Elliott Walden, president/CEO and racing manager of WinStar Farm, said when he looks into Gemologist’s eye, he sees the colt’s “daddy,” Tiznow, looking back at him.
If any of Gemologist’s opponents in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) look into his eye and sees Tiznow in there, they’re in big trouble. Many have looked into Tiznow’s eye in the final furlong of a race and they all wound up surrendering and heading back to the barn in defeat.
Just ask Godolphin’s Sheikh Mohammed and Simon Crisford what it felt like when their titan Sakhee looked the tiger in the eye and fell a nose short in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Just ask Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore brain trust what it was like when their courageous warrior, Giant’s Causeway, known in Europe as “The Iron Horse,” had the misfortune to make eye contact with Tiznow in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Just ask Bob Baffert what it was like when Tiznow stared down Captain Steve in the 2000 Goodwood Handicap (gr. II) and sent him to the showers a loser.
All these connections of horses who have felt the wrath of Tiznow are back together in this year’s Kentucky Derby, and judging from what Gemologist has already done to Godolphin’s Alpha in the Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial (gr. I) it appears as if the proverbial apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree and that all these horsemen are about to experience a nightmarish case of déjà vu.
In addition to Godolphin and Alpha, O’Brien and Coolmore are back with UAE Derby (UAE-I) winner Daddy Long Legs and Baffert is back with Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Bodemeister.
But they’re not the only Derby connections who have tangled with the tenacious Tiznow, who has stood at WinStar since he retired from racing in 2001. Union Rags’ sire, Dixie Union, was actually the first to eyeball the mighty Cal-bred in a stakes race, falling by a neck in the Affirmed Handicap (gr. III).
So, it is plain to see why no one is looking forward to scrapping with Tiznow’s son on May 5, especially after the way he beat Alpha in a slugfest that would have made his daddy proud, not to mention all the other similarities between father and son.
“It showed me something about Gemologist,” Walden said of the Wood finish. “I think he comes by it naturally, with his sire being Tiznow. There are also some physical traits they have in common. Gemologist has Tiznow’s size and stature. He has that long shoulder Tiznow has and he has the development through the gaskin that Tiznow has and the power that comes from behind.
“The other thing that strikes me about Gemologist in relation to Tiznow is his attitude. Tiznow is a very very intelligent horse. He’s extremely smart in the stallion barn and is a horse who has a real character and a real definition to his psyche. Gemologist is just as easy going and smart. When you look into Gemologist’s eye you see something that looks back at you. And that reminds me of his daddy.”
But most of all, he reminded Walden of Tiznow the way he fought back when challenged by Alpha, a winner of two stakes this year in his only two starts.
“It was a great thing,” Walden said. Part of it was that he wasn’t tested in his first start of the year, so he needed to be battle-tested a little bit. Honestly, I thought he was going to get beat. Alpha had all the momentum and you could see him drop down and start extending. Most of the time in that scenario, you’ll take the horse coming on, so I was a little nervous at the sixteenth pole.”
But as it turned out there was no need to worry. There a couple of other mini-dramas that could be played out in the Derby. If you see Gemologist and Creative Cause battling it out in the stretch, just remember you’re watching a son of Tiznow duking it out with a son of Giant’s Causeway. And if you see Went the Day Well going toe to toe with El Padrino, you’re watching a maternal grandson of Tiznow battling a maternal grandson of Giant’s Causeway. You gotta love it.
WinStar has been riding a magical wave the past several years, winning the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver, the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Breeders’ Cup Classic with Drosselmeyer, and the Travers and Santa Anita Derby (both gr. I) with Colonel John.
Gemologist isn’t quite in that exalted company just yet, but with a spotless record and victories in a grade I and a grade II (Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes), he’s awfully close.
“He’s going to have to make that next step to be talked about with Super Saver and Drosselmeyer,” Walden said. “But to be undefeated at this point, he’s proven himself to be special. And the most important thing is that he doesn’t need to carry his track with him. He’s run at four different racetracks and three times he stepped foot on the racetrack for the first time the day of the race. At Gulfstream, he shipped in (from Palm Meadows); at Aqueduct he shipped in; and at Turfway (in his career debut) he shipped in. And he won each time.”
Like Super Saver, Gemologist was given some down time on the farm over the winter, and that once again seems to have been an elixir, invigorating the colt, who returned as sharp as ever at Gulfstream.
“He’s really filled out since last year,” Walden said. “When you see him come into the paddock at Churchill Downs, he’s a lot of horse.”
And he’s by a lot of horse, who thrived on all-out brawls. So, to powerhouses Godolphin and Kiaran McLaughlin, Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien, and Ahmed Zayat and Bob Baffert, as well as Union Rags and the remainder of the Derby field: if you find your horse locking horns with Gemologist in the stretch on May 5, even if you seem to have all the momentum, don’t start smelling those roses just yet.