Chris McGrath

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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This Side Up: A Super Lesson for Racing

Sure, it's a very different game from our own. On the face of it, horse racing and soccer appear to have little more in common than the same generic umbrella as sports. But then it turns out that "soccer" is itself a very different game--or a very different industry, at least--from what the British know as "football." And if you happen to have followed an extraordinary week for its European elite, then it would be remiss not to ask whether there might actually be one or two highly pertinent lessons...

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Cezanne Brings New Honor to Storied Family

While it remains too early to acclaim a masterpiece in the making, even these first, bold brushstrokes have plainly been mixed from an unusually vivid genetic palette. And if Cezanne (Curlin) can complete the canvas the way he has started, with a confident new flourish in the GIII Kona Gold S. last weekend, then he could become an exhibit for one of the principal galleries of the modern breed. Happily it has the most discerning of curators in John Sikura, who has been devotedly cultivating this family--Cezanne's third dam is...

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This Side Up: A Wise Example for Every Horseman

Nobody was paying a great deal of attention to him back then, either. But before ceding the weekend headlines to those storied Oaklawn handicaps, the GI Apple Blossom and GII Oaklawn, perhaps we can all take a step back and pay an overdue tribute to a novice who came to Hot Springs in the winter of 1977. Charlie LoPresti had just turned 20 and, learning the ropes under trainer Joe Cantey, was able to count Cox's Ridge and Miss Raja among the first Thoroughbreds to stimulate the skill and devotion...

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This Side Up: Still Amending the Derby Agenda

We should have known better. The moment we deceived ourselves that we had a crossroads of perfect symmetry, with four standout colts converging inexorably on the first Saturday in May, one promptly limped off the trail and then last weekend another was beaten at odds-on. Nobody, then, will be making any assumptions when the other two complete their GI Kentucky Derby preparations, Concert Tour (Street Sense) in the GI Arkansas Derby next week and Essential Quality (Tapit) as the geographical and narrative pivot of three rehearsals staged coast to coast...

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Reviving a Forgotten Classic Agenda

Breeders on both sides of the Atlantic have become so childishly dogmatic about sealing off their respective bloodlines--as dirt or turf, and "never the twain shall meet"--that even a GI Kentucky Derby might not suffice to open some eyes. It is almost as though they have forgotten the mutual transformations achieved by the likes of Nasrullah and Northern Dancer. To those who remain a little more open-minded, however, Known Agenda (Curlin) has already rebuked some lazy assumptions with his breakout score in the GI Florida Derby last Saturday. Plenty thought...

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