As you can tell with a quick glance, I have not kept my blog or my web site’s gallery current. It’s been almost a year since my last post, but there is a perfectly good explanation. I’ve been working on the final paintings for the book, “A Brush With Greatness”, written by Thoroughbred historian Edward L. Bowen and features 75 of my paintings of Grade 1 winners. I had to put my head down and keep my nose to the grindstone to meet deadlines while getting the last of the paintings completed for the book. The paintings in the book were painted over the past ten years. The book is projected to be released this spring or early summer. In addition to my artwork and Ed’s writing, we have quotes from almost every owner of the horses featured. The book will be published by Dementi Milestone Press who published the Kate Chenery Tweedy’s book, Secretariat’s Meadow. If you are interested in ordering the book on a pre-release basis you can go to the web site www.abrushwithgreatness.us and buy the book for 20% off of the retail price of $50. ($40 now)
Owners Dean and Patti Reeves, their racing manager Finn Green, trainer Kathy Ritvo and jockey Gary Stevens teamed up with the big bay horse, Mucho Macho Man, to create one of the best stories in racing. Quick review for those of you who weren’t watching: 50 year old jockey comes out of a seven year retirement to once again ride at the sport’s highest level including a Classic victory in the Preakness; trainer becomes the only woman trainer to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and did so after having a heart transplant; owners give a check equal to the jockey’s winnings to the horse’s previous rider (Eibar Coa), who was in the hospital with a career ending injury instead of being in the saddle for the Risen Star Stakes at The Fair Grounds.
Through his career, Mucho Macho Man has stayed on the track as his connections let the horse dictate his racing schedule. In the process he won in excess of $5 million dollars. He ran a strong second in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Many thought he was done after 2012, not so; as he returned for a 2013 campaign that culminated in his capturing the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Still not finished on the track, 2014 will be his last year racing as he will be going to stand stud at Adena Springs in Kentucky. The horse is most closely associated with Gulfstream Park, his home base, and it was a pleasure to watch him dance away from the rest of the field in the Sunshine Millions Classic on his home course. I look forward to watching every race Mucho Macho Man runs knowing this horse and his connections always give us something good to root for.
Groupie Doll is one of those horses that racing fans collectively love to root for. And why not? She is part of an elite group of horses with multiple Breeders’ Cup wins after taking down Breeders’ Cup filly & mare sprint victories in consecutive years? Owned and trained by the Bradley family, with Buff doing most of the heavy lifting; Groupie Doll went through the Keeneland sales ring the week after her second Breeders’ Cup win. The winning bidder was Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm; making Groupie Doll the latest edition to Whisper Hill’s all-star broodmare band. Initially, Mandy’s only thought was to get her in foal and move her on with being a mommy. However, Buff shared with Mandy the fact that The Doll still had the ability and most of all the desire to race. Before Groupie Doll would go to Timber Town Stables, she made a trip to Florida to go back into training. She was conditioned at Paul Bulmahn’s GoldMark Farm in Ocala by farm manager / trainer Todd Quast. When ready, Groupie Doll joined Buff at Gulfstream Park and claimed the first stakes win for Mandy in the G3 Hurricane Bertie under a brilliant ride by Rajiv Maragh. It was one of the most emotional wins for an owner, for a trainer and former owner, and for an entire race track full of “Groupies”. I was putting the final touches on this painting while in the paddock at Gulfstream as Groupie Doll crossed the finish line several lengths ahead of the field; but instead of running to the Winner’s Circle to join Mandy, Todd, and Buff; I just sat down by the fountain in the paddock and savored a very special moment at the conclusion of the racing career for a special horse.
The 2013 Horse of the Year looks amazingly a lot like the 2012 Horse of the Year. With the simple explanation being Wise Dan has done it again! His 2013 campaign is probably more impressive than his first HOY campaign as Dan’s record was unblemished with one exception and that was a race at Keeneland that was washed off the turf to the dirt (more accurately the mud). This January Wise Dan took his total Eclipse Award count to six in two years, a new record. In 2013 he won his second consecutive Breeders’ Cup Turf Championship. Bred and raced by Mort Fink, the gelding is sired by Wiseman’s Ferry who stands at Gayle Gerth’s Dana Point Farm in Pennsylvania where this painting hangs. This painting portrays his first BC win with Eclipse Award winning jockey Johnny Velazquez in the irons. Finishing this painting at the 2014 Eclipse Awards marked the fourth time that I’ve been honored to paint at the sport’s hallmark event.
In the world of Thoroughbred racehorses, it’s nice to have a horses that look good, but in reality it’s about having fast horses. Some will tell you that the best horses have good looks, but it’s not always the case. How many humans can win the Miss America contest and an Olympic Gold Medal? (That is a fair comparison from this artist’s point of view. I think earned the right to my opinion after 30 years painting some of best racehorses and some of the most beautiful Arabians in the world.) A beautiful athlete is exactly how I would describe Plum Pretty. Her win in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs elevated her among racing’s elite; the flowers around her neck in the Winner’s Circle might as well have been a gold medal. After her racing career Mandy Pope bought Pretty and sent her to Timber Town Stable in Lexington, KY. I had the opportunity to go there and see a few of Mandy’s mares. She is building one of the classiest small band of broodmares anywhere. When I arrived at Timber Town I wasn’t prepared for this amazingly beautiful Medalia d’Oro mare to walk up and make my eyes pop out. She truly is Plum Pretty, wearing the plum purple silks of John and Elizabeth Fort’s Peachtree Stables may have made the name an obvious choice, but it was none the less the perfect choice. For as good as she was as an athlete, she is every bit as stunning in any beauty contest.
In Beholder’s case, beauty can come in many ways; her stunning good looks or the way she moves around the track. Something she did so well that she captured back-to-back Eclipse Awards for Spendthrift Farm. At the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Mare Classic Gary Stevens rode her. However, in 2012 when she won the BC Juvenile Fillies race Gary was a retired jockey doing television commentary. That night we were sitting in Gary’s RV at Santa Anita Park when my friend Travis Hembd, the human racing encyclopedia, nudged me and said, “I think Gary is going to come back”. It was too crazy an idea to even entertain at the time. A year later and we have further proof beauty can be many things, like watching a Hall of Fame jockey masterfully pilot home an athletic horse like Beholder.
The past decade can be called “The Decade of the Filly”, as the sport produced a handful of the greatest female race horses we’ve seen in the past century. There was Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra who captured everyone’s fascination, each taking home the Horse of the Year honors. One more followed on their heels, maybe not with the national fanfare of the previous two, but her accomplishments on the track and verses the boys spoke volumes. In the process Havre de Grace wrote her name into the history of Thoroughbred racing when she claimed Horse of the Year honors. She is from the one and only foal crop of another Horse of the Year, the ill-fated Saint Liam. Now Grace may be left the task of continuing that bloodline and legacy. You can bet she will be given every chance to do so by her owner Mandy Pope. She loves her horses and will do whatever it takes to give them the best home and raise the best babies. This is Grace painted at Cathy and Wayne Sweezey’s Timber Town Stable, her Kentucky home. Mandy asked me to add Gracie, the Norwich Terrier named after Havre de Grace, making this a personalized treasure for her collection.
The spring meet at Keeneland is highlighted by the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes. It is also one of the major qualifying races for the Kentucky Derby. The 2013 Bluegrass was a battle of wills and in the end the battle would be decided by war, Java’s War. He is homebred of Charles Fipke and is sired by the Eclipse Award winning War Pass. In the Toyota Bluegrass, Java’s War took on a solid field of contenders and this painting shows two of them: Stephen’s Kitten and Palace Malice . Palace Malice went on to have a great three year old campaign, but on this day it was about the stretch drive as Julien Leparoux guided Java’s War through the trenches on his way to victory!
The 2012 Travers could be the greatest example of how the story of David and Goliath can come together on the racecourse. Alpha was one of long line of stars in His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum Darley Stables. Alpha’s pedigree was Thoroughbred royalty. He is a son of Bernardini, the outstanding Classic winner by A.P. Indy who was also raced by Sheikh Mohammed. The Travers was a field of stars headed by the heavy favorite, Alpha. The field included Golden Ticket, a lightly raced son of Speightstown who came into the race as a long shot flying under the radar. As they broke from the gate Golden Ticket went out and set a hot pace and dared the field to come after him. As the finish line approached, it was going to be too close to call and after a long delay, the 2012 Travers was declared the first dead heat (tie) in the Travers since the innovation of the photo finish. (The first Travers was declared a dead heat by judges using their naked eye.) Golden Ticket’s owners are a group of friends from Montana new to the sport of racing. They had just taken their first stakes win, no less a Grade 1 at one of the most prestigious locations in the Sport of Kings. In the process they had tied one of the sport’s most powerful stables in the world, making one of the most powerful metaphorical statements about the greatness of horse racing’s broad appeal across cultures and classes, a sport where anyone has a chance. Even the comparison of the two jockeys was one of varying degrees of accomplishment and experience as Alpha was ridden by the Eclipse Award winner Ramon Dominguez and the metaphorical David was ridden by David Cohen who claimed his first Grade 1 victory.
The gray Belong To Me filly, Forever Together, is portrayed winning the second of her G1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga. She would go on to win the Eclipse Award as the Champion Turf Mare of 2008. George Strawbridge’s Augustin Stable raced her. Mr. Strawbridge’s good fortune continued when Informed Decision won an Eclipse Award in 2010. Forever Together and Informed Decision gave Augustin Stable a formidable duo of champions trained by Hall of Fame trainer, Jonathan Sheppard.