 2-year old sales, and they sold really well. I think they'll continue to develop and improve and, with fillies usually being more precocious, I think we'll see some colts coming along later in the year.”
One edifying feature more or less uniform among the young stallions at Three Chimneys is that their track credentials tend to be underpinned by classy families.
“As with these fillies we've been talking about, I think pedigree usually does come through,” Cauthen says. “Even if it's in the third dam, you want to hang your hat on some depth in there somewhere. That's certainly something Goncalo has always been a big fan of. It worked for him in Brazil, and it is working for him here. You always try to buy as much pedigree as you can afford, though good physicals are important too–so when you can get both, then you've really got something.
“That's why I think with Gun Runner you've got it all: the pedigree, the race record, and the physical. His foals have been outstanding, and not only the ones at Three Chimneys. Several breeders have come up to say, 'Wow, it's one of my best on the farm.' So that's exciting, though of course every year's a new start for a stallion.”
Moreover the farm's experience with Gun Runner, on the track, emboldens Cauthen to hope that Guarana can maintain her dazzling start.
“As with all good trainers, I think if you give them enough free rein to lead the decisions–much as Steve [Asmussen] did with Gun Runner–great things can happen,” he says. “Chad compares this filly a lot to Ghostzapper, and very positively. When you think that he's not only been around that horse, but so many great horses, that gives you a lot of confidence. So now we wait and see what happens. Regardless, she's a special filly.”