This Side Up: A Model Flagship For Stormy Seas

Get Stormy | Sarah Andrew Photo


There is always something especially shocking about the death of a stallion in his prime. Nature contains no more vivid an incarnation of vitality than this most literal of life forces, daily renewing the gift of existence. For a candle as bright as Get Stormy to be extinguished so abruptly, then, will leave a grievous void at Crestwood Farm.

Having spent five years in training, even at 16, Get Stormy's second career was only just entering its key phase. For not until the next year or two will his best stock start reaching the track, his books having soared in both quality and quantity after an early stakes barrage led, from his second crop, by triple Grade I winner Got Stormy. No less than her name implies, she was inlaid with the watertight genetic teak of her sire, matching his own record of graded stakes success through four consecutive campaigns.

It's all there in the McLean family slogan, “We raise runners.” In a business where so many horses are raised to do no more than stand and stroll, with breeders heading for the hills the moment the gavel comes down, that fairly rudimentary aspiration has an almost quixotic quality. But a trademark combination of blood and guts governs nearly the whole Crestwood roster: Jack Milton (War Front), for instance, won a Grade I at five and, much like Get Stormy himself with Moccasin (Nantallah), brings into play a Claiborne matriarch in Bourtai (Stimulus); while Heart To Heart (English Channel) won graded stakes annually from three to seven.

Get Stormy's nickname on the farm was Clyde, because he had so much brawn and timber that he evoked a Clydesdale. I've always had a mad theory (actually supported by the stats) that his reputation as a turf sire is self-fulfilling, and that his physical stamp, toughness, and speed-carrying style were ideally tailored for dirt. Be that as it may, despite nudging an initial fee of $5,000 no farther than $7,500, Get Stormy already leaves us half a dozen graded stakes winners. (That's as many as Maclean's Music, for instance, from the same intake.) And his two millionaires to date were respectively out of a $4,500 Malabar Gold mare, and a daughter of Brahms unsold at $18,000 on her only visit to the ring.

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Two days after Get Stormy's loss, on just the other side of Georgetown Road, the venerable heart of Go For Gin also gave out at the Kentucky Horse Park, his home since retiring from stud in 2011. At 31, he had been the oldest surviving Derby winner—and long enjoyed precisely the kind of dignified, pampered retirement everyone was someday anticipating, a few years down the line, for Get Stormy.

But while life's disasters seldom arrive with any rhyme or reason, perhaps we can glimpse some timely succor for Crestwood. Because any clients with mares booked to Get Stormy should certainly consider another stallion on the roster, also from the Storm Cat line, who only last weekend reiterated the striking promise he has shown from minimal opportunity to date.

Firing Line has mustered no more than 39 starters from his first couple of crops but 24 of them have already won and, having burdened him this winter with a place on a TDN “Value Podium”, I was delighted to see Venti Valentine confirm her candidature for the GI Kentucky Oaks with a seven-length romp in the Busher S. last Saturday. Other credits to Firing Line include Nakatomi's success in the Bowman's Mill S. at Keeneland last fall, after placing in the GII Saratoga Special S.; plus the recent Fair Grounds romp of his $210,000 2-year-old Oscarette.

Besides beating all bar a Triple Crown winner in the Derby, don't forget that Firing Line was only denied a juvenile Grade I by a head and broke the track record in winning the GIII Sunland Park Derby by 14 lengths. True to Crestwood principles, moreover, his talent was rooted in a mile-deep pedigree: his dam is a Grade I-placed sibling to the mothers of two Grade I-winning milers, their line extending to matriarchs Kamar (Key to the Mint) and Square Angel (Quadrangle).

Whether or not Firing Line can fill the breach, Get Stormy will undoubtedly be making posthumous additions to his legacy. After all, Giant's Causeway himself—perhaps the greatest conduit of all, for this sire-line—is not quite done yet, even though he bequeathed just three foals from a handful of final coverings before his death in the spring of 2018. Incredibly, two of them now line up together for the GII Langholm South Tampa Bay Derby with a total of 85 gate points on the line for the first Saturday in May.

Curiously, both were born on 22 February 2019. Classic Causeway is being brought along beautifully at Palm Meadows by Brian Lynch, with a foundation of longer breezes for his comeback before dialing up the speed since; while Giant Game has himself been working the house down after some running repairs on a displaced palate.

Still more remarkably, it was only last week that the final Giant's Causeway of all—born eight days after the other pair—made a winning debut for Shadwell in Dubai, charging clear by four and a half lengths. So the hope that the Iron Horse might “rust in peace”, which may sound irreverent but intends a wholly affectionate tribute to his ferrous qualities, is proving happily misplaced. This is not the dull shimmer of iron, but a last glint of genetic gold.

Perhaps Giant's Causeway is looking down in vexation after his son Protonico just had a Derby winner effaced from the record. Depending how things go at Tampa Bay, however, maybe this time he won't have merely a vicarious presence at Churchill, admirably though he is being represented by Not This Time.

Mind you, even giant steps must always be made one at a time. The card also features the resumption, at long last, of the colt who looked like the pick of his crop this time last year. Let's hope the patience of everyone involved with Greatest Honour (Tapit) finds due reward in his maturity.

Ironically, his own sire's frustrating sophomore career gave a quite misleading impression about the toughness he has tended to impart to his stock; and someday, no doubt, Greatest Honour will validly recycle one of the best pedigrees you will ever see.

Certainly he won't be one of those stallions, so corrosive to the breed, that teeter to market on a wafer-thin page and a whizzbang speedfigure or two. The Thoroughbred's vocation is not for the flimsy of limb, nor the faint of heart. So while Crestwood may have lost their flagship, they have not lost their bearings. They are navigating by the stars, by the fixed points of soundness and pedigree, and we would all do well to follow in their wake.

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