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.
Golden Ticket is a speedy, red horse that roared like a beast as he burst into the spot light on the stage of one of our sport’s greatest theaters. It was Saratoga 2012. The Grade 1 Travers is the premier race for 3 year olds at the Spa. What happened that day was another chapter in the lore of the Graveyard of Favorites as long shot Golden Ticket tied the heavily favored Alpha. I was fortunate to meet Carter Stewart at the Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita a couple months after Golden Ticket’s dead heat in the Travers. We agreed to do two paintings of Golden Ticket. As we talked about the details of the painting, Carter asked if we had to show the other horse. I informed him it was his painting and he could do as he wished. “In that case, leave him out!” So, this is Golden Ticket winning the Travers all by himself . . . the second painting we planned on showing both Golden Ticket and Alpha approaching the finish line; but for the sake of art and the power it has to color history – here is Golden Ticket flying along the historic architecture of Saratoga Race Course.
It was an exciting Opening Day at Saratoga when The Saratoga 150 Celebration Painted Horse (aka ‘Emjay’) and I were part of the Opening Day Ceremonies. R
epresentatives from NYRA and the Saratoga 150 Committee along with the winning jockey and trainer of the first race were photographed with ‘Emjay’ and I in the winners circle!! An announcer in the grandstand informed everyone of the plans for Emjay to live as a permanent fixture just inside the Clubhouse entrance and for the general public to participate in a naming contest for the horse, as well. I temporarily named the horse ‘Emjay’ so he would have a name while I painted him. ‘Emjay’ is phonetically the first initials of Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson.
Congratulations to Kiaran, who is actually pictured on Emjay, and also to Hardest Core and his owners with Ghostzapper Racing, for winning the first race of the 2013 Saratoga Race Season.
Reflecting on the photo of Emjay and I….. It Felt like I finally made it to the winners circle in Saratoga with a horse of my own! Thank you ‘M’ and ‘J’ for inviting me to be a part of Saratoga and it’s rich history.
To learn more about and participate in the naming contest visit www.timesunion.com/namethehorse