The 3-year-old showdown of the year will take place in the grade I Travers Stakes. This time American Pharoah has made another cross-country trip to take on Texas Red and Frosted, and several others, on their home turf at Saratoga.
We have already seen the explosive power of Texas Red, who not only is reaching his peak, he has the right genes to stand up to the mighty Pharoah, as his dad, Afleet Alex, has already sired a Travers winner in Afleet Express, and matched American Pharoah’s victories in the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and Arkansas Derby. And many feel he would have won the Kentucky Derby had he not been suffering from a mild lung infection in the race and had a cleaner trip. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say Afleet Alex would not have been a deserving Triple Crown winner.
Texas Red is deceiving at first glance. Instead of the big, burly, tough guy you would expect to see, you are greeted by this handsome devil with movie star good looks and an elegant face accentuated by a gorgeous white marking that appears to have been painted on by a fine artist with meticulous care.
But we’ve seen what kind of damage he is capable of afflicting on his opponents, whether it is decimating them, as he did in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or beating them in a street fight as he did against Frosted in the Jim Dandy Stakes.
He has also shown he is effective slicing through the field with a devastatingly quick move, rallying along the inside between horses, or making a big sweeping outside move, while losing good chunks of ground. Whatever way he can, he’s going to find a way to be right there at the finish.
And we know he is going to appreciate the stretch-out to a mile and a quarter, based on his running style and pedigree, top and bottom.
So, here you have a son of a successful stallion in Afleet Alex, with a ton of good looks, athleticism, and natural ability, and he sells at the Keeneland September yearling sale for a meager $17,000. How in the world did trainer Keith Desormeaux and client Erich Brehm Sr. manage to pull that one off?
John Moynihan of Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, which bred and sold the colt, said there was absolutely nothing wrong with him.
“All the credit goes to the guys who picked him out and bought him,” Moynihan said. “Good for them. They did something right or were looking where nobody else was looking. He was a nice horse and it was just one of those things. It’s just where he sold in the sale (Hip No. 2703) and how it happened to come about. That’s where Keeneland put him. It’s one of those things where he jumped up and became a very good horse.
“That year, we probably sold 98% of our yearling crop. If we had to keep a few it was because they had some kind of issue or something like that. He was just one of the group and turned out to be a really good horse. He ran great in the Breeders’ Cup and proved that was no fluke by coming back off a layoff and running enormous. And he’s only going to get better.”
Desormeaux obviously feels fortunate to have gotten a horse of this caliber for so little.
“This is the reason why guys like me can remain in the game, and why it’s such a great game,” he said. “It shows that students of the sales and horsemanship have a chance against the Darleys and the Calumets of the world. At the time, he wasn’t by one of the hottest sires in the world. Afleet Alex had started off great, but had cooled off. I had been watching the Afleet Alexes for several years and always wanted to get my hands on one. I think they’re beautiful bodied, good boned, solid individuals. I wanted one bad, but I couldn’t afford one. When a good one came along they always went for a little too much.
“Also, the dam only had minor winners, so she wasn’t very hot either. But the fact that she was stakes-placed in California told me there was some potential there. And as an individual, he had that air about him; that walk and athleticism that we all look for. He had all that and more, so I was pumped up when the gavel fell at $17,000. He was just an outstanding individual, so I guess that the other guys like me were out to lunch. I just got lucky and was able to realize what was in front of me.”
Desormeaux said he’s always looking to get a piece of all the horses, but admits he can’t afford it. He had finished all his major buying for his main client, Big Chief Racing, and still had a couple of bucks to spend.
“I was just hanging around and looking to see if I could find any needles in a haystack, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “When the gavel dropped on this colt I immediately called Erich and said, ‘Man, I want 50% of this horse.’ He said, ‘No problem, I love when the trainer wants to be in with me.’ Three weeks later he called and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I brought a few other guys in on it.’ It’s not a big deal, and I sure don’t have any resentments or regrets about it. It’s just a fun part of the story.”
That year, Brehm, Western United States area sales director for CorMatrix Cardiovascular, Inc., bought three yearlings from the Keeneland September sale—a Stormy Atlantic, a Quality Road and an Afleet Alex. The purchase of the Afleet Alex colt proved to be one of great success stories that racing often produces; a story he remembers a bit differently.
“Red was a bargain at $17,000 and shortly after we got him, Keith asked if I would be interested in putting him in a partnership and that he wanted a piece,” Brehm said. “I said sure and asked a couple of friends if they were interested. Dr. Gene Voss has been my partner on several horses and immediately said he was in. Gene's name is always listed last by alphabetical order and often he is left off. He's the forgotten partner.
“Wayne Detmar was a business associate that I purchased a small surgical laser rental company from and had expressed an interest in horses because his dad had raced Quarter Horses and he rode growing up in South Texas. Wayne had never owned a racehorse before and when I extended the offer, he jumped on it.
“Lee Michaels has two daughters who were both students of my wife’s in kindergarten. One is now out of college and the other is close. My wife Janet and Lee have been great friends for a long time. We were having dinner with Lee and her husband Paul one night in Dallas and talking about horses. Lee grew up around horses in Lexington and really wanted to own a horse. I extended an offer to the Michaels to join our little partnership on the Afleet Alex colt. Lee was busy with a school board position and thought the timing was bad so she declined. A week later, Paul contacted my wife and said he wanted to buy the spot in the partnership for Lee as a holiday present. The rest as they say is history. Paul will be forever known as ‘the smartest man in the world.’ ”
The bottom line of the story is that everyone is happy, and that is all that matters.
“Nobody is complaining these days,” Brehm said. “Here’s another fun part of the story. How much did everyone pay for their 20% stake in Texas Red? I offered everyone a 20% interest and the first six months of training for $7,000. We never put in another cent. At the six-month mark when it was going to be time for a collection, Red ran his first race at Arlington and finished second. From that point on he always picked up checks and is now just short of $1.7 million in earnings. Not a bad R.O.I. Something else that should not be lost in this story is that I have never regretted selling to the partners. This has been a great ride and especially enjoyable to share it with the other families. We have all become much closer and enjoy each other’s company and families.”
Even Texas Red’s two defeats this year have been excellent efforts. Desormeaux brought him back going seven furlongs in the San Vicente, which was too short for him and merely meant to sharpen him up, much like the trainers of the past used to do with their big horses. Despite the distance and not being 100% fit, he still ran huge, splitting horses along the inside to be beaten a neck by the very fast Bob Baffert-trained Lord Nelson.
Ranked No. 1 on many of the Kentucky Derby lists, a foot abscess knocked him off the Derby trail and sidelined him for five months. He returned with a strong second in the Dwyer Stakes, in which he had to go very wide and couldn’t catch the brilliant newcomer Speightster, the mile run in 1:35 flat. That effort set him up nicely for his victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes, in which he covered the 1 1/8 miles in a sharp 1:48 3/5 and galloped out very strong.
Assistant trainer Julie Clark said Texas Red is not aggressive in the morning, and even in his mile work between races at Santa Anita he wasn’t even blowing afterward. Because of that she had her reservations going into the Jim Dandy, feeling he wasn’t 100% fit and needed another race, even though he had breezed five furlongs at Saratoga in a bullet :59 3/5, fastest of 48 works on the tab. But because he was being pointed for the Travers, she thought it was OK if he got beat again. He not only ran lights out, he still left a lot in the tank, as they say.
“That five-furlong work before the race made us a little nervous,” Clark said. “It’s not his style to have a bullet work, by any stretch, and it drew him up a little bit. But obviously he really needed it.”
One morning recently, Michael Hernon, director of sales for Gainesway Farm, where Afleet Alex stands, came to visit Texas Red.
“He’s sure helped us a lot at the farm,” he said to Clark. “I see he ran a 105 Beyer last time (in the Jim Dandy). I called (clocker) Bruno DeJulio, and I asked him, ‘How’s he been working?’ And he said, ‘One word, awesome.’”
In discussing the colt’s pedigree, Hernon said, “Alex loves Northern Dancer line males. Texas Red picks up two crosses of (Northern Dancer’s son) Nureyev, which gives you inbreeding to the mare Special, and that is part of the allure and maybe part of what gives him some of his ability. Personality-wise, Alex is like a Labrador. He comes out and yawns and is so laid-back. Years ago, a bloodstock agent named Richard Galpin told me he’s bought many horses and he always loved to see a horse yawn. Alex walks into the breeding shed and is like, ‘Oh, yeah, here we are.’ Five minutes later, all the action happens and he’ll breed first time up.”
In many ways, Texas Red has the same demeanor in that it doesn’t matter when you bring him out to train. You can take him out early or late, he couldn’t care.
Gainesway also has another major interest in the Travers, with leading contender Frosted being a son of the remarkable Gainesway stallion Tapit, who unlike Afleet Alex, will come into the breeding shed “on his hind legs,” according to Hernon.
As for taking on American Pharoah, Clark said, “American Pharoah is set. He’s got 3-year-old of the year and probably Horse of the Year locked up. Nothing we do from here on is going to interfere with that. But it would be nice if we could step up and beat him; it sure would cement this horse’s resume. And who knows, the Breeders’ Cup is a long way off for everybody.”
Desormeaux added, “It’s been hectic, but it’s been fun. He’s working great and it’s his third race back, so you couldn’t ask for a better set up. And you don’t need to be a student of pedigree to know he’s going to love the distance. But what’s scary is that I know Baffert, and if there was any hiccup at all, there is no way he would load him on the plane. For him to actually be coming means the horse is in as good a shape as you could ask, and it’s going to take a tall order to try to get him beat.”
American Pharoah’s owner, Ahmed Zayat, said it best on Twitter when he addressed Brehm's son Erich Jr.: “Lets go Pharoah, lets go Texas Red. May the best (horse) win. Good luck and safe trip. With a lot of love and respect. Let's have a blast...if not my horse hope it's your horse.”
If there is one thing that disturbs Desormeaux it is the time and distance recorded by the NYRA clockers in his last work—a half-mile in a sizzling :46 4/5.
“I don’t know if they caught one of Wesley Ward’s sprinters, but that wasn’t Texas Red,” he said. “Both Dave Grening (of the DRF) and I had the same time—six furlongs in 1:13, galloping out in 1:26 and pulling up a mile in 1:39. That half-mile they gave me is not my style. I’m going a mile and a quarter and I’m working a half in :46 and change? That kind of makes me look like an idiot.”
As it turned out, however, the clockers, to their credit, changed the work to six furlongs in 1:13 1/5.
Getting back to Clark, she has been around Texas Red since he joined Desormeaux’s stable at Keeneland last year. They then moved to Arlington Park and then on to Del Mar. She has been with him every day, supervising his training, with Desormeaux spending most of his time with the main string.
“At first he didn’t seem like he had a lot of personality,” she said. “He doesn’t need people, he’s alright on his own, and he’s not one that likes to be pet. He’s no teddy bear by any stretch of the imagination. But it seems as he’s gotten a little older and matured, there’s more personality now that’s coming out. The other day I was washing his webbing. I had a longer rag, and he grabbed one corner. I was washing with one end and he as going back and forth like he was helping. For him, that’s a lot of personality. But if he thinks he can buffalo you he will and he’ll pin his ears and intimidate you.
“I kinda got after him, and now when I go in his stall and just with my finger tell him to get back, he says, ‘no,’ first and then backs up and stomps his feet and pins his ears and acts all mad. But he’ll stay back there until I tell him OK.”
Clark says Texas Red has grown quite a bit, even though his size can be deceiving to some people.
“We always thought he was big as a 2-year-old but he’s grown a ton,” she said. “People say he doesn’t look that big, until you get right up next to him. You bring him out on hard ground, and then you can see how really tall he is. When we gave him some time off I measured him, and I can’t remember exactly how tall he was. But when we brought him back a month later I measured him again and he had grown about an inch and a half to an inch and three-quarters. He loves to eat, sleep, and grow, pretty much in that order.”
Oh, yes, you can add “run” to that, and on Saturday when he faces the seemingly invincible American Pharoah, who knows, you might have to put that one first in the order.
Texas Red, with Millie Harris up, paints a handsome picture
Texas Red is all business in his two-minute lick
Texas Red and assistant Julie Clark have developed a close bond
Another look at the handsome face of Texas Red
Texas Red turns for home in his two-minute lick
One final look at Texas Red in action