Every once in awhile a great one comes along. And while the best of them are often measured by the grit and determination they show in defeat instead of in victory, so to, are they more appreciated once they leave this earth.
We say this with the passing of the legendary Giant’s Causeway, a wonder in flight and a legend at stud, who left us April 16 at age 21 at Ashford Stud.
We can only claim to have seen him race once—his racing finale—in the 10th start of his 3-year-old year in late 2000, a scintillating Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs. But we hung on his every accomplishment during the summer of that year through reports from our European correspondent Robert Henwood.
“He’s inclined to play with horses…he lets them come to him and goes again,” trainer Aidan O’Brien told Henwood, who more than once described Giant’s Causeway as “wet below his saddlecloth” before his starts.
Giant’s Causeway was on his way to being dubbed the “Iron Horse.” After a pair of second-place finishes in the classic Sagitta Two Thousand Guineas (G1) and Entenmanns Irish Two Thousand Guineas (G1), he rattled off five consecutive group 1 victories from June 20 to Sept. 9—that’s a span of 12 weeks.
“Giant’s Causeway thrives on a punishing schedule and continues to put on weight,” Henwood observed.
Giant’s Causeway defeated The Aga Khan’s Kalanisi twice during his streak. Kalanisi proved his place on the world stage by scoring in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T), the race before Giant’s Causeway’s battle with Tiznow under the Twin Spires.
His five wins—at the time the record for consecutive group 1 wins in Europe was six set by Mill Reef over two seasons—came to an end in a half-length defeat to Observatory in Ascot’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1) Sept. 23.
Giant’s Causeway’s run that fall in the Classic remains the stuff of legend. Watching replays reminds us that NBC came along with an innovative camera angle to follow the action the length of the stretch that year, which showed the determined battle between the 3-year-olds. Tiznow held by a neck.
Our Steve Haskin said:
“Here they were, two of the most rugged horses seen in America and Europe in years, battling to the wire, their courage and will to win tested for the first time by a foe of equal character and tenacity. Something had to give.
“Both horses reached back for everything they had. Still neither would crack. Giant’s Causeway was relentless and continued to battle back on near-equal terms.”
But of course, that’s not the end of the story. Giant’s Causeway, after one season in Ireland, moved to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Woodford County, Ky., as his homebase (he did shuttle to Australia and Argentina). An “Iron Horse” marketing campaign, with him running alongside a locomotive, was clever but not necessary once his runners began proving themselves on the track. Prolific in the breeding shed with 2,028 Northern Hemisphere foals and 521 Southern Hemisphere foals, he also bred class, siring 197 stakes winners (behind only Danehill, Sadler’s Wells, Galileo, and Danzig all-time). He led the North American sires list three times and was a two-time leader of the 2-year-old sires list. Giant’s Causeway’s progeny earnings have topped $165 million…coming without the good fortune of a mega-earning horse and without a classic winner in the U.S. But it’s not the end of the story just yet.
With the classic season upon us, we do note a pair of likely runners in the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) have close ties to the “Iron Horse.” My Boy Jack, winner of the Southwest Stakes (G3) and Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3), is a son of Giant’s Causeway’s Creative Cause (classic-placed in 2012), and the grade 1-winning Free Drop Billy is out of a daughter of Giant’s Causeway. In addition, Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Magnum Moon’s second dam is by Giant’s Causeway.
Perhaps there will be a nugget of iron among the roses.