February 14th, 2011 §
In 1979, Trainer John T. Ward, Jr. and Owner John Oxley teamed up in the racing world and set out on a journey that would ultimately deliver a Kentucky Oaks victory in 1995 with Gal in a Ruckus and the second-fastest Kentucky Derby winner in history with Monarchos in 2001.
It seemed they had already realized the dreams that many trainers and owners chase throughout their lifetime.
Yet, the beauty of racing is that a horse can simply show up and defy whatever was previously imagined to be possible in a lifetime. And, it is part of the glory of the sport that one can spend a lifetime living inside the wonder of what dreams may lay ahead.
For the Ward/Oxley team, a new dream appears to be taking flight with the arrival of Dancinginherdreams, a three-year-old filly that juxtaposes grace and grit in a fashion that is simply otherworldly in description.
In her three career starts, Dancinginherdreams has claimed two dazzling come-from-behind victories and placed after delivering a breathtaking finishing charge in the Forward Gal Stakes. As she points to her next outing, Ward graciously agreed to answer my questions about Dancinginherdreams as she continues to move forward on the trail toward the Kentucky Oaks.
WIRTH: You have trained some very special horses in your career, including Beautiful Pleasure, Kentucky Oaks Winner Gal In A Ruckus, and Kentucky Derby Winner Monarchos. Do you believe that Dancinginherdreams is a special filly?
WARD: Yes. I believe that Dancinginherdreams is a special filly. My wife trained Beautiful Pleasure and she was a superior athlete. This young filly could fill those shoes.
As far as Gal In a Ruckus and Monarchos, Dancinginherdreams is better than Gal In A Ruckus. Hopefully, Dancinginherdreams has the endurance and the closing style of Monarchos. His style is more indicative of my training.
WIRTH: Was Dancinginherdreams trained to deliver a “Come-From-Behind” finish in her races or is that her own personal style?
WARD: I am trying to develop that trait in Dancinginherdreams.
When she ran in the Forward Gal and came in second, she was sharp enough to go immediately to the lead and had the speed to do it. But, I don’t want to teach her to leave the gate in a sprint fashion because she is capable of endurance and has the physical structure to go two-turns in a race.
I had to sacrifice the early part of the race in the Forward Gal the other day because I didn’t want to ruin her chances of being a horse that comes from behind.
WIRTH: In the Forward Gal, were you impressed with the late charge from Dancinginherdreams?
WARD: Yes. It was gratifying. I don’t mind getting beat if I see the horse displaying other dimensions in a race.
Dancinginherdreams showed other dimensions in the Forward Gal. She got down on her belly and showed as much grit as she could get. She raced up to the filly that won and got her past the wire. In her mind, she chased her down.
When she is in a race, Julien Leparoux, her rider, says she just melts in his hands and looks for the holes to go through. When she finally did get clear in the Forward Gal, Dancinginherdreams showed that she has an amazing closing kick.
WIRTH: In her three career starts, which race did you personally find the most impressive?
WARD: I thought that the Forward Gal was her most impressive race so far. She ran against a very good group of fillies and she was still able to close against experienced racehorses that had multiple wins.
Her stakes win at Churchill last fall was a good stakes win for a two-year-old, but the Forward Gal showed that she could somewhat dominate in a group of experienced horses when put to the task.
I am looking forward to seeing her race a mile in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream on February 26. The Davona Dale should be right up her alley.
WIRTH: How would you describe the personality of Dancinginherdreams?
WARD: When she is racing, Dancinginherdreams has the mind of a five-year-old or six-year-old racemare. She is very tactical in her races and will do anything you want her to do. Older horses look for holes in races and sometimes they can even see them before the rider. She already has that instinct.
Dancinginherdreams also doesn’t mind going into tight places in her training in the morning. I think she showed that in her second win.
Finally, she just has a different dimension because she can explode in the last quarter in a race. It is a factor that will make her a very dangerous filly in the Kentucky Oaks.
WIRTH: What are some of her favorite items or unique traits?
WARD: Dancinginherdreams is a young, tall, spoiled girl. When we come into work in the morning, she gets anxious. So, she immediately gets to come out and walk for 25-30 minutes the first thing in the morning. Once she comes back in, she gets ready to train. When she trains, she has a favorite pony that accompanies her to the racetrack.
She also has a shed foreman, an elderly gentleman, and she just loves him. Whenever she thinks anything is wrong, she just jumps over next to him. He’s her human.
She does have an explosive temperament, but she manages it very well. I call her a ‘professional woman’ when she is racing and a ‘teenage girl’ when she is around the barn. She will constantly have you on your toes to keep her happy. She loves eating peppermints and carrots.
Her nickname is ‘Pinky’ because she is so white. When you give her a bath, her skin is pink. Her skin is pink and freckled underneath her coat.
WIRTH: What would it mean to you if Dancinginherdreams raced in the Kentucky Oaks?
WARD: Being a person from Kentucky, to me, it is the most elevated race for a filly. I think it is a great accomplishment. My wife and I would just be thrilled to have two Kentucky Oaks winners.
A win in the Oaks would emphasize our style of training. A slow, patient, classical style of training pays off in the end with horses. It might get you beat sometimes. But in the end, our whole theory is, ‘Raise them like champions. Race them like champions. And, make them disappoint you.’
WIRTH: What is your favorite moment with Dancinginherdreams at this point in her career?
WARD: I think the greatest experience that I have had with her was in the past few days.
Lately, she wants to get aggressive when she is training in the morning and she wants to take charge. It’s the bubbly teenage girl inside of her that says, ‘Well, I’m going to go out there and do it however I want to. You can’t tell me what to do.’
In the past few days, she has been working on a long, ¾ of a mile training path outside of the regular track. She has been going back there without the pony for a couple of days.
You can see the confidence exude out of her and she is in the zone where training is the most important thing to her now in the morning. You could fall down right in front of her and she’d just walk right over you and continue her training. She is not wild. She is just being very controlled.
I believe she is at the point where she is done being a teenage girl and starting to be a young lady. And, she’s becoming a very athletic young lady.
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August 3rd, 2010 §
Earlier this year, I visited Kentucky to meet Monarchos.
I wanted to see the fastest living Kentucky Derby winner in the flesh.
It was just as simple as that.
As the big gray champion emerged from his stable, Monarchos was well-mannered and kind. He allowed himself to be pet, stood patiently for photographs, and gently devoured my bag of carrots with delight.
I was thrilled about my visit with Monarchos.
He is a celebrity in my world.
And, it is always nice to find out that your celebrities are truly kind at heart.
When I returned home from Kentucky, I realized that Monarchos is just a gray horse to many of my friends outside the racing universe.
It was just as simple as that.
“How was the Kentucky Derby?” I was asked by one friend.
I had to find a nice way to tell my friend that the Kentucky Derby hadn’t occurred yet.
When I mentioned that I visited Monarchos, another friend asked, “Is that your horse?”
I didn’t own a horse at that point. And, if I owned Monarchos, I certainly would have mentioned my Kentucky Derby winning horse in earlier conversations.
This was my first experience of trying to explain horse racing to non-enthusiasts.
Nothing was simple about it.
Shortly after these conversations, I invested in a horse. He’s a two-year-old in training and hasn’t been entered in any races.
However, my small investment created a giant misunderstanding among my non-racing enthusiast friends.
Zenyatta stood at the center of the confusion between the two worlds.
I talked about Zenyatta’s undefeated record at cocktail parties and my friends would ask how she is doing.
I kept saying, “She’s still undefeated!”
It was just as simple as that.
I thought we had arrived at a common ground.
Then, I went to Hollywood Park to watch her claim her seventeenth career victory in the Vanity Handicap.
When I made a photo album of the trip, a friend asked “How did your horse do in her race?”
I replied, “I wish I owned Zenyatta.”
In my mind, it was just as simple as that.
However, when I had to explain in greater depth that I don’t own Zenyatta, the confusion on my friend’s face spoke volumes.
It was as if to say, “Why don’t you?”
I went on to explain that Zenyatta has made roughly $6 million in her career and has remained undefeated in seventeen consecutive races. She’s not for sale.
Then, I realized her earnings or record meant nothing to my friend.
In personal defeat, I explained to my friend that Jerry Moss, the co-founder of A & M records, owns Zenyatta.
When I mentioned that she was named after The Police album, “Zenyatta Mondatta,” I received immediate recognition.
“Oh, ‘Zenyatta Mondatta.’ That makes sense!”
It was just as simple as that.
But, was it? I’ve listened to that album many times and I’ve never heard Sting belt out any lyrics about Zenyatta’s racing career.
In retrospect, the words “The Police” and “Zenyatta Mondatta” were the only parts of our conversation that resonated with my friend.
Since that moment, I’ve wondered how to discuss horse racing with the non-racing world.
There seems to be nothing simple about it.
As far as I can tell, non-racing enthuasists have gathered these gems from my conversations:
“There are some gray and brown horses that run fast. One dances pretty well. The Kentucky Derby is an important day. And, ‘Zenyatta Mondatta’ is a great album.”
It is just as simple as that.
So, after growing tired of giving explanations, I decided to just quietly enjoy going to the races.
And then, the two worlds unexpectedly met for a brief second in time.
As I was heading to the track on an ordinary day, a friend asked me, “Is there an important race today?”
I joked, “Yep. Secretariat is in a match race with Seattle Slew today.”
When she laughed, I realized my friend knew I had just told her a fairy tale.
However, I also realized she knew some Triple Crown winners.
I began to dream about the next Triple Crown season.
And wish… it was just simple as that.
March 30th, 2010 §
In the 2001 Kentucky Derby, Monarchos blazed toward the wire to win with a time of 1:59 4/5 – just two tenths off the record time of Secretariat. In less than a second, Monarchos had become the fastest living Kentucky Derby winner.
The man behind Monarchos, breeder Jim Squires, stood in the crowd in disbelief. Having retired from his profession as a journalist, Squires had just witnessed a steel gray colt blur the ordinary lines between fact and fiction.
Squires was now cast as a subject in one of the most fantastical stories in horse racing.
Born in Tennessee as the son of a textile-mill worker, Squires was fascinated by horses as a child. He would draw horses when he was in first grade rather than concentrating on arithmetic and save his money to ride “Tony,” a carnival pony, for a nickel.
As we stood watching a two-year-old colt breeze across a track, Squires quipped about how “Tony” would bite him on his legs when he rode him. He laughed as he remembered his mother making him wear pants in the summer since his legs had bite marks from riding “Tony” during carnival season.
As an adult, Squires worked as a journalist. When he moved to Illinois to become editor of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, he brought two cutting horses with him from Florida.
While searching for a home for his horses, he met his wife, Mary Anne, a Chicago native and Northwestern graduate. She had been working as a real estate agent and was selling farms in the Barrington Hills area. Squires married Mary Anne six months after their meeting and they lived on the farm he had purchased.
In 1988, the couple moved to Kentucky and formed their current farm, “Two Bucks.” They bred Paint horses, cutting horses, and Quarter horses. Jim Squires began to write books in his retirement.
After serving on the Kentucky Racing Commission, Squires developed a growing interest in thoroughbreds, which led him to purchase a few mares. As his mare population increased, Squires found Regal Band, Monarchos’ dam, at a Keeneland sale in 1995. When she failed to meet her reserve price, Squires later purchased Regal Band for $14,000.
Squires eventually made the life-changing decision to breed Regal Band with Maria’s Mon. In his book, Horse of a Different Color, Squires explains how both horses “had fallen a good ways from the thoroughbred aristocracy” at that point. He recounts, “…Only the offspring would determine the worth of the parents and the wisdom of their union.”
In a few golden fractions, Monarchos validated Squires’ belief in the value of these two horses. Their union had proven genius.
During my recent visit with the Squires, I not only learned about Monarchos, but also, the amazing character of these two people. Their kindness and generosity is as astonishing as Monarchos’ near record-breaking victory. I would like to extend the warmest thanks for the following interview.
JW: When did you gain your appreciation for horses in life?
JS: Two of my earliest memories are of being hoisted upon the back of a red pony named Peaches by a grandparent (I couldn’t have been more than three or four years old at the time), and not long after that standing at a fence flirting with a group of Palomino ponies at eye level on the other side.
I suspect these are what ignited a horse gene passed down from Cherokee Indian ancestors on my mother’s side. I remember drawing horses on my tablet in the first grade when I should have been learning arithmetic and dreaming about them at night.
JW: Prior to starting your farm, “Two Bucks Thoroughbreds,” you were Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Tribune newspaper. What led to your decision to move to Kentucky and begin breeding thoroughbreds?
JS: When I became editor of the Tribune, I already owned some riding horses, so I purchased a small farm in outlying Barrington Hills, an equine community where and Mary Anne and I soon became active in the breeding and showing of American Paint Horses.
Ten years later when I left the Tribune, we owned two stallions and 20 mares and Kentucky seemed like the ideal place to move them. We had no intention of raising Thoroughbreds but it is difficult for a horse person to live in the Bluegrass without falling in love with them.
JW: Monarchos was a product of sire, Maria’s Mon and broodmare, Regal Band. What did you see in these two particular horses that led you to determine they would be a good breeding match?
JS: My quarter and paint horse experience of the previous 15 years had given me a basic understanding of equine conformation and breeding patterns, particularly a belief in the importance of female families as the conduit of good genes.
Regal Band was from one of the best families in the Jockey Club book that already produced a great mare Andover Way and a great stallion Dynaformer. Equally important was the fact that physically she resembled the dam of Doc Bar, an immensely influential sire of performance quarter horses.
I had watched Maria’s Mon win a 2-year-old race in New York and believed him to be the toughest, soundest and best-looking of all the freshman sires in my price range—and he fit my breeding theory in that he had descended from two good broodmare sires—Caro and Wavering Monarch.
JW: You were in the stable when Monarchos was born and watched his early development. Did he stand out from the other foals?
JS: By the time Monarchos was born, I had probably foaled 150 babies. Of those none came into the world brighter eyed and more ready to go. He was small, black as coal with a very big, bright eye, a lovely sloping shoulder and his mother’s star. Within a very few minutes—15 or 20 at the most—when startled by a cat in the rafters he got to his feet with ease and never once fell backwards.
Within a few hours, he was a whirling dervish doing circles around his mother and later as a weanling running, running, running long after his mates were winded, which is exactly what happened at Churchill Downs.
JW: When I met Monarchos during our visit, I found him to be a very gentle and kind horse. What factors do you believe contribute to good temperament in a horse – breeding, training, or both?
JS: Both I suspect. I never saw any mean temperament in any of Regal Band’s foals. But I give more weight to the latter. How a horse comes to relate to humans and other horses is probably behavior learned directly from the mother and the people who handle them. I believe the success of Two Bucks horses at the racetrack has a great deal to do with how we raised them on the farm.
JW: Can you describe how you felt when Monarchos won the 2001 Kentucky Derby?
JS: It took me an entire book – Horse of a Different Color – to describe it. And even then I failed to do it justice. I was up on the roof of Churchill Downs with the press photographers, most of whom I did not know. And they did know me.
Disbelief might have been the first emotion, realization of the extraordinary luck in involved the second. I did, however, lose my hearing for five or ten minutes afterward. I could see clearly, but heard nothing until I found Mary Anne in the crowd on the floor below. From that point on, it was a blur for a couple of days.
JW: Monarchos has the second fastest winning time in the Kentucky Derby. Do you think that Monarchos had the capacity to beat Secretariat’s track record in the 2001 Kentucky Derby?
JS: Jorge Chavez wrapped up Monarchos after he passed Congaree so easily and later said he could have gone a fraction or two faster had he known he was close to the record.
JW: Would you have enjoyed it if Monarchos had set the new track record for the Kentucky Derby?
JS: All of us connected with Monarchos were pleased to hear what Chavez said. Monarchos was indeed a very fast horse and had already proven that in the Florida Derby. But the Churchill Downs track surface was faster that day than normal.
A couple of records had been broken earlier in the day and the pacesetter in the Derby—Songandaprayer—had taken the field faster than it had ever gone before, setting records for the first few fractions. So a new Derby record would have always been suspect and an asterisk in the minds of many.
Secretariat is such an icon his record should last forever.
JW: You have been called a “Breeding Genius.” What do you think are the key elements that are present in a well-bred racehorse?
JS: The Breeding Genius moniker is a joke stemming from the point of view from which Horse of a Different Color was written. A friend of mine, the novelist Jane Smiley, once told me that after you reach the age of 50, a writer best writes with his tongue in his cheek. I did that in that Horse, writing from the third person as if the Breeding Genius (myself), and the Dominant Female (my wife Mary Anne) were characters in a piece of fiction.
Any success I have had as a breeder of horses – quarters, paints and thoroughbreds – can be contributed to an enormous amount of luck, great Kentucky ground, a well-constructed feeding program; faith in the power of female genes; and a wonderful way of dealing with horses that I learned from the experiences and teachings of two old cowboys—Tom and Bill Dorrance. What I learned from them and their followers cannot be overestimated as a factor.
JW: Do you believe that you could breed a future Kentucky Derby winner?
JS: The odds are not good. But once you do it, you never stopped trying until you run out of money or energy. I am growing shorter on both.
JW: What have been some of your most memorable moments in your years of breeding thoroughbreds?
JS: Nothing can compare with winning the Derby as a positive emotional experience.
Unfortunately, not all memorable experiences are positive. Both Regal Band and For Dixie, another great broodmare who produced several great horses including one that sold for $2.3 million long after we no longer owned her, both died at my feet.
So did my favorite riding horse and my favorite quarter horse champion mare.
But as long I keep raising horses, the memorable moments both positive and negative will keep on coming. That is the beauty of spending time with these magnificent creatures.
Jim Squires authored “Horse of a Different Color,” which is an exciting and informative book about his breeding farm and his experience with Monarchos. To view this book on Amazon.com, click here.
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