Dec 5, 2011


Hollywood Derby winner Ultimate Eagle was the product of a mating
recommended by Dan Kenny Bloodstock. We had purchased a bloc of seasons to Mizzen Mast a few years ago when the young stallion was in a quiet time in his career, like many who start off strong and then wane while the market catches up with their talents.

In Mazzen Mast's situation it helped to know that Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel would be promoting the horse and training some of his foals.

I recommended that trainer/pinhooker David Hanley purchase a season in Mizzen Mast for the Captain Bodget mare he owned in partnership with Ben Walden. The result was the rapidly improving Ultimate Eagle.

J. C. Davis profited by our advice about Mizzen Mast, too. We bought him the mare Zienat for only $7500 from Ken Ramsay and bred her to the grey son of Cozzene.
On the weekend, thaat colt won again at Hawthorne to bring his earnings $300,000 for midwest trainer Dale Bennett.

Nov 21, 2011


The death of heavyweight champion Joe Frazier was well chronicled in the boxing media.
There was another Joe Frazier, this one a Thoroughbred of some talent owned by Peter Fuller, owner of Dancer's Image, disqualified winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby. Fuller managed a fighter named Tom McNeely who once got a longshot chance to meet Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight crown.

Joe Frazier (the horse) was purchased by New Orleans owner Albert Stall Sr. I had the good fortune to meet and interview Joe (the boxer) when his horse showed up to race at Fair Grounds. The horse proved good enough to satisfy Stall's quest for a "Saturday"

Stall Sr. later called me some years later and asked a favor. Could I try to persuade his son, Albert Jr., to give up his ambitions to become a trainer when he graduated in geology at LSU? No dice.

The younger Stall, you may remember, posted a pretty good TKO of his own with Blame in last year's Breeders' Cup.

Back to boxing. I never saw Frazier again but did have the thrill of watching Muhammad Ali train in Vancouver for a bout with Canadian George Chuvalo. For five bucks you could watch him work the heavy and speed bags and skip rope with the grace and power that set him apart.

Fuller bred another good one in Mom's Command and bred the jockey who rode her, daughter Abigail.

Nov 20, 2011


Longtime Canadian breeders Dick and Jo ellen Shaw were in Lexington during the Keeneland November sales, selling their last horse. After some four decades raising horses at their Glenview Farm west of Calgary the couple called it quits, more a function of age rather than any beef they might have with the the Thoroughbred scene.

Perseverance was never a problam for the duo. I learned that some decades ago when I phoned to congratulate them on a stakes win. It so happened that it was their first added money event after some 20 years of trying.

As sometimes happens, the Shaws then began to churn out high quality runners with David Bell training them at Woodbine. Bell also had horses in the barn for John Franks which is how I became involved. Bell trained the Canadian champion mare Woool00omooloo,
who gave Woodbine race caller Dan Loiselle a chance to dramatize her deep closer runs over the Ontario sod. I admired the pair's loyalty to trainer Bell over the years.

The Shaws represent all that's good in the "sport" of racing. We could wish to have a hundred more just like them.

Jun 23, 2011


Word has been received of the death of Duncan MacTavish in Ontario. Duncan was a longtime friend who helped launch my bloodstock career in the l970s at Hastings Park (nee Exhibition Park) in Vancouver.

Duncan was a character of the first order, dividing his time on the backstretch with a second calling, that of professional wrestler who managed to combine each pursuit because the track and the Pacific Coliseum were adjacent. It was not unusal to see Duncan race into the paddock still in his wrestling garb to saddle a runner.

Duncan mostly scuffled in each vocation and he had naught but a handful of cheap horses when we first met. He asked me to be on the lookout when I headed to Fair Grounds in New Orleans for the winter. His budget, he said, was $2,000. I was not about to complain because, to that point I had never actually closed a horse deal, relying on income from the Daily Racing Form. But I was just itching to get started and two grand was as good a place as any to start.

Down at Fair Grounds I noticed a 3-year-old filly named Sutter's Dream who won a straight maiden race by eight lengths. Next time out she bled profusely and did it again in her third start. The rules then dictated that she not race in Louisiana for six months.

Sutter's Dream was trained by a wily Cajun named Pete Leblanc and I came calling to his satellite barn at old Jefferson Downs. Two seasons in Vancouver convinced me that horses had rarely bled from the nostrils, given the more benign Canadian climate.

With Sutter's Dream in "jail" for six months maybe Leblanc would part with her for my $2000. When I told him my price he practically grabbed the money out of my hand while pronouncing me "the dumbest Yankee I ever met".

Duncan and I were in business. He left the filly in New Orleans until the probation was up and actually won a race for $1500 claiming at Jefferson Downs, rightly figuring that everyone would dismiss her as a known bleeder.

The win provided shipping money to Canada where Sutter's Dream reeled off victory after victory, marching up the claiming ladder. When Duncan nominated her to a local stakes the racing office bureaucrats refused her entry. She shipped to Alberta instead where she won a $50,000 stakes sponsored by a tobacco company. By year's end she was voted champion mare in Western Canada. If memory serves, I think Duncan began to beat up on guys in the ring, too.

Duncan packed her up and headed East to try his luck. We lost touch for a few years but he showed up whenever I worked a broadcast for Canadian television from Woodbine.

My association with such an unusual champion did not go unnoticed and others began to support my opinions that led to a most rewarding life as a bloodstock agent who also did journalism rather than other way round. Thanks Duncan. I will never forget you.

And Pete Leblanc? He swore that I was running a ringer.

May 9, 2011

May 3, 2011


While living in California I would host a Kentucky Derby gathering. In 1990, our party proved lucrative when Unbridled responded to trainer Carl Nafzger's memorable narration for Mrs. (I Love You) Genter.

In those days there were separate pools handling bets from remote outposts and one could never be sure what the final odds might be in your betting jurisdiction. Unbridled paid $23.60 at Churchill Downs but I was stunned to discover that our California tickets were worth double that amount.

Mister Frisky accounted for the discrepancy. Undefeated in l6 starts, Mister Frisky had Latin horseplayers in a frenzy after leaving his Puerto Rico home to win the Santa Anita Derby. Mister Frisky was trained by Laz Barrera of Affirmed fame and that only further expanded the Unbridled price even more. Mister Frisky was hammered down to 6-to-5 despite having lost considerable weight while reeling off his win streak.

Thousands of hombres wore a long face going home to the barrios. When it came time to cash in I discovered that our payoff in Santa Barbara was twice the size than the one in Louisville. Viva! Unbridled

After a brief tussle with my Jesuit upbringing about the proper distribution of the largesse (mine, all mine), I came home with the swag and a flourish and better champagne that we were used to drinking. Summer Squall and Pleasant Tap filled in a $800 or so payday in the trifecta.

May 2, 2011

Feb 25, 2011


International racing and stallion shuttles have advanced from "wave of the future" to a new way of doing business. After decades of isolation South Africa wants in.

As an invitee to Cape Town's finest hour of sales and graded racing I was duly impressed by the quality of the runners and the enthusiasm of the 50,000 odd patrons who cheered them on.

Scotch distiller J&B sponsored the racing at Kenilworth, a world class facility a few miles from downtown Cape Town. "The Met" is contested over 10 furlongs of turf and was taken down this year with a gritty performance by 20-to-1 chance Past Master, a son of the prolific Jet Master. Jet Master is a grandson of Northern Dancer and he came to the fore in part by accident as happens on occasion in Thoroughbred breeding.

Jet Master was the subject of a difference of opinion between a husband and wife when sent through a yearling sale. The man did not wish to own the horse but the wife did. He put a $10,000 limit on the bidding, the wife went to $15,000 and secured the horse and he wouldn't speak to her for a week, so the story went on S. Africa television.

Jet Master won 17 of 24 starts to earn a chance at stud and he has flourished at distances from six to 10 furlongs.

TBA officials deemed the week a smashing success in the sales ring and at the track.
Hopes are high that administrative issues can be resolved soon that will reduce lengthy quarantines of up to 90 days trimmed to a fortnight. Horsemen there support creation of a $1-2 million US international race once protocols are in place to eliminate the scourge of African sleeping sickness.

The sale was a two day affair and most folks seemed optimistic about its maiden voyage in the indoor arena of a convention center. Close attention was paid to the progeny of Trippi, a bonafide success in America who figures to show his stuff early as a son of the speedy End Sweep, himself exported to good effect in Japan.

The bidding took some time to heat up but John O'Kelly arrived on the rostrum to show the way. The Brussels resident is a fixture at European auctions and I consider him the greatest showman cum salesman in the game. I was selling horses at Newmarket under our Four Star Sales banner when John continually pulled rabbits from hats.

On one occasion he plied bids from a trio of buyers, a Frenchman, an Argentine and an Englishman, all in their native tongue and without missing a beat. Whoever signed up O'Kelly ought to get a medal.

Past Master has been dominant sire for a number of years in S. Africa, accounting for no less than 31 yearlings catalogued at the sale put on for the first time by the Thoroughbed Breeders Association.

Golf great Gary Player had three by Jet Master and another by Fort Wood (sire of Horse Chestnut) in the sale. A regular visitor to Lexington over the years due to his passion for Thoroughbreds, he was not on the premises due to a golf commitment in Abu Dabhi.

A former Lexingtonian named Rachel Harrington looks after the Player yearlings.
A mare bred by Player won the last race on The Met card with a 6-year-old mare named Sangria Girl who captured the G II Reserve Stayer. The winner was sired by onetime US stallion Wolfhound who once stood at Lane's End in Kentucky

As we boarded the bus to leave I congratulated Rachel and berated myself that I had let a longshot get away. Enough J&B clouded my mind enough
to miss the fact that Sangria Girlwas 20-to-1

"All you had to do was ask,"said Rachel. " We won this race last year and had pointed her for this race."

The day concluded with some intramural festivities whereby a sizeable portion of the crowd doffs their kit (that's the way they talk) and sprint (if you could call it that) down the stretch to the winning post. Merciful darkness fell.

My travelling companion was Pam Parker, a noteworthy artist and photographer back in Seattle. We spent the next three days sampling the South African culture in 80 degree weather while the US was in a deep freeze. We puzzled over penguins walking along the beach in such heat. The horses were impressive, as was the wine, the food, the hospitality, mountains, beaches.

Some business was done. I made a fairly limp bid on Hip 126 because I used to own her kin Mille et Une. She brought $90,000 US.

Countryman Barry Irwin bought seven for his partners and Irish horsemen Ben McElroy bought a pair meant for Irish interests.

Feb 24, 2011


Belle Watling, who beat all comers in her native Chile, came a cropper when fourth at Gulfstream Park in The Very One stakes. The defeat came in her American debut.

South American form has held its own in recent years and buying agents have fanned out to scour the globe in search runners that can compete with the top internationalists.

There's an added bonus in the folks you meet along the way.

Belle Watling is a daughter of Dushyantor (Sadler's Wells) who was bred by the prolific Haras Matancilla of Carlos Hirmas. A few years ago I had the pleasure to spend a day with Sr. Hirmas.

Juveniles from Dushyantor's first crop were beginning to run and they demonstrated unexpected precocity. I remarked that he might anticipate great things as Dushyantor's
progeny began to stretch out to classic distances. He beamed at the suggestion which
came to fruition in the days ahead.

Sadly, Sr. Hirmas died several years ago and I am left with memories of that sun-drenched afternoon when we toured Matancilla. He spoke little English but Keeneland's Chauncy Morris proved an able translator. An elderly hidalgo might best describe Sr. Hirmas who for many years filled an outsized trophy room. It's hard to explain the feeling that I was in the presence of true greatness in lively pursuit of Thoroughbred achievement, culminating in the fabled Belle Watling.

Other unforgettable characters were encountered on that expedition. Marcel Zarour, the grande jefe of the Chilean Jockey Club, along with his charming wife Maria (better known as "Icha". Pedro Hurtado, Jose Gatica, Fernando Fantini, and German Fischer
became fast friends and clients.

In two weeks the Latino Americano race will be run at San Ysidro in Chile. One of the favorites, Casablanca Star, is a son of Dushyantor. I'll be thinking about Sr. Carlos.

Feb 10, 2011


Once I was asked what was my favorite interview in a quarter century of televised Thoroughbred racing. The answer was easy. "Paul Mellon and Mack Miller after they won the Champagne at Belmont with Sea Hero,", I said.

It was with some trepidation that I awaited their entry to the winner's circle. I fretted during the two-minute commercial, wondering how I might connect with these titans of the turf.

I worried needlessly. The pair cavorted with joy, slapping hands and generally laughing it up. Our discussion was brief and to the point, mainly that the Kentucky Derby was the ultimate goal, which they annexed a few months hence.

The recent death of trainer Miller brought forth accolades from all who had the privilege to know him. He liked to wonder how he got so lucky.

"I really only had two jobs in my career. One was with Charles Engelhard (owner of Nijinsky). Engelhard was known to subsist on a diet of champagne and chocolate and suffered severe gout which forced him to use a cane when in his 40s".

Upon Engelhard's premature demise, Miller was hired by Yale man Paul Mellon.
Mellon already had an Epsom Derby under his belt with Mill Reef.

The universally loved Miller could do it all, having bought some mares from the Engelhard estate and raced them to win important races with longtime partner Smiser West.

Your correspondent got into the act with the purchase of the mare Song of Syria from West who went on to produce champion Chilukki for Canadian owner Norman McAllister.

Some of the Mack Miller magic must have rubbed off again when I bought a yearling Thunder Gulch filly named Tweedside for another Canadian, Eugene Melnyk. She went on to win Grade I races. As I signed the ticket I heard Smiser tell Mack, "gee, Mack I thought we'd get more than $l00,000".

Jan 18, 2011


I take my show on the road to Cape Town for a new international yearling sale January 27-28. The excursion is designed to familiarize global players with South African bloodstock. Inquiries are welcomed.


Jerry Hollendorf was basking in the glow of his latest Eclipse Award, well earned by Blind Luck, a few hours after Indian Winter captured the San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita.

Indian Winter stalked a torrid pace to win twice from three starts. I bought him for a partnership organized by Hollendorfer at the OBS sale last March. When a young horse can attend such a scorching pace like that in the San Pedro one begins to wonder about stamina.

Not a worry I would think.

When I buy juveniles there is a lot of pedigree study executed before I even leave for the airport. I am seeking horses who distinguish themselves in the breezes; the third leg of the stool is a rapport with a reputable consigner who has shown he, or she, can produce runners.

Indian Winter qualifies on all counts. First, he is a half-brother to Gr. III winner Sindy With An S. She earns more points for having a stakes-horse by ordinary Five Star Day and a $119,000 earner by Johar.

The second dam did not win but her full-sister produced stakes horses by failed stallions like Dance Brightly and Acceptance. In these cases the credit invariably comes due to the female.

It really gets interesting in the third dam which boasts two-time champion Ashado and is replete with graded stakes horse like Sun River, Foresta, Victory USA and Saint Stephen.

Indian Winter is the third SW bought from Ciaran Dunne's Wavertree Stable. He bids fair to be the best of the lot in his trainer's talented hands.

Jan 17, 2011


They say you only hurt the ones you love. If that's true, then there was a lot of pain to be distributed at the Eclipse Awards. It was easy to love both Zenyatta and Blame on their merits.

My handicapper's mind had me choose Blame after a Breeders' Cup for the ages was decided in his favor. That point of view shifted when I realized that, while Blame may have been Horse of the Year for 2010, Zenyatta might make historians crown her as the Horse of the Century.

Blame can only enhance his reputation now through success as a stallion. The mare's exploits will be the stuff of lore regardless of her subsequent ability in the breeding shed.

When a filly named Regret became the first female winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1915 she was known forever after as "the only Regret". Who was second that year?
Who cares?

Man O'War and Secretariat dominated the twentieth century and verbal combat over who was better spilled over into the present day. Secretariat even got a movie.
Zenyata's Hollywood connections assure that she may soon star on the silver screen.

Jan 6, 2011

"Records are made to be broken" is one of sport's hoary cliches that proves itself with some regularity. Ask Bret Favre, UConn basketball and Sunny Blossom. Sunny Blossom, you say?

In recent weeks a couple of team sport idols bit the dust while Sunny Blossom lost the distinction of Santa Anita's fastest sprinter since the l989 Palos Verde Handicap.

A snappy 1.07.1 was all that Sunny required to set a standard that lasted more than two decades. A highly touted juvenile named The Factor broke the previous time barrier.

Extenuating circumstances contributed to The Factor's suddenly newfound fame. First of all, there was no comparison between the racing conditions. The new champ showed his stuff over a Santa Anita strip that was posting absurd fractions in every race, at every call. That pattern became a habit in the early days of the Santa Anita meet, propelled by a souped up dirt track.

Second, Sunny made his mark in a graded stakes at the expense of arch-rival Olympic Prospect. The Factor was beating maiden juveniles.

Finally, a significant gap between running times convinced me that my hero had indeed demonstrated something exceptional. Horses were running in 1.11 on the 1989 card, for instance, a sign of a dead track. Everybody was flying around the Ã…rcadia oval a few weeks ago.

Gary Stevens rode Sunny Blossom that fateful afternoon and he saw no need to even uncock his stick. "No one could have beaten me on that horse that day", he repeats whenever a little nostalgia surfaces.

Sunny could be a quirky ride. He had back troubles which probably accounted for the fact that he invariably broke slow enough to spot rivals a length or two. Once in gear, he would take the front and go as fast as he could go. He rarely ever changed leads during a race, another costly habit.

A more endearing attribute was winning the final leg of big money Pick-six wagers
at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields.

While we no longer see his name on the program, Sunny Blossom will be a fond memory in years ahead.