Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Back to the Shed... this time Claiborne Farm

Guest Blogger Lindsay Hunter writes about her trip to deliver a mare to the Claiborne Farm Breeding Shed last week...

Claiborne 2/19/13

As I headed out Paris Pike the cold edged winds buffeted the trailer from the west. Past the Country Club, past the Keeneland Training Center, on past Walmac and Spendthrift and Gainesway and Elmendorf. Past the old Greentree and the barn where the Gashouse Gang retirees used to hang out.
The cold grey sky matched the historic grey stone fences that lined Paris Pike. Signature landmarks in Kentucky, these 19th century dry stone walls where originally constructed by Irish and Scottish immigrant stonemasons, who taught their craft to the black slaves, who in turn became accomplished stone masons, building miles and miles of containing fences from the native limestone rocks readily available in the adjoining fields. At one time, the first macadamized (blacktopped ) road west of the Allegheny Mountains, Paris Pike is now a scenic 13 mile four lane ‘country road’ connecting Paris , and Maysville beyond it, to Lexington. The stone walls been carefully moved and reconstructed to accommodate the new and much safer road, and signs along the way denote the time of the original construction.
Entering the quaint town of Paris, I made my way along the antique alley of Main Street, turned right at the Family Dollar onto Hwy 627, over the railroad tracks, past the white water tower, and soon found myself at the main Claiborne Farm entrance ,passing the “No Visitors “ sign as I drove along the driveway.
Four generations of Hancocks have raised Thoroughbred horses on these Bluegrass acres, a true working nursery, no pretentious fancy iron gates, no state of the art stallion complex, just black tar tobacco barns with egg yellow doors and screens, same routines followed day in and day out.
But marvel at the horses that have called Claiborne ‘home’.
Visitors can schedule an appointment to tour the farm, and marvel at the Cemetery and the famous horses buried there. At the main farm, in a hedge enclosed area adjacent to the office, 20 stallions have headstones there. Round Table, Nijinsky II, Secretariat, Swale and Mr Prospector are all buried whole, deviating from the tradition of burying a horse’s head, heart and hooves (for intelligence, heart and speed ) . History makers like Gallant Fox, Bold Ruler, BlenheimII , Double Jay, Nasrullah , Hoist the Flag, Buckpasser and Riva Ridge are also interred here.
Across the road at Marchmont, (a division of Claiborne ) Forli, Conquistador Cielo, Damascus, Danzig, Easy Goer, Sir Ivor, Tom Rolfe, Unbridled and the first stallion imported from England by A.B. Hancock, Sir Gallahad III, are laid to rest in the cemetery.
As I pull into the parking area, I am second in line. The mare I have brought is the dam of a Breeders Cup winner and she is coming to the court of War Front, a son of Danzig, and winner of the Alfred C Vanderbuilt Breeders Cup, the Forego Stakes, the Tom Fool Handicap, Mr Prospector Handicap and the Deputy Minister Handicap, so he could flat run !
We are called to the breeding shed in succession, walking across the grass next to Stoner Creek that flows through the middle of Claiborne, where the white swans float among the bullrushes in the summer. In the whitewashed teasing stall, the teaser talks to the mare. She shows herself to be ready for breeding, and I catch her, running the shank through her mouth as all the mares at Claiborne are bred this way, turning her into the yellow padded wash stocks to get her tail wrapped and washed.
Barrett Midkiff from Taylor Made Farm is behind me, with a mare for First Samurai, and we chat about the weather (cold ) and Winstar’s new breeding shed (they have EVERYTHING, in doubles, and doughnuts ! )
Soon I hand off my mare to the shed crew, who greet me with warmth , it’s been half a year since I was here back in June, and they recall the double fudge peanut butter brownies I brought along that day. No doubt they’re angling for more treats !
War Front steps regally down the rubber brick lined walkway from the upper barn and I’m able to snap some photos with the sun behind him. The stallion manager takes him, and in no time at all has bred the mare. Barrett waits at the yellow gate for his mares’ turn and I bid them adieu and head back to the parking area. The mare loads easily, I close everything up, the new ramp is great, but still heavy , and truck in gear, off we go. I stop briefly at the office and take in a few more Breeding Shed Guides (Claiborne has the back cover ) and its off through town, down Paris Pike to the mare’s home farm.
In some ways it’s a step back in time to visit Claiborne. The staff have for the most part, grown with the farm, some were raised there and have been around Claiborne horses since they were kids. It’s always a privilege to drive through the bronze plaqued gate and be on such a historic Thoroughbred nursery.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Delivering a Mare to the Breeding Shed

Ever wonder what it's like to deliver a mare to the breeding shed?
Guest blogger Lindsay Hunter of Lexington, Kentucky has been documenting her daily
journeys to Kentucky’s premier farms this season with an interesting and enjoyable mix of
information, color and history.

Many thanks to Lindsay for sharing her words and giving me the OK to post here. For FaceBook fans, you can read Lindsay’s adventures here.

Feb 15th
Darley at Jonabell
The phone rang about 11.30. Could I take a mare to be bred at Darley at 1.30? (of course I could!) As I drove along Harrodsburg Road on the southwest side of Lexington, and traversed curvy Bowman Mill between Mill Ridg
e Farm and Darley, I reminisced about Jonabell Farm, where HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasheed Al Maktoum’s U.S breeding operation is now centered, having purchased the Jonabell property in 2001, and upon the death of his brother, Sheikh Maktoum, consolidated the stallions at Gainesborough Farm under one large Darley umbrella at Jonabell. I missed the old stone breeding shed, the wonderful carved stone horseheads that adorned the entrance, the Celtic symbol that each mare passed beneath on her way in to the shed. Back then, stallions in residence included Holy Bull, Cherokee Run, Old Trieste. 
Phillip ran the shed, Bruce handled the stallions, Hector stabilized the mares.
Close to the new executive offices, is the bronze statue and grave of Affirmed, the 1978 Triple Crown winner and the last thoroughbred to accomplish the feat, was buried whole standing up, and facing the viewer, directly under his statue at Darley along with the familiar flamingo pink and black silks of owner/breeder Louis and Patrice Wolfson's Harbor View Farm. Thirty four years ago, he gave his sport not just its last Triple Crown, but an amazing rivalry with a horse named Alydar. Even though Affirmed died before the Sheikh acquired the farm, he wanted to make sure the legendary stallion had a fitting memorial. Affirmed lived in reverence until January 2001 and the age of 26.
Among the 13 stallions standing at stud on the farm are the 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and his rival Hard Spun, Bernardini, and top American stallions Medaglia d'Oro (sire of Rachel Alexandra') and Street Cry (Zenyatta's sire). Darley has the distinction of being the only farm with the sires of four Kentucky Derby winners.
As I drove thru the barred automatic gates, past the sign that says “Please wait to unload your mare until called “ up the neat, curved drive and into the huge parking lot, I was struck by how far things had advanced. The ‘state of the art ’ breeding shed with two breeding bays, two teasing stalls, two foam padded stocks for palping and reinforcing, everything padded in blue, and this year, home to 13 royally bred stallions. 
Joe met me in the parking area to check my mare’s papers, we were second in line, and she was to be bred to Any Given Saturday. There was much more hustle and bustle in this shed these days. More people are needed to get things handled, a resident vet checks everything, about 5 people in each breeding shed, one to hold the mare, one to hold her tail, another to steady from the far side, the stallion handler, the ’enter’ guy. We moved quickly through the teasing stall, wash rack for pre breeding prep, and on into the right side check. Phillip still overseas this shed, Bruce still brings the stallion, while Steve, formerly head stallion man at Gainesborough, usually keeps things moving in the left side shed. 
My mare, a maiden , was quietly and unobtrusively introduced to the proceedings by the teaser, who took care not to startle her as he mounted her like the stallion would, a practice we refer to as ’ jumping the mare’. She took it all in stride, and as Bruce led Any Given Saturday in, she broke down and urinated, showing her readiness for breeding. 
A group of foreign visitors watched with intense interest from the observation room, chattering in their home language. Five other trailers with mares and handlers had arrived behind me. Each went through the same routine, chatting companionably while waiting their mares’ turn.
Soon she was back in the trailer, and as the sun broke through the clouds, we headed back down Hwy 68 to her home farm.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Showdown on the Gulfstream Lawn

The entries are out for the Grade 1 (Kitten’s Joy) Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. A short field, as expected, but an exciting race, none the less, for it looks to be a showdown between 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and last year’s superior grass horse, Point of Entry.

A big Thanks to ThoroFan, and the Handicapper's Corner for giving me the platform to express my handicapping opinion!

This will probably be the last start in North America for Animal Kingdom. His schedule this year, after this race, is the Dubai World Cup and perhaps a race at Royal Ascot. He will then retire to the breeding shed in Australia, and ship there in September. If he wins all 3 this year, could he be the only horse to win 3 Grade 1’s on 3 different continents in the same year? I will let someone else do the research on that, but should he get it done, it would be quite a feat.

Point of Entry is starting out his campaign for the year with an eye on the Breeder's Cup at the end of the year, and perhaps a crack at Horse of the Year.

Here’s the field:

From the rail out:

1.    1.)  Filmmaking is by Storm Cat out of the brilliant grass mare Film Maker. The Courtland Farm homebred has only one win out of 17 lifetime starts. He is getting in light, but he would have to run the race of his life to get any part of this.

2.   2.)  Point of Entry, royally bred son of Dynaformer, and a Phipps homebred, he  is trained by Hall of Famer Shug Mc Gaughey and ridden by Hall of Famer, John Velazquez. May prefer more ground, but has the tactical speed to get a good position early. Will be fit and ready to roll.

3.    3.) Salto (IRE) is the Todd Pletcher entry.  He is another home-bred, (Wertheimer & Frere) He looks like a second stringer to me, but gets weight from the top three.  May be in the mix early, but don’t think he’s good enough to win.

4.    4.) Unbridled Command is a NY bred, owned and bred by Lewis Lakin (with Sequel TBs) looking for his 6th –yes 6th- win in a row. He is trained by Tom Bush who won this race last year with Get Stormy. His last race was the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, where he found a way to win in a 14 horse field. It’s another step up to run against the top 2, but you can’t really fault a horse that does nothing but win. This is a class test for him.

5.   5.)  Where's the Baby is is a consistent allowance horse, and another homebred (Richard Sherman) He has never run against this quality, but along with the top two, has won over the course.  I still think you will need a search warrant to find him.

6.    6.) Animal Kingdom,-the Team Valor homebred- is the big horse, the fan favorite- and he has been training up a storm. It will be a treat to see him run, but bittersweet too, because this looks like the last time his fans will get to see his brilliance. He finished 2nd in the Breeder’s Cup Mile to Horse of the Year Wise Dan, in his last start, with a very troubled trip.

Many times the “obvious” doesn’t turn out the way you think, especially in handicapping, but for me, I think it’s pretty evident that we are looking at a two-horse race. Both Animal Kingdom and Point of Entry are top class horses, both have won over the Gulfstream lawn, and they are both in it to win it. Many times , with a short field, it comes down to a "jockey's race".  POE’s regular rider Johnny V knows his competition well, as he has ridden AK and won on him before. You can be sure he will have his eye on him as the race unfolds.  And take nothing away from Joel Rosario who has fit in nicely with the East Coast elite. “First-time” Rosario is a betting angle that has been very profitable.

 I see no reason why both these horses won’t fire, and I can see the race going either way.
 I think the margin will be tight. If I had to take a stand~ and isn't what handicapping is all about (!)~ I think maybe JV could make the difference. Either way, this will be a fun race to watch!

Good luck to all the runners, run fast, be safe and may the best horse win!