Monday, August 30, 2010

Clem’s Smile

If you’ve ever wondered what da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is smiling about, here’s a smaller-scale mystery:

Nashua’s handler Clem Brooks was as familiar to Nashua’s fans as Will Harbut was to Man o’ War’s. When Nashua died in 1982, Spendthrift Farm’s Leslie Combs II commissioned a half-scale bronze sculpture from artist Liza Todd, Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter. She beautifully captured Nashua and Clem walking towards the breeding shed, the stallion relaxed with his head gently turned towards his groom.

Clem was, by all accounts, quite the character, and you’ll notice a trace of a smirk on his face, similar to Mona Lisa’s smile:

Clem was always willing to share souvenirs from Nashua, and there was no shortage of admirers for the son of *Nasrullah and Segula. Champion 2-year-old in 1954, Belair Stud’s Nashua trained on at three to win the Preakness and Belmont. He defeated Swaps, to whom he’d been second in the Kentucky Derby, in a match race to settle 1955 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male honors. Nashua was the second horse in history, after Citation, to earn in excess of $1-million. His record after three seasons of racing was 30-22-4-1, and he was the first horse syndicated for over a million – $1,251,200, to be exact. All of this ensured a steady stream of visitors to Spendthrift.

After Clem would show the bay stallion to fans, he’d pull a shoe out of his pocket and watch their eyes get big when he told them it was off Nashua. Then he’d offer to sell them the shoe, and who could resist that? I can only imagine how excited people were as they left Spendthrift taking home a shoe that was off the great Nashua.

What they didn’t know was that whenever the blacksmith came to trim the stallions, Clem would rifle through the back of the truck looking for old, worn shoes that came from who knows where. It was these that he presented and sold to visitors as being “off Nashua.” It became a lucrative little side business for the groom.

Clem was a clever fellow, always very careful to say that they were off Nashua. And as he pointed out, he never did say the shoes had ever been on Nashua, and it was quite true that they were off him, as Nashua was not wearing them!!

Here is a view of the statue and another of Clem from a different angle:

And now, take a close look at Clem’s right pocket and see if you can guess why he’s smiling:

(click on photos to see them full-size)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Gallant Man, Indeed

We’ve been discussing implementing a blog on the Trainer site for a while, et voilà!, our maiden voyage which will (eventually) link through the magazine website. I have no preconceived notions of what the blog will offer except that it will celebrate a love of horses, horseracing, and Thoroughbreds. To that end, having hemmed and hawed for several months about how to even approach writing a blog, I was recently struck by inspiration completely out of the blue.

A friend had dredged up some old photographs of himself posing alongside Mr. Prospector and Danzig at stud at Claiborne Farm, and with a twinge of nostalgia, I dug out boxes of photos to do some reminiscing of my own, unearthing nearly forgotten fading treasures, taking a reverse journey through my life in horseracing.

Revisiting cherished moments, beginning with my first visit to Kentucky in 1988, took me as far back in time as 1954 (quite a while before I was born, I can assure you). I had traveled to Lexington with my mother, and our first stop was the Kentucky Horse Park, where I saw Man o’ War’s grave, took a photo next to three-time Horse of the Year Forego (aka “Joe”), and was received with disinterest by two-time Horse of the Year John Henry.

Afterwards, we took an impromptu tour of Spendthrift Farm, hastily arranged by a kind volunteer in the Hall of Champions at the Horse Park who thought I might enjoy seeing Caro, sire of that year’s Kentucky Derby-winning filly Winning Colors.

And so it was quite by sheer luck that two days after the death of the farm’s anchor stallion Raise a Native, having now seen Caro, Foolish Pleasure, and others at Spendthrift, I followed a groom to a stall on the far left of the fabled u-shaped stallion barn to meet a horse I didn’t even know was still alive. But there he stood: *Gallant Man, a member of the great foal crop of ’54, with his hindquarters to us, peering out the back window of his stall. The groom (Jeff, as I recall, seen below) opened the door with a “Hey, Pops,” and the tiny horse turned and approached us willingly, his old joints moving stiffly. His star was almost unrecognizable for all the gray hair on his face.

Even on this last weekend of July, 34-year-old Gallant Man was woolly. When his groom scratched a spot on his neck, a light wind picked up brown fuzz shedding off the stallion’s coat. Gallant Man tilted his head sideways, enjoying the neckrub, his already droopy lower lip drooping even more. I went into his stall and took a turn scratching the inside of his ear, marveling at how small he was, marveling at how soft and warm and fuzzy he was. It’s not that he was particularly softer or warmer than any other horse – I won’t say that that he wasn’t fuzzier – but it was more that I had never dreamed it would be possible to do something as familiar as scratching the ear of such a racehorse who, for a kid from Puerto Rico, existed only in history books.

It was mind-boggling to think of what this horse – I cannot stress enough how small he was – had done on the racecourse. What heart, I thought, and reserved a spot for him in mine.

Gallant Man’s story ties in with that of his contemporaries Bold Ruler and Round Table. These two were famously born in the same barn at Claiborne on April 6: Bold Ruler would become Horse of the Year in 1957 and champion sprinter in 1958; Round Table was Horse of the Year in 1958, champion turf horse 1957 - 1959, and champion older male in 1958 and 1959. Both were elected to the Hall of Fame, Round Table in 1972 and Bold Ruler the following year.

Round Table had died on June 13, 1987, a year before my visit, and Bold Ruler was long dead after cancer had claimed him in 1971. As in life, the two champions reside near one another, beneath limestone markers at Claiborne.

An ocean away from his rivals, Gallant Man was bred by the Aga Khan and Prince Aly Khan in Great Britain, his foreign origin represented by the now-obsolete * in front of his name; historical annals have since lost track of his foaling date. Ralph Lowe purchased him in a package deal as a yearling and imported him to the U.S. The little horse – who at full maturity stood little higher than 15 hands – had bad ankles, and was not held in high regard against the other yearlings from the Aga Khan’s bunch.

Gallant Man was, however, well bred. His sire *Migoli had won the Dewhurst at two, the Champion and King Edward VII at three, and the Arc at four. Migoli was by Bois Roussel, an Epsom Derby-winning half-brother to leading U.S. sires *Sir Gallahad and *Bull Dog, and Migoli’s third dam was the “Flying Filly” Mumtaz Mahal. Gallant Man’s dam, the *Mahmoud mare *Majideh, was champion three-year-old filly in Ireland after winning the Irish Oaks and the Irish 1,000 Guineas. Majideh had already produced *Masaka (by Nearco), who won the English and Irish versions of the Oaks in 1948.

Gallant Man had three wins at two but nothing of distinction, while Bold Ruler and Round Table won prominent juvenile stakes – the Futurity for the former and Breeders’ Futurity for the latter. Gallant Man quietly opened up his three-year-old account in January with a victory in the Hibiscus S. at Hialeah. Bold Ruler also wintered in Florida, where he traded punches with a Calumet buzzsaw named Gen. Duke, who like Citation was a son of Bull Lea. With a 12lb weight differential in Gen. Duke’s favor, Gen. Duke defeated Bold Ruler by a head in the Everglades (Iron Liege was third). At equal weights next out, Bold Ruler beat Gen. Duke by a neck in the Flamingo, but Gen. Duke was back on top in the Florida Derby by 1½ lengths, with Bold Ruler holding on for second from Iron Liege by a head. Gen. Duke and Bold Ruler had emerged the clear division leaders in Florida.

The first sign Gallant Man might be a serious contender in this talented crop came in the Wood Memorial at Jamaica. The 8-1 shot engaged in a protracted stretch-run duel with odds-on favorite Bold Ruler, losing by a tight nose. Gallant Man had actually passed Bold Ruler in the stretch, and the two ran eyeball to eyeball throughout most of the final furlong, shaving two-fifths off the track record.

In the meantime, Round Table took the easy route to the Derby with a six-length romp in the Blue Grass at Keeneland.

Gen. Duke would have been the Kentucky Derby favorite if he hadn’t scratched the morning of the race. (Gen. Duke, whose dam was champion Wistful, never raced again and died from a neurological affliction in 1958.) At $1.20-to-1, Bold Ruler inherited Derby favoritism, with Round Table ($3.60-to-1) the second choice over Gallant Man ($3.70-to-1). Yet the 1957 Derby is best remembered not for who won – because it was none of these – but for an incident involving Gallant Man and his jockey Bill Shoemaker.

Gallant Man’s running line in the Derby chart reads thus: “in hand and saving ground to the last three-eighths mile, moved up determinedly in the early stretch, reached the lead between calls and was going stoutly when his rider [Shoemaker] misjudged the finish and he could not overtake IRON LIEGE when back on stride.” Calumet’s outsider, yet another son of Bull Lea and a half-brother to the dam of ’55 Derby winner Swaps, paid $18.80 to win. Round Table was 2¾ lengths behind in third, three lengths ahead of fourth-placed Bold Ruler, who didn’t stay, per the chart.

Gallant Man sat out the Preakness – which Bold Ruler took handily from Iron Liege – to win the Peter Pan over Promised Land (future broodmare sire of Bold Ruler’s grandson Spectacular Bid), and Round Table shipped to California where he embarked on an 11-race win streak.

Bold Ruler, at odds of 17-20, and Gallant Man at 19-20 contested the Belmont; Gallant Man cruised under the wire eight lengths in front of his nearest competitor – Bold Ruler came in third – stopping the clock at 2:26 3/5, a new track and stakes record that stood until Bold Ruler’s son Secretariat in 1973. To date, only Secretariat, Easy Goer, A.P. Indy, and Risen Star (son of Secretariat) have bettered Gallant Man’s time in the Belmont.

Also in 1957, Gallant Man won the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup from Third Brother and the Nassau County Handicap over that year’s champion older male, and Bold Ruler’s co-Horse of the Year, Dedicate. Gallant Man had made 14 starts at three, with eight wins and four seconds, equaling or setting three track records: 6 furlongs at Tropical Park, 9 furlongs at Belmont (in the Nassau County), and of course 12 furlongs at Belmont. His second-place finishes came in the Wood Memorial; the Derby; the Woodward to Dedicate (Bold Ruler was third); and, in November at Garden State, the 10 furlong Trenton Handicap, in which Bold Ruler-Gallant Man-Round Table finished 1-2-3 to settle championship honors.

As a four-year-old, Gallant Man started five times with three wins: the Metropolitan Handicap in New York over Bold Ruler and Clem (who was to beat Round Table three times in 1958), and the Hollywood Gold Cup and Sunset Handicap in California. He had also been third to Bold Ruler and Tick Tock in the Carter Handicap over seven furlongs, a distance that was a little sharp for him. An injury after the Sunset forced his retirement to Spendthrift.

His lifetime record was 26-14-4-1, with earnings of $510,355. That Gallant Man was not a champion is as unfortunate as his being best remembered for a race he didn’t win. It should be mentioned that John Nerud, who trained Gallant Man (and, later, Dr. Fager), reportedly believed that Shoemaker – no stranger to Churchill Downs – had thrown the Derby.

Gallant Man was overshadowed by Bold Ruler and Round Table at stud. The best of his 52 stakes winners was champion 2- and 3-year-old filly Gallant Bloom; his greater impact came as a broodmare sire, and his daughters produced champions Genuine Risk and Lord Avie.

Saratoga honored Gallant Man with the Gallant Man Stakes briefly, from 1985-1991, after which the race was re-named the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame S. He joined his rivals in the Hall of Fame in 1987 and was euthanized on September 7, 1988, 5½ weeks after I had met him.

When I returned to Spendthrift a few years later, I was reminded of walking among the gravestones in the stallion cemetery in 1988, when I had asked the groom why only Nashua and Raise a Native (in his freshly dug plot) were in the center area, with the other stallions buried off to the side. “Because they’re special,” he had said of the two. I didn’t understand. Wasn’t Majestic Prince special, or Exclusive Native? “Yes,” he said. “But…in a different way,” suggesting that “special” was not as tangible as what a horse does on the track or at stud.

And as I somehow knew I would, I found Gallant Man buried in the center.