Good horses, horsemen and horsewomen come from anywhere. Never was that more evident than this summer at Saratoga Race Course.
Horses bred and/or based in the Mid-Atlantic found ways to shine on the biggest stage in racing. A steeplechase trainer, a Marylander with Pennsylvania roots, joined racing’s national Hall of Fame. A yearling out of a Pennsylvania-bred mare sold for $1.6 million at the high-end Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Sale.
The region can be proud of itself.
Knicks Go, a Maryland-bred whose breeder claimed his dam (a Maryland-bred daughter of Outflanker with deep roots in the state) for $40,000, won the historic Whitney Stakes-G1 in early August – adding another notch to his blossoming chances to be the 2021 Horse of the Year. The victory, arguably the most significant by a Maryland-bred since the days of Cigar, delighted breeder Angie Moore and her daughter Sabrina. They foaled and raised Knicks Go on their farm in Glyndon, sold him as a weanling and watched him become a star. They also watched him win the Whitney. They laughed, they cried, they cheered, they drank champagne in the Saratoga Room. Knicks Go ousted Maxfield, bred and raised in Kentucky by Godolphin. That owner’s blue silks have won the biggest races in the world. First run in 1928, the Whitney counts among its past winners Equipoise, Discovery, War Admiral, Stymie, Kelso, Dr. Fager, Alydar and Personal Ensign. Secretariat lost the Whitney. The race is an icon. And a Maryland-bred won it for the first time since 1979.
Caravel, a Pennsylvania-bred, won the Caress Stakes-G3 on her way to a potential start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint-G1. The 4-year-old filly might be fast enough to handle the world’s best at Del Mar in November. She’s won seven of nine starts, with two thirds, and showed enough promise that Bobby Flay – celebrity chef and major Thoroughbred owner – bought 75 percent from Lizzie Merryman (Caravel’s breeder, owner, trainer, occasional van driver and biggest fan) and Caravel moved to trainer Graham Motion after the Caress. It all sounds sad at first, until you consider that Caravel is the product of a free broodmare, that Merryman retained 25 percent, and that she owns Caravel’s brothers, sister and dam – the latter in foal to Street Boss.
Steeplechase trainer Jack Fisher, who grew up foxhunting and riding ponies in Pennsylvania, joined Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame in August – standing alongside flat trainer Todd Pletcher in the class of 2021. Pletcher’s horses have earned more in purses than any Thoroughbred trainer in history. Fisher won’t ever catch Pletcher in that category, but is the heir apparent to Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, who retired at the end of the 2020 season. Sheppard won 26 National Steeplechase Association championships. His horses earned $24.9 million over jumps. Fisher is at 13 titles and $18 million, both second in history. He’s trained champions and a Hall of Famer. He’s won the Maryland Hunt Cup and the Virginia Gold Cup, the latter 12 times. He trained Saluter, the most accomplished timber horse in U.S. history. And, now, Fisher’s a Hall of Famer. The star yearling, second-highest price at the sale, was bred in Kentucky but he can thank Pennsylvania for his family. Marshall Jenney, owner of Derry Meeting Farm near Unionville, bred the colt’s fifth dam – Mrs. Penny – and watched her win major races in England, France and the United States. Mrs. Penny’s daughter Mrs. Jenney won two races in England and one each at Garden State Park and Penn National. Mrs. Jenney’s daughter A Votre Sante won two races in France. A Votre Sante’s daughter Vole Vole Monamour won a single race, and produced six winners. A daughter, Dame Dorothy, won seven races including a Grade 1.
Each of those mares was bred in Pennsylvania, and each bred or owned by Jenney, a Saratoga fixture for years with a consignment of yearlings from those bloodlines and others. Jenney sold the game-changing stallion Danzig at Saratoga in 1978. He did it again with Unbridled’s Song in 1994. A colt out of Mrs. Jenney, Unaccounted For, was part of Jenney’s 1992 consignment at Saratoga and won the Whitney in 1995. Derry Meeting sold at least four seven-figure yearlings at Saratoga, one the year after Jenney died in 2000. The names of Derry Meeting horses dot the commemorative signs above stall doors at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga sales grounds, showcasing Jenney’s long shadow – which got a little bit longer in 2021.