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Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

How a dart replaced Cupid's arrow to bring together Girvin's parents

Kentucky Derby contender's dam given free mating via Darby Dan dartboard

Girvin: winner of back-to-back Kentucky Derby trials at Fair Grounds
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This close to the Kentucky Derby, it would be clutching at straws to remember that Northern Dancer himself was troubled by a quarter crack before winning the race in 1964. For Girvin, the problem is far more serious. Northern Dancer had weeks to recover. Girvin, winner of the Louisiana Derby, has disappeared from the work roster at a critical time. His young trainer’s intention of getting the horse back onto the track at Keeneland on Saturday seems potentially critical to his participation, with just four career starts under his belt, at Churchill Downs next Saturday.

Joe Sharp is only 32 and, as such, this 11th hour drama represents something of a baptism of fire in the national limelight. The colt’s owner, Brad Grady, is also in his thirties and named the horse after his tiny home community in rural West Texas. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they have only been able to break into the big time thanks to the kind of unexpected twists that give everyone in the bloodstock business a right to dream.

Their colt was originally purchased as a potential breeze-up pinhook - much like Irap, who was sold on by Grady and Bobby Dodd to Dennis O’Neill for $300,000 and has since emerged as a Derby candidate himself. But he missed his sale-ring date owing to a minor setback, and had to be kept to race in Grady’s own silks.

The rest is history, but that is not even the half of it. Girvin’s story is strewn with unexpected gains, and corresponding regrets.

The colt’s dam, an unraced daughter of Malibu Moon named Catch The Moon, was purchased for $30,000 at the Keeneland January Sale of 2013 by Bob Austin. At the time he had a small breeding and boarding farm in Kentucky, and at a party hosted by his neighbours at Darby Dan was invited to throw a dart at a board featuring free nominations to certain of their sires. Shackleford was the bull’s eye, but Austin managed to land on Tale of Ekati.

Since all four of his own mares were already booked to stallions for the following spring, Austin and a partner picked out Catch The Moon for his free pass to Darby Dan’s young sire. She was bought in foal to Colonel John, and the resulting colt was sold as a yearling for $16,000. He proceeded to win a Grade 3 race before finishing fifth to Nyquist in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

In between those two races his younger brother, the result of that free cover from Darby Dan, was sold for $130,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s October Yearling Sale in Kentucky. Then, as Austin was retiring, it was decided to cash in the mare as well. Catch The Moon was sold at Keeneland November for $240,000, to Stonestreet Farm. Once again, her new owners have been able to sit back and see her value soar as Girvin - result of the lucky throw of a dart - became the talk of New Orleans, first in the Risen Star and then in the state Derby.

They must be rubbing their hands at Stonestreet. Catch The Moon, from the family of Grade 1 winner Silver Max and Canadian champion Kiss A Native, had arrived carrying a Shanghai Bobby colt and is booked back to the farm’s own dual Horse of the Year this spring. Moreover she is by a noted influence for female quality in Malibu Moon, both as a sire of runners (not forgetting Orb, of course) and now as a broodmare sire, responsible for elite winners such as Stellar Wind, By The Moon and My Conquestadory.

Catch The Moon is out of a stakes winner by Yes It’s True, herself inbred 3x2 to the strapping sprinter Rene Monique. The latter was full of Princequillo-line toughness, winner of 29 races in 45 starts - and in turn produced the dams of Grade 1 winner Silver Max, Canadian champion Kiss A Native, and Yes It’s True himself.

Girvin is from the third crop of Tale Of Etaki, a son of the dasher Tale Of The Cat standing at $7,500 and responsible for a Preakness runner-up among his first sophomores. He finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby himself, but looked at the limit of his stamina and his two Grade 1 wins came over eight and nine furlongs. But his first two dams are by Sunday Silence and Nijinsky, the latter being the Grade 1 Alabama winner Maplejinksy - who also produced nine-time Grade 1 winner Sky Beauty.

On the other hand, Maplejinsky was out of one champion sprinter in Gold Beauty, and so a half-sister to another Dayjur. Nor has the Storm Cat line mustered a Kentucky Derby winner as yet.

Perhaps Girvin’s long stride and determined mien will help him dredge up some of those Classic genes. On the other hand, his young connections - including Sharp’s wife, Rosie Napravnik, who rode in the Run For The Roses three times - may yet come to view even missing the Derby, on account of this quarter crack, as a potential blessing in disguise. A fresh Girvin might be the very last thing the Derby winner might wish to meet, dropping back in trip in the Preakness.

Girvin’s story is strewn with unexpected gains, and corresponding regrets
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