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(Editor's note: Maryland-bred Coffeewithchris was profiled in the February 2023 issue of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred. John Piassek took a closer look at his deep Maryland roots and his local connections. Coffeewithchris will compete in Saturday's Preakness Stakes-G1 at Pimlico, as he looks to become the first Maryland-bred to win the Preakness since Deputed Testamony in 1983. In preparation for his Preakness bid, his story is reprinted here)

The roots of a coffee arabica and a coffee robusta plant can grow anywhere from one to three feet into the ground. The Maryland roots of Coffeewithchris, the Maryland-bred winner of the Heft Stakes at Laurel Park Dec. 30, go far deeper. His pedigree traces to multiple generations of mares bred at one of Maryland’s most venerable farms, by one of racing’s most notable families.
Tom Rooney is the president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, as well as a board member of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. He served in the United States House of Representatives, representing two Florida districts from 2009-19. His family goes back nearly a century in racing. His grandfather, Art, is best known for founding the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Rooneys also operated the Palm Beach Kennel Club Greyhound track in Florida, along with Liberty Bell Park in Pennsylvania, Green Mountain racetrack in Vermont and Yonkers Raceway in New York. 
In 1948, Art was inspired to establish a farm in Maryland while driving through the state. 
“There were a lot of tracks in Maryland, and there weren’t any in the Pittsburgh area. He’d drive from Pittsburgh to Baltimore a lot, because my dad [Pat] and his brother John went to college at Mount St. Mary’s,” said Tom Rooney. “It was on the way, and he wanted to start his own farm, so he thought it was a good location.” 
In the ensuing decades, Woodbine’s Shamrock Farm has served as a facility for breeding, foaling, boarding, lay-ups and sales prep. Shamrock now stands four stallions: Rainbow Heir, Outflanker, Barbados and new arrival Coltimus Prime.
Rooney takes pride in the operation. “It’s been in my family for generations, and whenever I’m at Shamrock, I definitely sense my grandfather’s presence more than anywhere else. It’s something that I hope goes on for a long time.”
Jim Steele has been the farm manager at Shamrock since 1977, when he came to Maryland from Lexington after working at Gainesway Farm. “I originally thought I wanted to work with bigger horses [than the ones at Shamrock], but I quickly learned that although those horses weren’t the biggest, they were good horses. They were durable and they made a lot of money. It made me change my mind about what makes a good horse.” 
Steele has enjoyed his longtime relationship with the Rooneys. “They’re a great family to work for, and they’ve taken me places I never would’ve gone.”
One of Shamrock’s most notable horses was Christopher R., a homebred by multiple stakes winner Loom out of Art Rooney’s mare Rita Marie. Named after one of Tom’s brothers, Christopher R. won 16 stakes and earned $405,515. In 1975, he won six stakes en route to Maryland-bred Horse of the Year honors. In 1976, he added five more stakes and was awarded a second champion Maryland-bred older male title to go with his 3-year-old championship.
Christopher R. entered stud at Shamrock in 1978. A member of his first crop, a daughter of the Saggy mare Evening Kiss named Molly, shipped to Ireland, where Tom’s uncle Tim keeps a farm. “Tim has a farm in Dublin, and at some point got very much into European racing. Back then, it was easier to ship back and forth between here and there, so he was able to have interest in racing in both places.”
Molly won a stakes in Ireland as a 3-year-old in 1982. She returned to the U.S. and raced here until the end of 1983. She left a mark, according to Tom: “Whenever I hear Tim talk about mares, he always says, ‘I hope she can be like another Molly.’ ”
Molly’s lone surviving foal was the filly Teeming Shore, by L’Emigrant. She spent her career in Europe, winning six times, including a stakes, and was group-placed, before returning to Shamrock and producing 10 foals. Daughter Lizzie R (by Cozzene), named for Tim’s granddaughter, began her career in Ireland and returned to the U.S. in 2000, winning three races from 12 starts total. Lizzie R’s fourth foal, the Malibu Moon filly Molly Molly Molly, raced for Shamrock until August 2011, when claimed for $20,000 at Saratoga. That broke the decades-long streak of mares in the Molly line racing for Shamrock. Claimed out of her last race at Laurel for $5,000 in March 2012, Molly Molly Molly returned to the Shamrock band and produced Andiemac, a daughter of Outflanker, the next year. Andiemac sold for $14,000 to Konrad Wayson at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale, but Tom followed her.
“There aren’t too many descendants of Christopher R. out there, and I’m always looking for horses with that bloodline. As such, I followed her career closely,” he said. “I kept waiting for her to either drop to a claiming price I could afford or wait to buy her privately.” 
The former scenario came to pass in November 2017, when Tom claimed Andiemac for $10,000 at Laurel Park and promptly retired her after two wins and earnings of $45,320.
Tom bred Andiemac to Jess’s Dream for 2019, producing a filly named Bitty Baby. She raced six times at Gulfstream Park, managing three thirds without a victory, and is preparing for her second career as a broodmare. The next year, he chose Ride On Curlin, who then stood at Pleasant Acres Stallions in Florida.
“I really loved Ride On Curlin’s pedigree, with Victory Ride and, obviously, Curlin and Smart Strike,” Rooney said. “We’ve had a lot of success breeding our mares with A.P. Indy blood to Smart Strike lines.” 
The mating produced Coffeewithchris, foaled March 21, 2020. 
“He didn’t cause a lot of trouble. He was strong and good-looking.” said Steele. “If he was a problem, I would remember more about him.” 
Coffeewithchris saved the memorable moment for his stay at Rooney’s ranch in Indiantown, Fla. 
“One of the first days he was here, he was in a paddock with another colt, and our dog got out of the car and started running around,” Rooney said. “I guess Coffeewithchris had never seen a dog, because he jumped straight through the fence and was running around the ranch. We were all scrambling to get him back under control. I thought, if I end up racing him myself, I wanted to call him ‘Fencebuster.’ ”
Coffeewithchris proved no worse for the wear, and he was entered in the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling sale. There, he attracted the eye of owner/trainer John Salzman Jr. 
“Every year, I buy horses off looks. He came into the ring, and I liked the way he looked,” said Salzman, who spent $2,000 and named him as a tribute of sorts to a tumultuous time in Maryland racing.
In spring 2021, issues with the Laurel Park main track necessitated a months-long shutdown; racing shifted to Pimlico and some trainers were relocated to Timonium. 
“Everyone had an opinion on what needed to be done, what didn’t need to be done, and so they set up a thing in the track kitchen once a week where [track superintendent Chris Bosley] would come in and answer questions,” said Salzman, “and it became known as Coffee with Chris.” 
By the time Coffeewithchris was ready to begin training, the track issues were largely under control, and Salzman set his sights on the end of the Laurel spring meet for his debut. 
“I’m an early trainer. I train a lot of 2-year-olds, and I try to have them ready for the first few races, because that way, I’m not running a $2,000 horse against horses who cost a few hundred thousand dollars,” Salzman said. “If they end up making more money later, it’s a plus, but it at least gives me a chance to win a race with them early on. If you look back over the last 15 years or so, I’ve won a bunch of [early season 2-year-old races].” 
Stakes winners Limited View, Local Motive, Twelve Pack Shelly and Buff My Boots back up the strategy – $5,200 purchase Limited View, Maryland-bred champion 2-year-old filly of 2017, earned $401,141 and sold for $230,000 as a broodmare. 
Following a string of bullet workouts, Coffeewithchris was ready to go for his debut May 1, a 4½-furlong dash, for Salzman and co-owners Fred Wasserloos and Anthony Geruso. The 9-5 favorite, he fell far behind early and was no factor. He rebounded 11 days later in a $40,000 maiden claiming race at Pimlico. He crossed the wire second, but was moved up to first when Tiz No Clown was disqualified for causing interference at the start.
Coffeewithchris went to the sidelines after a chip was removed from his ankle, returning to finish fifth in the Hickory Tree Stakes at Colonial Downs Aug, 9. After a few middling performances, he stepped up to finish third in the Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes Dec. 3 behind the undefeated Post Time and Maryland Million Nursery winner Johnyz From Albany. Those two rivals determined Salzman’s next move. 
“In the Heft, there was no Johnyz From Albany, who’s fast, and there was no Post Time, who looks like he’s a superstar,” said the trainer. “When I figured out they weren’t going to be there, I decided to go to the Heft. If they were there, I would’ve run him in an allowance race the next day.” 
Coffeewithchris went off at 16-1 in the six-horse field, with undefeated local hope Prince of Jericho and New York shippers Full Moon Madness and Midnight Trouble taking the bulk of the wagering action. Breaking from the outside post, Coffeewithchris pressed Full Moon Madness, then took charge as they entered the stretch. He held off Prince of Jericho by 21⁄2 lengths after 7 furlongs in 1:24.96.
The victory merited a listing in the Circa Sports Kentucky Derby future book in Las Vegas, but Salzman thinks he’ll be better off going shorter. “His dam never ran long, and looking at him, I don’t think he’s going to go real far. Will he run a one-turn mile? Maybe.”
For now, Salzman and Rooney are savoring the ride. “He’s a useful horse,” said the trainer. “Everyone around the barn loves him; he’s a nice horse to be around. He does everything right, and everything worked out that day [in the Heft].” 
“It’s honestly a dream come true,” Rooney said. “To see a horse get first place in a stakes race who goes back to Christopher R. and my grandfather, even though I don’t own the horse, it’s amazing. It’s validation for all the time, effort and the money you spend in the business, there can be a light at the end of the tunnel. You try so hard and invest so much time, it’s important that once in a while, it works out. I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
(Annendum: since the story's publication, Coffeewithchris won the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel on Feb. 18, and placed in the Spectacular Bid on Jan. 21 and the Private Terms on March 18. Most recently, he was fifth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths, in the Federico Tesio on April 15. Best of luck to all of Coffeewithchris's connections in the Preakness!

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