Havre de Grace, the 2011 Horse of the Year, descends from a superb sire line whose story resonates with the whims of thoroughbred genetics. This article is enriched beyond words by the superb photography of Matt and Wendy Wooley of EquiSport Photos, who so graciously allowed THE VAULT permission to publish a selection of their photographs.
Even though only 4 years old, Havre de Grace’s story is punctuated by echoes of tragedy and promise. Her trainer, Larry Jones, last found himself in the spotlight as the trainer of the courageous and ill-fated Eight Belles. And Havre de Grace’s sire, Saint Liam, who had garnered HOTY honours in 2005, came to a tragic end in 2006.
Any thoroughbred’s pedigree gives a writer pause: the stories embedded in the names that appear in a bloodline are always rich in possibility. Havre de Grace’s ancestry is no different, resounding as it does with legends like Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, Buckpasser, Dr. Fager, Gallorette, Native Dancer, Polynesian, Challenger II, Teddy and Ajax. But it is what she owes to her great grandsire, a curmudgeon named Halo, who was once thought to have secured a place in breeding history as illustrious as that of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector, that caught our attention.
Today, the Hail to Reason sire line through Halo is only marginally represented in the North American thoroughbred pedigrees of champions. And when Halo is cited in books and articles, it is for one of two reasons: either his foul temper, or the fact that he sired the great Sunday Silence, who went on to attain revered status as “The Star” of Japan’s modern breeding history.
Halo could not really help being such a bad-tempered colt. His sire, Hail to Reason, had needed a good deal of convincing to bloom into the well-mannered horse he became and his grandsire, Turn-To (1951), a son of Royal Charger (1942) and grandson of the incomparable Nearco (1936), got mixed reviews in the breeding shed. This was because his offspring were either spectacular or unsound. Among Turn-To’s best sons were First Landing (sire of Meadow Stables’ Riva Ridge), Best Turn, (sire of Davona Dale and Cox’s Ridge), Sir Gaylord (sire of Sir Ivor) and Halo’s daddy, Hail to Reason.
Hail to Reason was arguably Turn-To’s most accomplished son, most particularly as a sire of sires, through his sons Halo, Sunday Silence, Bold Reason, Stop the Music and Mr. Leader. Many of his daughters also became major producers, notably Admiring, the dam of Roar, Wild Applause and Sea Hero, and Priceless Gem, the dam of Arc winner and champion, Allez France.
And all this from a sire whose life had once hung in the balance.
Hail to Reason was born in Kentucky in 1958 to a big, strapping daughter of Blue Swords called Nothirdchance. By the time he was turned out with the other foals, the youngster was already showing leadership potential of the scrappy kind, taking a mere two days to bring all the other foals to heel. Owned by the Bieber-Jacobs Stable, the two year-old Hail to Reason was the kind of horse you never turned your back on. Not grumpy, exactly, or truly mean — more the kind of colt who just didn’t trust people. Young Patrice Jacobs, daughter of owner-trainer Hirsch Jacobs, took a shine to Hail to Reason and spent enough “quality time” with the youngster to build the kind of trust that provided a foundation for the calm, intelligent and willing horse he was to become.
In a very real sense, it was Patrice’s love for Hail to Reason that saved his life.
It took the big colt 6 races before he broke his maiden, but he was soon on his way to the winner’s circle, chalking up 9 wins in 18 starts. Then disaster struck. Shortly after a poor showing in the Saratoga Special, Hail to Reason took a bad step while training at Aqueduct. The accident happened too early in the morning for any of the track vets to be on the scene. It was Hirsch Jacobs who instructed his son, John, to hold the colt’s injured left foreleg while they led him back to the barn. There, the elder Jacobs fashioned a plaster cast and waited for a vet to arrive. Hail to Reason stood as still as a statue in his stall, just as though he knew he’d been badly hurt and that his trainer was trying to help him. It was over a month, and several cracked leg casts later, before the colt was out of danger. Through the whole process, Hail to Reason remained calm and cooperative. It was that attitude and composure, according to John Jacobs, that saved his life.
The injury ended Hail to Reason’s racing days. During the first few years at stud he was still not 100% but despite a limited book of mares, Hail to Reason’s very first crop yielded five major winners, including Straight Deal (champion handicap mare of 1967), Hail to All (winner of the Belmont Stakes) and Admiring (winner of the Arlington-Lassie who eventually sold for a then-world record). In 1964, Hail to Reason got the Kentucky Derby winner, Proud Clarion, and three years later in 1970, the Preakness winner, Personality. Then, in 1972, after completing a sire’s Triple Crown, the stallion got Epsom Derby winner, Roberto. As the breeder of both Proud Clarion and Roberto, John W. Galbreath of Darby Dan Farm became the only individual at that time to have bred and owned both a Kentucky and Epsom Derby winner. And in 1974, there was the filly Cum Laude Laurie, winner of the Delaware Oaks, the Ruffian H., the Spinster and the Beldame.
In 1969, along came Halo. He was bred by John R. Gaines and sold as a yearling to Charles Engelhard, the owner of the great Nijinsky and a dominant international owner before his death a year later. Halo’s dam, the lovely Cosmah, was a foundation mare for Gaines having already produced Hall of Fame inductee, Tosmah, in 1961. Halo would be her second most outstanding offspring.
For a year following Engelhard’s death, Halo raced in his colours and won the Lawrence Realization. Sold to Hollywood producer Irving Allen, Halo was then shipped to Allen’s stable in England where it was discovered that he was cribber. At the time, cribbing was viewed very disadvantageously by the British, for reasons that are lost in time. But the habit overturned Halo’s sale, and back the dark, dark brown three year-old came, this time to E.P. Taylor and Windfields Farm, the home of Northern Dancer and Nearctic. Racing under trainer Mack Miller, who had been his trainer as a 2 year-old, Halo raced until 5 with his biggest win coming that year, in the United Nations Handicap. He retired with a record of 31 starts of which he won 9, placed in 8 and rolled in third 5 times. Kind of an average race horse.
But Halo was certainly no average sire.
His stud career began at the Maryland division of Windfield’s Farm, followed by a move to Arthur Hancock’s Stone Farm in 1984, where he lived until his death in 2000, at the age of 31. There was something about his new career that turned the always nervous Halo into a genuinely nasty stallion, so mean that he went out to his paddock wearing a specially designed muzzle. But the job he did in the breeding shed was nothing short of spectacular, siring not only the incomparable — and similarly temperamental — Sunday Silence, but also another Kentucky Derby winner, Sunny’s Halo (sire of more than 24 stakes winners), as well as Devil’s Bag (sire of Devil His Due, Twilight Agenda and Japan’s Taiki Shuttle), Southern Halo (repatriated South American sire of More Than Ready), Lively One (sire of champion Answer Lively), Jolie’s Halo (sire of Hal’s Hope) and Strodes Creek. His daughters also distinguished themselves on the track, notably the Kentucky Oaks winner, Goodbye Halo, and the Canadian and North American champion, Glorious Song, who was also a Blue Hen in the breeding shed, producing both Rahy and Singspiel.
Despite the champions Halo got, most of his sons proved unable to follow in his footsteps as sires. Other than the prepotent Sunday Silence, no other progeny came close, with the exception of Southern Halo, who was a terrific sire in South America and who’s son, More Than Ready, gave us Ready’s Image, who has just recently entered stud.
Such are the vagaries of genetics, exemplified in Halo’s son, Saint Ballado, a full brother to Devil’s Bag who was nowhere near as impressive on the track, although he did win the Arlington Classic and the Sheridan Stakes. However, the handsome stallion bested his brother in the breeding shed, siring champions Saint Liam, Ashado and Captain Bodgit before his untimely death at the age of 13.
Saint Liam raced into his 5th year, retiring with earnings in excess of 4 million USD. His gutsy win in the 2005 Breeders’ Classic earned him the respect of horse racing’s sports elite, even though saint Liam had also annexed the Donn and Stephen Foster, as well as the Woodward that same year.
Although Saint Liam broke from post 13 in the BC Classic, and although he was hounded to the finish line by a gallant Flower Alley, his stamina and class shone through:
In the meantime, pedigree experts were focusing on Saint Liam for another reason. Other sons of Saint Ballado like Captain Bodgit, Flame Thrower, Yankee Victor and Sweetsouthernsaint had failed to produce anything that demonstrated some of the potential of the Hail to Reason-Halo sire line. Would Saint Liam be any different?
Retired following his Classic win to stand at Lane’s End, Saint Liam only had one crop of foals before he was gone. Had he survived the unlucky incident that killed him, it is likely that the young stallion would have sparkled. The fact that in his only foal crop there were 12 stakes performers, 6 stakes winners and 3 graded winners, headed by our 2011 Horse of the Year, attests to his great potential. After his death, the University of Notre Dame named a health centre, St. Liam’s, in his honour. But despite such a tribute, the loss of Saint Liam remains one of the saddest events in the industry of recent times.
Bittersweet as the career of his best daughter may be, Havre de Grace does Saint Liam proud. She looks like her daddy and to quote her trainer, Larry Jones, has ” …a heart as big as America.” Grace boasts a wonderful disposition, stamina that won’t quit and a determination to win. Too, like Saint Liam, Havre de Grace is improving with maturity — all of which augers well for her 5 year-old campaign.
In her Woodward and Beldame wins of 2011, Grace demonstrated with a kind of equine finality why Larry Jones thinks of her as “my Zenyatta.” Certainly, Grace is taking a page from Zenyatta’s book, insofar as her gain in maturity and experience might well make 2012 the “Jones Girl’s” best yet.
Of one thing we can be sure: Halo is guiding her, every step of the way.
Havre de Grace takes the Woodward in “Saint Liam style”
Walking away from the field in the Beldame:
Riding with Grace: