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Archive for February, 2020

Like so many, I was an unapologetic A.P. Indy “groupie” and this is my recount of meeting him in June of 2015.

This post is dedicated to the Farish family, Asa Haley and to the staff of Lane’s End, who knew and loved him.

 

It was early summer and my very first visit to Kentucky. Liz Read and I were privileged to be welcomed at Lane’s End (LE) and given a private tour by Louise Hatfield, the Executive Assistant to Farm Manager, Mike Cline. When asked if we wanted to see the stallions, our response was an enthusiastic “Yes, please!” And when Louise asked who I most wanted to see, I said something like, “Everyone. But especially A.P. Indy.”

"PONY!" I exclaimed, trying to hold back my tears. "Here you are. I've loved you forever."

“PONY!” I exclaimed, trying to hold back my tears. “Here you are. I’ve loved you forever.” Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

As VAULT readers know, I love thoroughbreds and that includes several that are long-gone, like Man O’ War and Equipoise. So I thought I’d be prepared to see “A.P.” as the folks at Lane’s End call him.

Into the stable we went, pausing briefly to visit with Kingmambo and fellow Canadian, Langfuhr, both legendary in my personal lexicon. Their stalls, in glowing red woods with brass fittings, were luxuriant, with straw bedding as deep as a valley.

But when we approached A.P.’s stall, it was empty. My heart sank a tad, even though I knew he was “in the house” somewhere.

The stable where A.P. had his stall was breathtaking in its elegance. Copyright protected. Used with permission from Liz Read.

Louise touched my sleeve, motioning towards the other end of the stable, where a horse and groom were on their way out into the sunshine: “There’s A.P. — he goes out to his paddock around now.”

I noted the white hind leg and swallowed hard. Waves of feeling started to gather inside me.

“There’s A.P.” Copyright protected. Used with permission from Liz Read.

It’s one thing to follow a thoroughbred you care about from afar, but quite another to find them waltzing into the sunlight, right in front of you. Before this moment, I’d never seen a thoroughbred I adored before. As I’ve written about in previous posts, it was largely a case of turning away from a passion — when I was a young woman in my twenties, I believed for some reason that I needed to put away “the loves of my girlhood.”

But as I approached middle life, the passion returned and I was open to receive it. So this moment when I first stood within a few feet of A.P. Indy was overwhelming.

I assumed that we were going to follow him to his paddock and visit with him there. But instead, his groom attendant, Antonio Villalobo, stopped, waiting for us to arrive. In a flash, I understood that I was actually going to meet my idol, face-to-face.

Predictably, as I walked toward A.P., I had what my friend, photographer and artist, Liz Read, has since described as ” a complete meltdown.” Translated, Liz noted that my eyes were filled with tears and that I was completely overcome with feeling.

Lane’s End (LE) is staffed by people who truly love what they do. And that was evident from the expression of Louise, Stallion Manager Billy Sellers and Antonio: Liz observed that they greeted my short “walk to fame” with an exchange of delighted smiles. The kind of smile that people share when they see that you feel the same way as they do about a treasure.

"PONY!" I exclaimed, trying to hold back my tears. "Here you are. I've loved you forever."

“PONY!” I exclaimed, trying to hold back my tears. “Here you are. I’ve loved you forever.” Copyright protected. Used with permission from Liz Read.

 

Louise, Antonio and "my boy" share in my delight of A.P. INDY. Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

Louise and Antonio share in my delight at finding myself a few feet away from the great A.P. INDY. Copyright protected. Used with permission from Liz Read.

As I drew closer, A.P. watched me out of the corner of one eye. It was a kind, relaxed eye. Gleaming in the light, he waited patiently for me to come closer while I struggled to fully comprehend what was actually happening. Of course, I was equipped with LE peppermints, and Louise had assured me that “A.P. does love his mints.”

"A.P. does love his mints" Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

“A.P. does love his mints” Copyright protected. Used with permission from Liz Read.

Having been around horses as a youngster, I had learned that you don’t just rush up to them when they don’t know you and pat their noses. Horses tolerate that, but they don’t like it. So, with Louise close by and Antonio at his head, I chatted with A.P. and then proffered the much-adored peppermints. As he crunched away — slowly, savouring the taste — he would pause and raise his head to ponder me.

I don’t know how long we stood there before I actually placed my hand on his proud head.

And then A.P. started to express himself. This doesn’t always happen when a horse meets a stranger. Some horses, sweet as they may be, keep a kind of distance. But when a horse does talk to you, it’s an utterance that awakens that part of your senses that go down deep, to a place where you intuit and receive meaning and feeling without making a sound.  With A.P., communication was punctuated by his making eye contact for long moments with ears pricked, and drawing his head ever closer to me.

A.P., Louise, Antonio and I were wrapped in a palpable, living silence — a place where A.P.’s voice could be heard. Within that silence, I understood when to touch, when to kiss — and when to provide an additional mint — always following A.P.’s lead.

First touches. Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

First touches shared with Louise, who A.P. knows very well. Copyright protected. Used with permission from Liz Read.

 

THE KISS. The making of a lifetime memory. Photo protected by copyright. Used by permission of Liz Read.

“…He smelled of sunshine and honey.” Photo protected by copyright. Used with permission from Liz Read.

I could feel his warmth right down in my solar plexus and I knew I wanted to kiss him. And so I did. He smelled of sunshine and honey.

The trust with which A.P. greeted a total stranger’s lingering kiss spoke volumes about his relationships with those at LE who knew him best, as well as what he had come to understand from them about deep, abiding and respectful love.

A.P. surrounded by love. Photo is copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

A.P. surrounded by love. Photo is copyright protected. Used with permission from Liz Read.

Finally, it was time for A.P. to enjoy a romp in his paddock and off he went with Antonio, Liz Read and her camera in hot pursuit. I remained outside the barn with Louise. Together we watched him prance at the gate. Once released, he was off.

Louise turned to Billy Sellers, “Just look at him. He looks like a colt.”

Turned loose in his paddock, A.P. was gone in a flash. Copyright protected. Used by permission of Liz Read.

Turned loose in his paddock, A.P. was gone in a flash. Copyright protected. Used with permission from Liz Read.

 

A coltish A.P. INDY turned out in his paddock. Copyrighted photo. Used by permission of Liz Read.

Photo protected by copyright. Used with permission from Liz Read

 

Copyrighted photo. Used by permission of Liz Read.

Photo protected by copyright. Used with permission from Liz Read.

 

This photo was such a hit with Lane's End that it appeared on FB and in the TDN. Photo protected by copyright. Used by permission of Liz Read.

This photo was such a hit with Lane’s End that it appeared on their FB page and in the TDN (below). Photo protected by copyright. Used with permission from Liz Read.

AP by LIZ in TDN_unnamed

 

Even though our time together was over, I never felt that it was gone. What I did feel was the absolute privilege of spending some time with A.P. in a manner that felt natural and unhurried.

Today, five years later, and forty-eight hours after I received the news of his passing, these rememories are framed by the scent of sunshine and honey, in a quiet that affirms a love that has no end.

 

A.P.’s stall at Lane’s End. Photo protected by copyright. Used with permission from Liz Read.

 

 

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.

 

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When the death of Empire Maker was announced, the response on social media was immediate. It was partly shock. But as the hours passed, shock turned to grief.

This post is dedicated to the connections of Empire Maker at Juddmonte, the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders Association, Gainesway Farm and Don Alberto.

EMPIRE MAKER at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky,. Copyright Gainesway Farm. Used with permission.

Writing on Twitter, photographer Courtney Snow wrote, “Oh Empire Maker.” Simple as were her words, they captured perfectly what I was feeling: dismay that this could happen, loss, an unbearable sadness. Empire Maker’s death seemed particularly cruel coming, as it did, on the heels of the death of his son, Pioneerof The Nile (the sire of America’s Triple Crown champion, American Pharoah) and the death due to foaling complications in 2017 of much-loved champion, Royal Delta.

As a thoroughbred fan and researcher for over half a century, I’ve admired and respected countless individuals. A precious few have reached out to “speak” to me — and Empire Maker was one of them.

I never saw Empire Maker in person.

In my province of Quebec there is no longer any horse racing and gaining access to live horse racing continues to be a challenge. Most networks in the USA won’t take Canadian subscriptions, so I end up doing odd things out of necessity — like following American racing on a channel in Dubai. Despite all that, social media allowed me to witness Empire Maker’s career from the track to the breeding shed.

He was always special to me. Different, the way Man O’ War and a few precious others are “different.” In his eye, creating the impression that he was looking to a place beyond human perception, the “look of eagles.” Only the truly great ones — Man O’ War, Phar Lap, Equipoise, Bernborough, Sunday Silence, Nijinsky and his sire, Northern Dancer, Secretariat, Frankel — have that look. Who knows what it signifies, distinctive as is its expression.

A Juddmonte owned and bred, as a colt Empire Maker appeared to treat the career he’d been handed with disdain; you saw it in his tendency to linger on the lead, as though he’d done enough. As a runner, Empire Maker never did more than he had to do, except perhaps in the Florida Derby, where he showed a gritty determination that was rare.

 

After that brilliant performance, and out of my untiring respect for HOF trainer Robert “Bobby” Frankel, Empire Maker became my Derby horse, the colt who would carry my flag into America’s most prestigious race. His performance in the Wood Memorial made him the favourite going into the Kentucky Derby, even though, near the finish, Empire Maker’s tendency to wind down once he was ahead is apparent.

 

However, coming up to the Derby, it wasn’t his ambivalence on the lead but a foot bruise that proved Empire Maker’s undoing, since it got in the way of his training.

The Derby pace early on was sizzling. HOF jockey, Jerry Bailey, was quoted post-race as saying that when he asked him, Empire Maker didn’t go after Funny Cide with his usual “authority.” Years later, Bobby Frankel would say the missed training was too much for his star colt to overcome.

Empire Maker didn’t run in the second leg of the Triple Crown (The Preakness), but he was ready to fire in June in the third leg, the Belmont Stakes. And fire he did — even though the track was muddy and slick — denying New York’s hero, Funny Cide, the Triple Crown.

He would make only one more start, in the 2003 Jim Dandy at Saratoga, where he got going too late to catch the winner, Strong Hope. A foot problem ended his career.

That expressive face: EMPIRE MAKER at Gainesway Farm after his return from Japan in 2017. Copyright Gainesway Farm. Used with permission.

Upon his retirement, Bobby Frankel said of Juddmonte’s homebred, “We weren’t within 10 lengths of seeing this horse’s best race. With his prospects as a sire, considering his exceptional talent, extraordinary pedigree, and incredibly good looks, I want to be remembered as the trainer of Empire Maker in the same way that Horatio Luro’s name is attached to Northern Dancer or Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons’ name is with Bold Ruler.” (Kellie Reilly, Brisnet.com in “Empire Maker lived up to his name as a classic winner, patriarch” published January 20, 2020)

Frankel wouldn’t have made this declaration lightly. He was a man of discriminating judgment who had trained some outstanding thoroughbreds. Frankel had also trained Empire Maker’s dam, Toussaud, who was so difficult that the trainer admitted that near the end of her racing career he didn’t want to train her at all. But Frankel clearly respected the filly, snapping at an interviewer who asked if he had expected the performance Empire Maker gave in the Belmont, “… he’s by Unbridled out of Toussaud, right?”

Empire Maker’s sire, Unbridled, was a much-loved champion who had sewn up the 1990 Kentucky Derby, beating another champion in Summer Squall. Unbridled also won the 1990 Breeders Cup Classic, soundly defeating the Canadian Triple Crown winner, Izvestia. (Note: The 1990 Breeders Cup also marked the deaths of the champion Go For Wand and another horse, Mr. Nickerson. The NY Times referred to it as “Racing’s Darkest Day” — and it was, despite Unbridled’s courageous victory in the BC Classic.)

But Empire Maker’s pedigree was spectacular beyond his sire and dam. He was 4s X 3d to In Reality (a champion on the track and sire of sires), 5s X 4d to Buckpasser (another champion who was also a powerful BM sire), and 5s X 5d to Native Dancer (an American legend), Rough N’ Tumble (sire of champion Dr. Fager) and Aspidistra (dam of champions Dr. Fager and Ta Wee).

Empire Maker had, quite simply, blue-blood-to-burn. Below is vintage footage of some of Empire Maker’s ancestors, all of whom appear within the first five generations of his pedigree:

 

 

 

But it didn’t stop there: Empire Maker’s BM sire was the turf champion El Gran Senor, a son of Northern Dancer who was named after the Dancer’s trainer, the Argentinian-born and Spanish-speaking, Horatio Luro. El Gran Senor raced in England and Ireland, and was trained by the legendary Vincent O’Brien, the first Master of Ballydoyle.

In temperament, El Gran Senor was so sweet that O’Brien regularly brought him out when his grandchildren visited. Irascible as his daughter, Toussaud, may have been, I like to think that the kindness of Empire Maker’s son, Pioneerof The Nile, and grandson, American Pharoah, came to them on a Y chromosome courtesy of El Gran Senor.

Vincent O’Brien introducing EL GRAN SENOR to some of his grandchildren.

Even though he was the only colt of his generation to score in three classic races in 2003, Empire Maker didn’t seem to appeal to American breeders as much as he should have done, given his pedigree, race record and conformation. In 2011 he was relocated to Japan, standing at the JBBA’s Shizunai Stallion Station in Hokkaido.

From 5 crops sired in Japan, Empire Maker had 10 stakes winners, headed by Eterna Minoru(2013) and Power Gal(2016). This wouldn’t be considered a brilliant track record by the JBBA, despite the fact that the young stallion wasn’t getting the very best mares. (It should be noted that in Japan the desire for immediate results is no less tempered than it is worldwide.)

But in America, Emnpire Maker colts and fillies from his few American crops were shaking things up, resulting in the stallion rocketing up the sire lists. Among his outstanding fillies there were the millionaires Acoma(2005), Mushka (2005), Emollient(2010), Grace Hall (2009) and his best daughter, the beloved Royal Delta (2008). In addition, there were other excellent fillies: In Lingerie(2009) and Icon Project(2005), as well as at least a half-dozen others who earned over $200k.

Royal Delta was a strong-willed, competitive filly who had the attitude of a colt, according to her trainer Bill Mott. But she was a huge presence on the track during her racing career and had thousands of fans in North America. Retired in 2013, Royal Delta was saent to Ireland to be bred to Galileo but didn’t get in foal; a second attempt was made but the mare aborted.

In 2017, she delivered a filly foal by Galileo but it would be her last: Royal Delta died of foaling complications. A much-loved champion was suddenly gone. The filly foal survived and was named Delta’s Royalty. She won her first start at Kempton Park in the UK (below) in December 2019. Thousands from the USA and Canada tuned in to watch.

Sons of Empire Maker who made a splash were headed by the millionaires Pioneerof The Nile (2006) and Bodemeister(2009), both trained by HOF Bob Baffert. Pioneerof The Nile’s loss in the 2009 Kentucky Derby to Mine That Bird was an upset that few, if any, had foreseen. But “Nile” also won the Santa Anita Derby, Robert B. Lewis and San Felipe Stakes that same year.

He was retired to stud at the Vinery in 2010 and finally, to Winstar in 2013. Nile’s first crop produced the champions Cairo Prince, Midnight Storm and Jojo’s Warrior, as well as several others who earned in excess of $200k. In his second crop in 2012, Nile sired a bay colt who was named American Pharoah; in 2015, “Pharoah” became America’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Pharoah’s Triple Crown and BC Classic victoiry was the last push that was needed to repatriate his grandsire and home Empire Maker came home in 2016 to take up duties at the historic Gainesway Farm, from where he could appreciate his son Bodemeister’s son, Always Dreaming, winning the 2017 Kentucky Derby. Always Dreaming is from Bodemeister’s first crop, hinting that the young sire might well have had more to come. If he does, Bodemeister won’t be here to witness it: he was sold to Turkey in 2019.

The hopes invested in Empire Maker were great and I joined those rejoicing on his return, anticipating more greatness to come. Not another American Pharoah, since such monumental talent is rare, but certainly more deeply talented progeny. But those hopes, that promise, was cut short when the stallion died on January 20 of a rare immune deficiency disease called CVID. This disease annihilates the immune system and is so rare in North America that one top immune deficiency expert, vet Dr. Nathan Slovis, stated that he had only ever seen it twice. It is hoped that Empire Maker may be of some help in coming up with a cure.

Of those Empire Makers bred in America since his return, Eight Rings(2017) who won twice in 4 starts at two, appears to have potential. After a hugely disappointing run in the 2019 BC Juvenile, the colt was given a training break. Bob Baffert is pointing him towards the Rebel Stakes in March and if he does well, Eight Rings may get the green light to embark on the 2020 Triple Crown trail.

In the meantime, Empire Maker’s grandson, American Pharoah, is looking to be a stellar sire, and it will largely fall to him to keep Empire Maker’s influence on the breed alive.

 

From 70 starters to date, Pharoah has sired 26 winners, 4 stakes winners and 3 graded stakes winners. Eleven of his foals have placed in stakes races. Through December 20, American Pharoah’s foals have earned more than $2.6 million (Bloodhorse.com) landing the young stallion the title of leading first-crop sire of 2019 by a wide margin. Pharoah’s progeny are winning over any surface and he’s had a total — as of January 20, 2020 — of 30 winners to date in America, Canada, England, Ireland, France and Japan. True, Coolmore is ensuring that he gets the best mares whether at Ashford Stud in Kentucky or at Coolmore Australia, but that does nothing to diminish the fact that Pharoah’s early progeny record is an absolute standout.

The young stallion is getting foals of a quality that is impressively consistent.

FOUR WHEEL DRIVE, from the first crop of AMERICAN PHAROAH, sporting his BC Juvenile Turf victor’s blanket.

 

Coolmore’s HONG KONG, also from PHAROAH’S first crop.

 

2018 filly, born in Australia, out of Deer Valley.

 

Another Australian-bred from 2018, a colt out of AZUMI.

American Pharoah is an American treasure. Like his grandsire, he’s different. Everything about him says it — the soft eye that looks right through you to some forever place, the balanced and powerful conformation, the elegance of his ancestry. And I see Empire Maker in him just as clearly as I see the influence of Pioneerof The Nile and Littleprincessemma, Pharoah’s dam.

Through the pain of his loss, his legacy goes on, running like the current that powers a mighty river. And I’m happy for that.

 

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

 

1) Rare footage of the great Toussaud, Empire Maker’s dam:

 

 

2) A Visit To Gainesway Farm, Empire Maker’s home:

3) PIONEEROF THE NILE Schooling At Santa Anita. Video by Mary Forney:

4) An Empire That Will Survive It’s Maker’s Loss by Chris McGrath, TDN

An Empire That Will Survive Its Maker’s Loss

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hunter, Avalyn. American Classic Pedigrees: Empire Maker. Online: http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com/empire-maker.html

Mitchell, Frank. Bloodstock In The Bluegrass — writings on Empire Maker. Online: https://fmitchell07.wordpress.com/tag/empire-maker/

Voss, Natalie in Paulick Report, “He May Be Able To Save Horses’ Lives: The Mysterious Disease That Killed Empire Maker. Online: https://www.paulickreport.com/horse-care-category/he-may-be-able-to-save-horses-lives-the-mysterious-disease-that-claimed-empire-maker/?fbclid=IwAR3ejgUL2IvAl-XLlL6-IMpE0rcTpyNL8BQQGcpWobHRBPkztqqRTBXXHBQ#.XisLUBSJmxA.facebook

 

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NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.

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