NOTE TO READERSHIP: THE VAULT will be taking several weeks off. I just hate not writing new articles but have a family member who is critically ill. I’ll get back to THE VAULT as soon as I can with a bunch of new writing, but for now, it’s difficult to give you a precise date. However, once I’m back you’ll be notified on your Facebook, Twitter or other accounts. Thanks for your understanding, Abigail Anderson (February 4, 2014)
The tiny chestnut foal could hardly have known that he was born into a story, would be named after a national treasure and would grow into a legend. But that is exactly the story of Giant’s Causeway.
Bred by Bill Peters and campaigned in the name of his Thunderhead Farms, Mariah’s Storm wove herself a story of guts, courage and heart. Breaking down in the Alcibiades with a fracture to her left front cannon bone in 1993, the filly’s racing career would have ended had it not been for the faith of owner Peters and her trainer, Don Von Hemel. It was decided that she would be rehabilitated, but even after the fracture healed, the question remained: Would the filly ever race again? Starting back in 1994, Mariah’s Storm showed the racing public what she was made of, winning the Arlington Heights Oaks, the Arlington Matron and defeating the great mare Serena’s Song in the Turfway Park Budweiser Breeders Cup Stakes in 1995.
Although she faded to finish ninth in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (won by over a dozen lengths by the impressive Inside Information with jockey Mike Smith in the irons), Mariah’s Storm retired with a career record of 16-10-2-1 and earnings of $724,895 USD. She had done enough to inspire a movie (“Dreamer”) and to get the attention of savvy horsemen beyond the shores of North America. So it was that in 1996, at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, Mariah’s Storm was sold, in foal to Storm Cat, to Coolmore’s John Magnier for 2.6 million USD.
The foal she was carrying was imprinted with the genetic data of Northern Dancer (1961), Secretariat (1970), Blushing Groom (1974) and Roberto (1969), as well as Halo (1969), Hail To Reason (1958), Nasrullah (1940), Nashua (1942), Bold Ruler (1954) and an important son of Man O’ War, War Relic (1958). Further, the Storm Cat-Mariah’s Storm mating called upon the known affinity between the Northern Dancer and Blushing Groom sire lines.
It was fair to expect great things from this yet unborn descendant of some of the greatest thoroughbreds of the last century. But, as history has shown, great genes don’t always beget great horses.
As Aidan O’Brien tells it (in Pacemaker, July 2001), the Storm Cat-Mariah’s Storm colt was already the talk of Ashford Stud (Coolmore America) long before he arrived at Ballydoyle.
” ‘…Before he set foot in the yard, a lot of people were talking about him,’ O’Brien related. ‘Anyone who saw him as a yearling said he had great presence from the start. He had a lovely physique, and when we started to get to know him it was obvious that he had a temperament to match. He looked well, he walked well, and we were fairly sure he was going to be a real racehorse.’ ”
The handsome colt with the crooked blaze needed a name and the one chosen for him was Giant’s Causeway. So it was that before he had even set foot on the turf, the youngster had the distinction of carrying on his solid shoulders another story, this one pertaining to one of Ireland’s greatest legends. The site of Finn McCool’s great feat remains a place of mystery and magic, warmed by the ghosts of a well-remembered past. While it continues to fascinate all who see it, on the global stage The Giant’s Causeway has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
As he would throughout his racing career, Giant’s Causeway did honour to his bloodlines, his dam’s grit and the country that had embraced him. In his juvenile season, the colt raced three times, capping off the year with an easy win in the 1999 Prix de la Salamandre (G1) at Longchamps, France. The ground was soft that day, but Ballydoyle’s colt made all the running under the skilled guidance of master jockey, Mick Kinane.
The colt ended the year a Group One winner and, if the Master of Ballydoyle was concerned about him at all, it was that his juvenile season had been perhaps a bit too easy. “… I felt that if he was going to be ready for the Guineas he was going to have to learn things in a hurry at the start of the season. In the spring he worked regularly with the Gimcrack winner Mull of Kintyre and they were both so good that we could hardly believe it. ” As the colt had had no experience being among horses having done all the running in his three starts as a 2 year-old, O’Brien started him at three in the Gladness Stakes, where he would meet horses of all ages for the first time. Said O’Brien, ” The Gladness can be a tough race for three year-olds…Physically, he had always been very mature but mentally he hadn’t really been tested. I told Michael Kinane to drop him in, educate him and hope that he would be good enough.”
Giant’s Causeway was indeed “good enough,” beating an experienced Tarry Flynn (1994) as well as John Oxx’s Namid (1996), who would go on to take the Prix l’Abbaye later in the season.
In his next two starts, the 2000 Guineas and the Irish 2000 Guineas, Giant’s Causeway battled all the way but ended up second to King’s Best (1997) and Bachir (1997), respectively. The losses took nothing away from him in O’Brien’s eyes. The colt had shown courage and talent even in defeat. As well, the trainer had learned that Giant’s Causeway was determined and fiercely competitive, if inclined to ease up once he had passed all of the other horses in the field, a factor that had played against him in his two defeats. Next up was the St. James’s Palace Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot 2000. A new millennium had dawned and the chestnut-red colt was going to make it his own. He had matured and learned a good deal from three tough races when he and Kinane stepped into the starting gate at Royal Ascot:
He may have won it by a nose, but Giant’s Causeway stamped himself as Mariah’s Storm’s son, showing a tenacity that became a signature. In winning the St. James’s Palace he had beaten some excellent colts in Bachir and Medicean (1997). And he had won off a slower pace than he liked. Although it was tempting to give the colt the summer off, O’Brien felt that he could step up the pace of Giant’s Causeway’s campaign by entering him in the Coral-Eclipse (G1) a mere eleven days later. The changes in the three year-old from just before and after the St. James’s Palace made it an interesting risk to take. Giant’s Causeway had come into his own just before his appearance at Royal Ascot and came out of it well into himself and in great form.
With veteran jockey George Duffield in the saddle, he went to the post in the Coral-Eclipse. Also entered were champions Sakhee (1997), Fantastic Light (1996), Shiva (1995) and Kalanisi (1996).
Aidan O’Brien’s take on the drama of the finish was that once Giant’s Causeway had gotten to the front, he idled a little, waiting for Kalanisi to get up to him. But whether by a length or a whisker, his game colt had gotten the job done. It was this race that would earn the Ballydoyle colt an enduring nickname, “The Iron Horse,” since Giant’s Causeway became only the second horse –and the first since Coronach(1923) in 1926 — to capture both the Coral-Eclipse and the St. James’s Palace Stakes in the same year. In winning the Coral-Eclipse he had beaten a future winner of the 2001 Prix du l’Arc de Triomphe (Sakhee), the 2000 European Champion Horse and Champion Turf Male in the USA (Kalanisi), the 2000 & 2001 UK Horse of the World (Fantastic Light) and the winner of the Tattersall’s Gold Cup and 1999 European Champion Mare (Shiva).
As if this weren’t enough, the Iron Horse went on — and on — annexing the Irish Champion Stakes (G1), the Sussex Stakes (G1) and the Juddmonte International (G1) in rapid succession, vanquishing older champions like the German Group 1 winner, Greek Dance (1995), Juddmonte’s champion, Dansili (1996), and the valiant Kalanisi along the way.
Giant’s Causeway ran himself into the hearts of Irish and English racing fans, showing the steely determination and heart of a champion who showed up each and every time. By the time he arrived for the Breeders Cup Classic he was a national hero who had chalked up five successive Group 1’s in a single racing season (matching the record held by UK Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky II) and completed a Group 1 double that had only been accomplished once before in the history of UK horse racing. He was a new face to most North Americans but the colt and his entourage were followed enthusiastically by the press as Ireland’s national treasure readied for his final start. The HOF American trainer D. Wayne Lukas was on hand to support the Ballydoyle team and doubtless felt proud for another reason: Giant’s Causeway was the progeny of Storm Cat, who was owned by Lukas’ friend and mentor, William T. Young of Overbrook Farm. And Storm Cat was, in turn, the best son of the filly who had launched Lukas’ career: Terlingua (1976) aka “The Secretariat Filly.”
Giant’s Causeway was coming to Churchill Downs off a long, hard and brilliant campaign: in twelve career starts (nine of them in his three year-old season), he had won nine and placed in three.
Getting to the Breeders Cup meant that the champion colt had to endure lengthly air travel followed by quarantine. And he would race on dirt for the first (and only) time in his life. The field was a strong one, featuring the Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus (1997), Lemon Drop Kid (1996), Albert The Great (1997), Captain Steve (1997) and a California invader named Tiznow (1997). If any of this worried the Ballydoyle team they didn’t show it. And when it was all over, an elated Aidan O’Brien would say, “The Breeders Cup Classic was always the plan for him. He had nothing left to prove in Europe and we wanted to see exactly what his limits were. I was very apprehensive about how he would get on, but in the end he really covered himself in glory. ”
Retired to stud in 2001,Giant’s Causeway ended his career with a record of 13-9-4-0 and earnings of 2,031,426 BPS.
Not surprisingly, his stud career has been as successful as his career on the turf. Standing his first year at Coolmore Ireland and his second season at Coolmore Australia, The Iron Horse came to rest in the country of his birth for his third season at stud and has never left. In a dozen or so years, the flashy chestnut who never seems to take a bad photograph has sired enough winners to earn him USA Champion Sire rankings in 2009, 2010 and again in 2012. Granted, his book is large and he continues to attract very fine mares, making his chances of showing himself a superior sire greater. But the fact remains that his progeny have won on dirt, synthetic and turf in six different countries and on four continents, at distances from 5 – 14 furlongs. Giant’s Causeway may also be on his way to garnering “Sire of Sires” status, given the success of sons like Shamardal (2002) , Footstepsinthesand (2002), Frost Giant (2003) and First Samurai (2003) already, with other promising progeny like Eskendereya (2007) and Canada’s Mike Fox (2004) in the wings. As a broodmare sire, Giant’s Causeway has also been successful, much in the pattern of his sire and grandsires. Recent examples are millionaires Evening Jewel (Jewel of the Night, 2002) and Planteur (Plante Rare, 2002).
Steve Roman’s data indicates that Giant’s Causeway is indeed a pre-potent sire of Classic stamina which would indicate, in turn, that he passes on little of the Storm Cat line’s tendency to produce speedy, short distance juveniles who frequently are unable to show the same form at three. The Classic influence clearly owes more to the Blushing Groom/Nasrullah sire line that was passed down to him by the plucky Mariah’s Storm. All of which would explain why, at the age of seventeen, Giant’s Causeway owns the reputation of being Storm Cat’s best producing son, even though Storm Cat may well have had little to do with it.
Ireland’s Iron Horse has a veritable stable of champions to his credit. Other than those mentioned, the list includes millionaires Aragorn (2002), Cowboy Cal (2005), Eishin Apollon (2007), Fed Biz (2009), Creative Cause (2009), Giant Oak (2006), Irish Mission (2009), Heatseeker (2003), My Typhoon (2004) and Red Giant (2004). Sons who won at the Grade/Group 1 level with Classic designation: Intense Focus (2006), Footstepsinthesand, Rite of Passage (2004), Our Giant (2003), Heatseeker, First Samurai, Eskendereya, Red Giant, Shamardal, Frost Giant (2003) and Aragorn. Daughters who won at the Grade/Group 1 level with Classic designation: Internallyflawless (2006), Swift Temper (2004), Juste Momente (2003), Maid’s Causeway (2002), My Typhoon (2004), Ghanaati (2006) and Carriage Trail (2003). Other very good progeny include Await The Dawn (2007), Bowman’s Causeway (2008), Caroline Thomas (2010), Imagining2 (2008), Sunshine For Life (2004), Viscount Nelson (2007) and Winning Cause (2010).
Although, in these fickle times, Giant’s Causeway is no longer considered a “hot” sire, he blasted into 2013 to top the Sire’s List with 12 GSW’s, the most spectacular of which was arguably the champion filly, Dalkala (2009), winner of the prestigious Prix de l’Opera in 2013.
The stallion has opened 2014 with a victory by the champion mare, Naples Bay, a half-sister to Medaglia d’Oro, in the Marshua’s RiverStakes (G3) at Gulfstream, in what was likely her final start.
So the thrilling narrative of a great racehorse and an astoundingly good sire continues. Surely Finn McCool is rejoicing at an equine who has built a causeway that girths the world.
The Blood-Horse magazine: Stallion Register; MarketWatch (May 27, 2011); article on Naples Bay by Myra Lewyn (January 4, 2014)
Pacemaker magazine, January 2001
Chef-de-race: Giant’s Causeway (September 18, 2010)
The Racing Post (UK): Giant’s Causeway/Record by Race Type
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