donegal racing, good magic, grandview equine, hill 'n' dale farm, jerry crawford, Kentucky Derby, mage, ray smith
The victory of Mage (by Good Magic) in the 149th Kentucky Derby was the culmination of visions and hopes, of plans and dreams. And as befits the success of a colt going off at 15-1, the triumph had something unexpected, almost magical, to it.
Bred in Kentucky by Robert Clay and partners’ Grandview Equine, Mage settled some issues (and raised others) when he crossed the wire as the winner of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. In winning his first stakes, Mage put his sire Good Magic into a $1.6-million lead as the top second-crop sire.
Through last year and this, Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm’s Good Magic (Curlin) and Spendthrift’s Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) have been tussling head and head for sire leadership of this cadre of young stallions, and at present, they stand well separated from the rest of the field, with the Spendthrift Farm stallion approximately $700,000 ahead of Army Mule (Friesan Fire), also standing at Hill ‘n’ Dale and in third by a little more than $130,000. Ashford Stud’s two sons of Scat Daddy, Justify and Mendelssohn, stand fourth and fifth, separated by $50-odd thousand.
A second point of significance in a windfall weekend for Hill ‘n’ Dale is that Curlin (Smart Strike) had a second consecutive Kentucky Derby victor by one of his sons. Last year’s winner, Rich Strike, is a son of Travers winner Keen Ice, who stands at Calumet Farm; Good Magic was not only the champion juvenile colt of 2017, when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but also finished second in the 2018 Kentucky Derby behind Justify.
Winner of the Preakness and second in the Belmont, third in the Kentucky Derby, Curlin has become an eminent classic influence, siring Preakness winner Exaggerator and Belmont winner Palace Malice. Good Magic’s second in the Kentucky Derby is the closest that Curlin has come to that victory but is not the only classic performance close up in Mage’s pedigree.
The winner’s dam is by Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown (Boundary). The champion 3-year-old colt of 2008, Big Brown entered stud in 2009 at Three Chimneys Farm, and both he and Curlin had first foals of 2010. Bred in Kentucky by Jerry Crawford and Paul Pompa, Puca was from the third crop by Big Brown, who now stands in New York at Irish Hill & Dutchess Views Stallions LLC.
Sent to the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale, Puca sold for $90,000 to Crawford’s Donegal Racing, which also acquired the Curlin colt later named Keen Ice at the same sale. Puca proved a 16-length winner in maiden special company at Belmont Park in October of her juvenile year and then finished in mid-pack (sixth of 12) of the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies after an eventful trip.
Puca came back in 2014 to finish fourth in the G2 Davona Dale and second in the G2 Gazelle before a disappointing 12th in the G1 Kentucky Oaks, as she was “hung wide throughout,” according to the chart, from her start in post 14.
Later in her racing career, as a 5-year-old, Puca won a minor stakes to polish her graded placing, and Donegal sold her as a broodmare prospect. Ray Smith, a longtime Donegal shareholder and partner in the group that included Puca, noted that “the rationale was to close the partnership. She had some value as a broodmare, and making a decision like that’s the hardest part of Jerry’s business, especially on behalf of first-time owners. But he takes his fiduciary responsibility very seriously, and we made quite a bit of money with her” as a broodmare prospect, selling for $275,000 at the 2017 Keeneland November sale.
As part of its investment strategy of breeding nice young mares to top young sires, Grandview Equine had acquired the Kentucky Derby winner’s dam, Puca, for $475,000 in foal to Horse of the Year Gun Runner (Candy Ride) at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton November sale. Retaining that Gun Runner filly, named Gunning and now stakes-placed, Clay and partners next sent their mare to champion Good Magic, and Mage is the second foal from Puca.
Puca has now produced a Grade 1 winner, and her dam, the stakes-placed Silver Ghost mare Boat’s Ghost, did likewise. Puca is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Finnegan’s Wake (Powerscourt). Racing for a Donegal partnership, Finnegan’s Wake won the 2015 Turf Classic at Churchill on the same day that American Pharoah won the Derby in his march to the Triple Crown.
Jerry Crawford not only co-bred Puca but also was the sole breeder for Finnegan’s Wake. In fact, Crawford either owned or bred the first four dams of the Kentucky Derby winner. He bred second dam Boat’s Ghost and co-bred with Fred Kammeier the third dam, Rock the Boat (Summer Squall), who produced a stakes winner and a pair of stakes-placed runners.
Crawford and Kammeier owned and raced the fourth dam, the Native Royalty mare Native Boat. A stakes winner and multiple stakes-placed runner, Native Boat started this progression, at least for Crawford and partners.
Racing the filly against modest company, she performed well enough to try a claiming race at Churchill Downs, and Crawford drove down from Iowa to see it with a couple of friends, including Smith. The latter recounted the scene: “On a hot June day in the early 1990s, Native Boat was running in a mid-week $10,000 claimer, and yet when Native Boat came rolling down the stretch, you’d have thought we were the winners of the Derby.
“When the race was over, Jerry turned around and said, ‘Can you imagine being here on Derby Day with your own horse?’ That was the inspiration for Donegal Racing, the partnership he would put together a decade or so later.”
Native Boat continued to improve, taking her owners to the winner’s circle after an allowance victory at three, then more allowances and a pair of stakes victories at four. She set the hook in Crawford and others for what would become a succession of racing partnerships. Then, retired to become a broodmare, Native Boat started the progression of quality that led to the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Racing and breeding can be that way: It’s a kind of good magic.