A model flagship for stormy seas

There is always something particularly shocking about the death of a stallion in his prime. Nature contains no more living embodiment of vitality than this most literal life force, daily renewing the gift of existence. For a candle as bright as Get Stormy to go out so abruptly, it will leave a painful void at Crestwood Farm.

After spending five years in training, even at 16, Get Stormy’s second career was just entering its key phase. For it is only in a year or two that his best stock will begin to hit the track, his books having soared in quality and quantity after a first barrage of stakes led, from his second harvest, by the three-time winner of Grade I Got Stormy. No less than her name suggests, she was encrusted with her father’s genetically sealed teak, equaling her own record of success in graded stakes in four consecutive campaigns.

It’s all there in the McLean family slogan, “We Raise Racers.” In a business where so many horses are bred to do nothing more than stand and roam, with ranchers heading for the hills as the hammer falls, there’s an almost chimerical quality to this fairly crude aspiration. But a characteristic combination of blood and guts rules almost the entire Crestwood roster: Jack Milton (War Front), for example, won a Grade I at five and, much like Get Stormy himself with Moccasin (Nantallah), involves a Claiborne matriarch in Bourtai (Stimulus); while Heart To Heart (English Channel) won graded stakes each year from three to seven.

Get Stormy’s nickname on the farm was Clyde, because he had so much muscle and antlers that he was reminiscent of a Clydesdale. I’ve always had a crazy theory (actually backed up by the stats) that his reputation as a turf bull is self-fulfilling, and that his physical footprint, toughness, and speed style were perfectly suited to the dirt. Anyway, despite having an upfront fee of $5,000 no more than $7,500, Get Stormy already leaves us with half a dozen ranked bet winners. (That’s as much as Maclean’s Music, for example, from the same take.) And his two millionaires to date were out of a $4,500 Malabar Gold mare and an unsold $18,000 Brahms daughter, respectively. during his only visit to the ring.

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Two days after losing Get Stormy, just across Georgetown Road, the venerable heart of Go For Gin has also given Kentucky Horse Park his home since retiring from stud in 2011. At 31, he was oldest survivor. Derby winner – and long enjoyed precisely the kind of dignified and pampered retirement that everyone was anticipating one day, a few years later, for Get Stormy.

But while life’s disasters rarely come with a rhyme or a reason, perhaps we can glimpse some timely relief for Crestwood. Because all customers with mares booked at Get Stormy should definitely consider another stallion on the list, also from the Storm Cat line, who last weekend reiterated the striking promise he showed from a minimal opportunity so far.

Firing Line has collected no more than 39 starters from its first two crops but 24 of them have already won and, having overwhelmed it this winter with a place on a TDN “Value Podium”, I was delighted to see Venti Valentine confirm his candidacy for the GI Kentucky Oaks with a seven-pitch game in the Busher S. last Saturday. Other credits to Firing Line include Nakatomi’s success in Bowman’s Mill S. in Keeneland last fall, after placing in the GII Saratoga Special S.; plus the recent Fair Grounds play of its 2-year-old $210,000 Oscarette.

As well as beating all but a triple crown winner in the Derby, remember Firing Line was denied a Grade I Juvenile by a head and broke the track record by winning the GIII Sunland Park Derby by 14 lengths. True to Crestwood principles, moreover, his talent was rooted in a deep pedigree: his dam is a Grade I ranked brother to the dams of two Grade I winning milers, their line extending to the Kamar matriarchs (Key to the Mint ) and Square Angel (quadrangle).

Whether or not Firing Line can fill the breach, Get Stormy will undoubtedly make posthumous additions to its legacy. After all, Giant’s Causeway itself – perhaps the greatest conduit of all, for this sire line – isn’t quite finished yet, even though he has bequeathed only three foals from a handful of final protrusions before his death in the spring of 2018. Incredibly, the two of them now line up together for the GII Langholm South Tampa Bay Derby with a total of 85 gate points in play for the first Saturday in May.

Curiously, the two were born on February 22, 2019. Classic Causeway is beautifully brought to Palm Meadows by Brian Lynch, with a base of longer breezes for his return before picking up speed since; while Giant Game has worked the house itself after some ongoing repairs to a displaced palace.

Even more remarkably, it was only last week that the last Giant’s Causeway – born eight days after the other pair – made their winning debut for Shadwell in Dubai, charging four and a half lengths clear. So the hope that the Iron Horse can “rust in peace”, which may sound irreverent but is meant to pay utterly loving homage to its iron-like qualities, turns out to be happily misplaced. It’s not the dull shimmer of iron, but a final glow of genetic gold.

Perhaps Giant’s Causeway is miffed after son Protonico had a Derby winner erased from the record. Depending on how things go in Tampa Bay, however, maybe this time around he won’t just have a proxy presence in Churchill, admirably despite being represented by Not This Time.

Be careful, even giant steps must always be taken one at a time. The card also features the recovery, finally, of the colt who looked like the best of his crop at this time last year. Let’s hope that the patience of everyone involved in Greatest Honor (Tapit) finds its just reward in its maturity.

Ironically, his own father’s frustrating sophomore career gave a rather misleading impression of the toughness he tended to impart to his stock; and one day, no doubt, Greatest Honor will worthily recycle one of the finest pedigrees you will ever see.

He will certainly not be one of those stallions, so corrosive to the breed, who rocks the market on an ultra-thin page and a figure of speed or two. The thoroughbred’s vocation is not for the weak of limbs, nor the weak of heart. So while Crestwood may have lost his flagship, he hasn’t lost his bearings. They sail by the stars, by the fixed points of solidity and pedigree, and we would all do well to follow in their wake.

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