My work colleagues recently asked me to respond to a dizzying list of questions following Majestic Harbor’s win of the inaugural Santa Anita Gold Cup. As I read each question, I had to keep pinching and reminding myself that it was real – that he was our horse and he had really won that race and further qualified for a spot in the gate of the Breeders’ Cup Classic!
I have been in the racing business all my life and have worked with the best in the business – horses, trainers and owners. I’ve been on the farm, in the barn, on the horse, in the media, behind the scenes, pulling strings, carrying luggage…. but THIS place I’m in now…THIS is a whole new dimension and one I’m struggling to grasp as reality.
MY Majestic Harbor
First, to qualify parameters, I am one of the owners. There are six entities – a group made up of family and life-long friends that we call the Gallant Stables. The syndicate leader of our group is Ron Beegle who inherited the title when he drew the short straw. The initial Gallant Stables actually included four race horses – all but Majestic Harbor have been retired from racing.
Before he got his official name in the Jockey Club, he earned the barn name of Rocky after his sire Rockport Harbor. (That is essentially what he knows as his name and what he responds to when called.)
The road to the victory in the Gold Cup was one full of detours and potholes. Truthfully, I don’t think any other group would have persevered these many years for his racing career and I am sincerely grateful to all my partners for often trusting me and my husband in helping to manage Rocky throughout.
The Rocky Journey
It all started at the Keeneland September Yearling Sales in 2009. The real story is that I had just learned that Visa would not be renewing its sponsorship contract (and thus my contract) of the Kentucky Derby. I was quite depressed and decided that I just needed to be with horses and horse people.
I drove to Lexington to witness another ending of an era of the last colt by legendary sire Storm Cat going through the auction ring on day one. Also at that time in 2009, our country was in the midst of a recession and most people, including me, were anxious about the future.
Auction prices for top quality racing stock were at an all-time low and buyers at the auction were scarce. At this seemingly “worst point” when I sat alone during the auction feeling low, I also saw an opportunity and rallied friends and family to cull some monies to purchase a few horses that we might not normally be able to afford. Over the next several days, my husband, David, and I, trainer, Paul McGee and Sean McCarthy, who worked the sales, looked at hundreds of yearlings and found Majestic Harbor. Fate had interceded and begun to spin the tale.
We always believed he was a nice horse, but could not have imagined where we are today. Prior to his last seven months in California, Rocky’s racing career has resembled his nickname and he has had several set-backs including: A non-displaced knee fracture in the Louisiana Derby requiring a year off, a deep foot bruise/abscess from stepping on a pork chop bone (yes, pork chop bone) requiring three months off, and an undiagnosed but believed muscle strain requiring 7 months layoff.
A Change of Scenery, a Change in Horse
Following Majestic Harbor’s last pause from racing and rehabilitation, we caught a price break on a flight when the airplanes had an empty leg going back to California to pick up 2013 Breeders’ Cup horses who had competed at Santa Anita.
We decided to mix things up, move the horse to trainer Sean McCarthy – let the California partners enjoy whatever racing level Rocky could compete at in his final years. And ever since Rocky landed in California, he has blossomed running in Graded Stakes company and hitting the board gamely.
The magic is likely not one singular thing but rather a combination of trainer, jockey, track surface, weather and, undoubtedly, the horse’s finally good physical condition and health. Prior to the Gold Cup victory, Majestic Harbor’s biggest accomplishment was a victory in the Grade III Tokyo City. I wasn’t sure it could get any better after that win until the Gold Cup.
With regard to the Gold Cup, it is true that the only one who wanted to run Majestic Harbor in the race was our trainer Sean McCarthy. Frankly, all of us owners thought it was a bit too tough for Rocky – especially given the likes of Game on Dude vying for his third consecutive Gold Cup victory. Sean was so confident that we all simply surrendered. Once the decision was made, we all got on board and gave our full support. Rocky was training great and the 1 ¼ mile distance suited him perfectly.
Majestic Harbor’s style of running is essentially one-paced. He can accelerate to a certain speed and then cruise at that speed. As speed favoring horses tire in front of him, he is able to maintain his earlier fractions over a distance. Further, jockey Tyler Baze describes Rocky as getting more confident the longer he goes. The horse seems to sense that he has more stamina than his rivals. Other horses may be faster but can’t maintain that speed over distance.
The Gold Cup Through My Eyes
On the date of the Gold Cup, my husband David and I were essentially the only ones who could attend the races live and represent Gallant Stables. Fortunately though, partner Steve Spare was also able to arrive minutes before the gates opened from his boys’ winning baseball game and did join us in the winner’s circle photo.
Other partners were scattered across the United States for various family summer vacations, but all were tuned in and watching on NBC Sports or smart phones. My husband and I are quite superstitious and we almost never watch the races together. While there is no real evidence to support our superstitious claim that we win more races that way, we still abided by our tradition and went separate ways after the paddock.
David chose to watch the race in the box seats with trainer Sean McCarthy as I searched for a solitary spot along the rail in the thick of the masses of race fans. Due to my work association with Breeders’ Cup Experiences, I did spy Breeders’ Cup Director of Ticketing and Horsemen’s Relations, Brandy Stoeckinger, in the paddock and she graciously grabbed my hand and led me to a spot inside the winner’s circle pavilion to view the race. Again, superstitious of being in the winner’s circle prior to a race, I skulked over to a quite corner next to a bush and below the rail.
It was a very hot day and I was a bit concerned that Rocky was sweating too much in the warm-up and then again as he loaded in the gate, but he did look on the muscle and focused.
He broke sharply out of the gate and put himself into the race just behind the speedy leaders. As he passed me the first time, his ears were pinned flat against his head and he had the look of a horse possessed. It was at this point that I was feeling very confident that we would make a good showing, but a win was really not promised.
Jockey Tyler Baze rode him perfectly and held his position, just clicking off those steady fractions which were now allowing him to close the gap on the leaders. Clubhouse Ride was making his move on the turn with Rocky and they both hit the quarter pole head and head.
Then, Rocky made the lead, and I’m not certain how high I jumped, but I know I starting screaming. Just before the 1/8th pole Rocky took two giant strides forward and Clubhouse Ride was fading – the final 1/8 run is somewhat of a dreamy blurr as he extended his lead. I kept screaming for the finish line to appear and for Tyler not to fall off. It was also in the final furlong that the tears started flowing and I nothing I did could stop them --- liquid adrenaline and pure joy!
After he crossed the wire a winner, I was one hot, crying, happy mess hugging everyone in close proximity – faces blurred. It felt like eternity until I could hug my husband. Actress Sharon Stone was so kind and was cajoling me to enjoy and embrace the moment – I was.
In my incoherent babbling, I know I thanked Ms. Stone, complimented how gorgeous she was in person and then promptly invited her to meet my horse. I kissed Rocky on the nose and then there was the chaos of the winner’s circle presentation, photos, interviews etc.
I had to watch the NBC telecast later to even know what I said on TV hoping it was coherent.
The whole experience is still fresh and it’s easy to want to just stay in this happy place forever. I lost my voice screaming, but believe I had the best excuse ever!
The Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic
We’ve been asked about both our next start and the Breeders’ Cup. Our likely next start will be the Pacific Classic, although we want to see how the horse handles the move to Del Mar Race Course.
As far as the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I can only say that it’s still a dream. The “Win and You're In” bonus makes the dream possible, but the race is so still so far away that I can only hold on to the possibility loosely.
No doubt, that regardless of our place in the starting gate, my personal attendance at the Breeders’ Cup is guaranteed. I will not miss the opportunity to witness live some of the best racing in the World. We are beyond humbled by the significance of what our horse has accomplished and I’m as proud as any parent could be of their fur child.
See Majestic Harbor Race at the 2014 Breeders' Cup!
Rocky will take the stage this Nov. in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic, and you can be there to watch him run LIVE!
With Official Ticket Packages direct through Breeders' Cup Experiences and QuintEvents, you can watch from some of the best seats in Santa Anita Park while enjoying exclusive in-track hospitality access, complimentary fare, open bars, and so much more throughout both race days!