Chris McGrath

This Side Up: A Warning Flare Illuminates Empress Bid

Nobody in our community is more eligible than Ted Bassett to say that he has seen it all before, but something will be attempted Saturday that falls outside even the long experience encompassed by his 100th birthday in just a few days' time. For a Keeneland showpiece that Mr. Bassett helped to inaugurate in 1984, as host to the lady for whom it was named, could well present one of her subjects with the opportunity to complete a unique double. First, in the backyard of Windsor Castle, William Haggas saddles...

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This Side Up: Back to Front Keeps the Breed Moving Forward

He really had to earn his stripes, his farm resorting to pretty desperate measures to keep him in the game as his early books dwindled along with his fee. But he has long since vindicated (as well as virtually trademarked) that farm's management style, evolving into one of the great stallions of our time--a status on which he set a formal seal last weekend with his 100th stakes winner. And his name is... Into Mischief. Or is it? Hang on a minute. Syllable for syllable, you can say exactly the...

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Major Boost to Farr-Sighted Program

It is still relatively early days in his Turf adventure. But no matter how much Paul Farr can build on what is fast becoming a pretty serious commitment, he may never experience a more succinct sample of its ups and downs--and how bewilderingly entwined those tend to be--than his debut involvement in a graded stakes. That came just a few days ago, in the GIII Iroquois S. at Churchill: the first chance to bank starting points for a certain race staged on the same track next May. Time to start...

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This Side Up: Grounds for Optimism

Surface tensions in our business have run pretty deep in recent years, nowhere more so than at Santa Anita. After a failed revolution, with a synthetic track, they eventually backed into a terrifying breakdowns crisis. Racing in California still has its problems, of course, not least the cloud currently over its premier barn--which, after that curious hesitation last week, instead gives its most controversial resident a home game Saturday in the GI Awesome Again S. But given our community's fury right now with another racetrack proprietor, who this week cashed...

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This Side Up: Quit Chasing the Dollar and Try Cruz Control

Assuming that you, too, have by this stage marvelled at the tenacity, balance and athleticism of Alex Cruz in winning a race despite losing both irons leaving the gate, at Emerald Downs last weekend, then perhaps you might also have been prompted to reassess our prejudices against the seat of the 18th Century guardsman. To the modern eye, the long-shanked equitation of those days appears ludicrous: awkward, stilted and, above all, inimical to the freedom of the horse's movement. We think of the elevation of the modern jockey, as popularized...

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Like Her Trainer, Sconsin Closing with Every Stride

After 40 years, and standing seventh in the all-time Churchill Downs win list, it looks as though Greg Foley might just be getting the hang of this training game. Heading into the fall, he has already won more prizemoney than in any campaign since starting out in 1981: $2,335,202 and counting, from 33 winners at 19%. And the bases are loaded, too. For instance, the pair that condensed Foley's maturing momentum in finally becoming his first and then immediately his second Derby starters, Major Fed (Ghostzapper) and O Besos (Orb),...

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This Side Up: Market Goes Back to the Future

The cyclical nature of our business, from the foaling shed to the race program, invites a length of perspective that can only be of comfort in times of trouble. This, too, shall pass--even a global pandemic. And if COVID disrupted our routines in 2020 as seldom before, with a September Derby and no Saratoga Sale, we appear determined to make as seamless a resumption as its lingering challenges allow. Trade at Saratoga last month was eerily close to 2019. Of 180 hips into the ring for Fasig-Tipton's Select Sale, 135...

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This Side Up: 'Doc' Was a Tonic to Us All

Three years ago this week, at the September Sale, I was privileged by as powerful a reminder as I'd enjoyed in a long time as to why this is such a great business. Not in the sale ring itself, watching the billionaires puffing out and locking antlers, but just sitting in the pavilion lobby with a guy who had been born in a one-room house to teenage parents--and had spent the intervening seven decades accumulating the kind of riches, being contingent on a mighty intellect and noble heart, that would...

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This Side Up: Seeking the Essence of Travers Quality

In an age that takes such relish in discovering offense where none is intended, I suppose we will eventually have to stop referring to a "Graveyard of Champions". Never mind that most horsemen would perceive a fairly benign destiny in themselves being laid to rest in Saratoga, with the implicit likelihood of an exit--a Parting Glass, indeed--achieved by some excess of bliss or excitement. For the squeamish tastes of today, the metaphor is doubtless becoming a little too sanguinary. Be that as it may, there's no denying that Saratoga's long...

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Con Lima Sweetens Spa Toasts

It's the kind of tale that might prompt a listening barman to catch the eye of one of the regulars and give a wink. Sure you have, pal. A Texas-bred Commissioner filly? You hear that, folks? This guy has a $22,000 2-year-old RNA with a Hall of Fame trainer. And she's the top turf sophomore filly in America. Well I guess it must be your round, buddy. But nobody needs to tell Joseph F. Graffeo, himself the son of a bartender, the kind of odds being confounded by Con Lima,...

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Top Gun Lands Running

Everyone knows how the system works; how lavishly choreographed is the promotion of new sires. Center stage is cleared, the footlights are turned up, the make-up and costume departments go into overdrive. But we also know that most of them will go out there, clear their throats nervously, and murmur a few lines that barely qualify them, in the longer term, for a place in the back row of the chorus line. Every now and then, however, one of these rookies steps up and you sense within moments that a...

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This Side Up: Asmussen Poised to Convert Silver to Gold

Could happen, you know. Within the random weavings of the Thoroughbred, after all, it's always tempting to discern some pattern suggestive of a coherent, governing narrative. And if Silver State (Hard Spun) were to win the GI Whitney S., and in the process happened to become the 9,446th winner saddled by his trainer, it might well feel as though 35 years of skill and endeavor, processed daily through random fluctuations of good or bad luck, have all led logically and inexorably to this pinnacle. The trouble is that whoever came...

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