This Side Up: An Improbable Tale from Colorado


Improbable | Coady photo


Of the first six foals delivered this year by Linda Wood on her Menoken Farm in Colorado, three ended up as orphans. Just a case of sheer, vile luck: two mares colicked, another suffered horrible foaling complications. Stuff, for want of a more expressive word, that happens to the best. Because Menoken sets the highest standards in the state, home to its leading stallion every year bar one over the past decade.

The farm had, moreover, already suffered disappointment during the winter when Our Rite Of Spring (Stravinsky), a mare Wood had found at the 2017 Keeneland November Sale, aborted a foal by one of Menoken stallions, Zip Quik.

He’s a son of the late City Zip, whose own loss has come to seem still more lamentable since the rise of Improbable. The GI Los Alamitos Futurity winner is set to make his delayed reappearance at Oaklawn on Saturday, and his performance could yet redress that harrowing start to the Menoken year.

Because Our Rite Of Spring is not just a half-sister to no less a horse than Hard Spun (Danzig). She’s also the dam of Rare Event (A.P. Indy), who was sold to Calumet at the 2016 Keeneland November Sale for $150,000. Smart work by Calumet, that, as Rare Event had been preceded onto the dais by her weanling colt by City Zip: a colt we now know as Improbable. (Taylor Made Sales signed a $110,000 docket for him there, before processing him to Maverick Racing & China Horse Club for $200,000 the following September.)

So how much did Wood have to give, a year later, for Our Rite Of Spring? Bearing in mind she was carrying a foal by a $25,000 sire in Noble Mission (GB) (Galileo {Ire})? To be fair, she was 16 years old; and she had a June 11 cover. But was she really worth only $5,000?

Last May, Our Rite Of Spring delivered her Noble Mission filly. Wood says she’s a cracker: a willowy, pretty thing with a flaxen tail. And everything, in the meantime, has been falling into place. She’s out of a half-sister to the sire of Hidden Scroll and Spinoff, among the exciting sophomores flying Hard Spun’s flag this year. Her own sire, an unknown quantity when she was in utero, has conjured as good a dirt runner as Code Of Honor from his first crop. And, of course, her half-sister Rare Event is dam of a colt who could end the week as favorite for the GI Kentucky Derby.

Wood accepts that Our Rite Of Spring now warrants a more upmarket mating than she can offer her at Menoken. When I spoke to her a couple of days ago, in fact, she was all set to load the mare onto a van to Kentucky. It was simply a case of whether the mountain passes would be clear of snow.

In the summer, when Wood has done prepping her other yearlings for sale locally, the Noble Mission filly will make the same journey to get the finishing touches from a consignor better known to the Lexington market. Unless, of course, someone comes in for her first.

Not that Wood has even begun touting either the filly or the mare. She says she really ought to write to one or two big Bluegrass studs. But she’s had more important things to do. Another 19 mares to foal, for a start. Keep that door revolving for Grand Minstrel (Grand Slam), champion sire of Colorado, and his buddies. A bunch of foals and yearlings to nourish. And, like so many people across this industry, she’s short of good help.

But remember she only stumbled across this windfall because she wasn’t enslaved by the same manic imperatives as everyone else, who ran screaming from a June cover by an imported sire. Now it’s a question of whether anyone out there might draw Our Rite Of Spring back into the commercial mainstream. At her age, yes, she’d be worth more in foal. But there’s a limit to how far Wood can stretch for the kind of stallion she now merits. So the mare is “open” for now; and Wood is open-minded. It’s still only March.

Whatever dividends might yet fall to Wood, you suspect the Noble Mission filly herself has already come out ahead. I don’t say that she gazes at the snowy Rockies and is filled with poetry. But down on the banks of the Uncompahgre, they reckon to have pastures every bit as rich as the Bluegrass–and a better climate, being less humid.

As it happens, Our Rite Of Spring and her foal found their way to Colorado from an exemplary Bluegrass farm; one that does the breed nothing but good. But they could easily have been culled into hands far less benign than those that tend them now. Wood turns young stock out at night, gives them “time to be a horse.” Actually she hadn’t even registered the existence of Improbable until told about his Grade I win in December. She’s since grieved those three mares, but reflects on all these dazing ups and downs as a proper horse person. “It’s a rollercoaster,” she says. “All part of the deal. We’re just lucky to be in this business.”

But it would be no kind of business without the democracy of chance that allowed this mare, and her daughter, to slip the Bluegrass net. The odds are always somewhat against you, whether you’re in Kentucky or Colorado. But if you don’t fancy a June cover, presumably that’s because you don’t want to end up with a May foal like–oh, War Admiral or Seabiscuit or Northern Dancer. Improbable, yes. But never impossible.


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