Chris McGrath

This Side Up: Haskell Throwbacks to the Future

So the big question is whether the out-of-town jocks, in the heat of a $1-million battle for the GI TVG.com Haskell S., can master the instinct to reach for the whip? If any lifelong flagellants are anxious of their self-discipline, then they need only play back the 1988 running and remind themselves how Laffit Pincay, Jr. coaxed Forty Niner home, in withering heat, by a nose from Seeking the Gold. The whip is unsheathed, for sure, but so seamlessly with the horse's own efforts that the overall effect is like...

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Meah Adding Horsepower to Chrome Finish

She's still only 28, and it isn't three years since she started training. Yet a first graded stakes success for Anna Meah last weekend was welcomed with a depth of perspective extending both forward and back. On the one hand, she has always been a woman in a hurry: however crammed the automobile she drove south from Washington in December 2012, her heart set on finding a backstretch job in California, the years since have been no less packed with experience. Indeed, the veteran trainer of a small string at...

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A Mighty Day for Woodbine Fans

What a singular coincidence, and literally so, that two of the best horses recently bred in Canada--and that has never been a negligible distinction--should both have only one eye. True, the origins of Hard Not to Love (Hard Spun) and Mighty Heart (Dramedy) could scarcely be more diverse. The 2019 GI La Brea S. winner, who was retired a few weeks ago, graduated from one of the most admired breeding programs in North America, which routinely sends yearlings to Keeneland as coveted as any making a shorter trip from the...

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This Side Up: Fostering a Sense of Legacy

Ours is the most nostalgic of sports, sustained by trusted cycles. And if the calendar pauses somewhat, between the end of the Triple Crown and the renewal of beloved summer rituals at Saratoga and Del Mar, that won't preclude an evocative resonance in some of the things we can enjoy Saturday. True, the idea that Letruska (Super Saver) is any kind of throwback, just because she is managing a second start in three weeks, is a measure of how effete the modern Thoroughbred has become. I've drawn attention previously to...

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This Side Up: When the Going Gets Tough…

And so the dust settles on a Triple Crown in which not a single horse showed up for all three legs, with the one awaiting promotion as "winner" of the GI Kentucky Derby instead resurfacing this weekend in a non-graded stakes at Monmouth. When they withdrew him from the Classic fray, the Mandaloun (Into Mischief) team obviously had no idea that he might abruptly find himself elevated onto the Derby roll of honor, albeit burdened with an asterisk. But they certainly captured the spirit of the age, one we deplored...

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Another Belmont Brings Tapit to New Heights

So here, not before time, is some better news. For while it sometimes feels as though our industry is trying to put out all the fires of hell with a single horse blanket, we must be doing something right if the benchmark stallions of the decade, either side of the ocean, are influences as wholesome as Galileo (Ire) and Tapit. On Saturday the dynasty established by one of the greatest sires in the long story of the breed extended its grip on Epsom with a first G1 Derby winner by...

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An 'Ultra' Compliment to Twirling Candy

Curious how we can always explain what makes a pedigree work once a horse has shown he can actually run. They call it "ex post rationalization" or sometimes "hindsight bias". Working backward from a high-functioning racehorse, you isolate whatever elements of the page flatter your prejudices and methodology, and triumphantly announce that you have found the key to the genetic engine. You could, of course, perform pretty much the same exercise with countless slow horses whose antecedents contain equally plausible elements. Funnily enough, however, we don't bother doing that quite...

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Another Baby with That Special Zip

On the face of it, just another graded stakes where you could round up the usual suspects. Bob Baffert as winning trainer and Bernardini as the successful damsire. And the success of Du Jour, in the GII American Turf S. on the Derby undercard was a welcome reminder of the value offered by his sire Temple City. But what really draws attention to this emerging talent is an extraordinary female lurking in his background. No, we don't mean either of the owners, for all that both may qualify for the...

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This Side Up: Like It or Not, All in this Together

This time, it's not just the Susans that have a black eye. You'll forgive me a little hesitation before addressing the 146th running of a race that can seldom have been staged in so febrile a context. Two weeks ago, I was incautious enough in this column to hope for just a nice, boring Derby, after the rancour of 2019 and the dismal postponement of 2020. Then, last week, I asked why even his own industry had been so ungenerous to a trainer who had now won four of his...

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Derby Clouds Offer Mandaloun Silver Lining

If those who scaled the summit of our sport a few days ago suddenly find themselves slithering back down the scree, then their closest pursuers must feel no less stunned to have retrieved a foothold that could yet allow them to resume their own climb. In its way, that must feel almost as unsettling. Everyone sees that the sport is suffering, from this latest trauma, but does that ultimately mean that nobody will be allowed to feel like a winner? With the case against winner unlikely to be finally resolved...

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This Side Up: If the Hardboot Fits…

Don't know about you, but I'm not really looking for a Hall of Fame horse out there. I would gladly settle for the one of those blurred snapshots of the adolescent sophomore crop, with plenty left to play for in the Preakness. Just so long as we can guarantee an evening of uncomplicated euphoria for connections of the fated horse among 20 who have already confounded the odds even to enter the gate for the GI Kentucky Derby (presented by Woodford Reserve). Because they will be able to tell you,...

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Green Gets to the Derby His Way

One after another, the lights were turning red on the young Leonard Green. He had a bad stutter that made him an introvert in mixed company. Dyslexic, too. Couldn't keep numbers in his head: hardly, as such, an accountant in the making. Sure enough, he'd now been fired from a fourth job in a row. "I didn't even know what an entrepreneur was," Green recalls now. "But it turned out to be somebody who thought outside the box, and took calculated risks, and spotted opportunities. And--boom! I suddenly realized that...

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