A grand occasion

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Brad Grady and Bobby Dodd team up to buy yearlings in the name Grand Oaks every year to pinhook as 2-year-olds, hoping to turn a profit. The two met in 2011 when Grady, a Texas busisnessman, purchased a horse from Dodd, a longtime and respected horseman from Ocala.

These days their relationship goes further than just business.

“Bobby’s honestly like a second father to me, means a lot to me, he really, really does,” Grady said on the verge of tears in the Fair Grounds winner’s circle Saturday after his Tale Of Ekati cold Girvin won the $1 million Louisiana Derby. “He’s a good man, he’s a good horseman, him and Mary Ellen (Coenen) complement each other well at the farm. “He identified this horse well, this horse was never bought to race, he was bought to be sold. He had a minor injury at an awful time for the sale, the horse was going to sell well, do well. Bobby said, ‘Brad we’re not going to get him to the sale, we need to race this horse, we all think a lot of him.’ ”

Bettors also thought a lot of Girvin, bought early at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale for $130,000, and sent him off as the 6-5 favorite for the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. He delivered in New Orleans’ top prep for the Kentucky Derby, winning by 1 1/4 lengths under Brian Hernandez Jr.

After an alert break, Hernandez tucked Girvin in behind eventual third-place finisher Local Hero going into the first turn. While longshot stablemate Hotfoot was carving out the pace down the backstretch, Girvin and Hernandez raced fifth, just to the outside of eventual runner runner-up Patch.

As the field approached the 3/8-pole, Hernandez lightly shook his reins and Girvin started his progression forward. After a left-handed pop at the top of the stretch, Girvin was at the flank of leader Local Hero. Girvin overtook his foe at the eighth-pole and held off a non-threating late run from Patch in the final sixteenth.

Trainer Joe Sharp uttered perhaps the best line of the day when asked how it felt to have one of the top contenders for the May 6 Kentucky Derby.

“It doesn’t feel bad,” Sharp said with a hoarse voice. “He’s a talented horse. We’re enjoying the ride. It’s great connections and a great owner and it has been a real team effort.”

Girvin certainly heads to Louisville with a great team in his corner. In fact, the team Saturday was so large that they had to take the winner’s circle photo on the track.

“Me and Joe started together, I wanted to claim horses and we got into the game together,” Grady said. “He’s a young, astute horseman, one of the best I know. Him and Bobby, they work so well together, Bobby gets them ready for him, they communicate, they talk about them and it’s worked wonders.”

Girvin is out of the unraced Malibu Moon mare Catch The Moon, who is also the dam of Grade 3 winner Cocked And Loaded. The bay colt was born March 31, a day before the date of his Louisiana Derby triumph, and was bred by Bob Austin and John Witte.

While the win photo was heavily populated, Grady’s hometown is quite the opposite.

“Dumbfound luck he got the name, that’s where I’m from, a little town, my family’s ranch is in Girvin, population 11,” Grady said. “It was just weird how it all culminated to this, it’s all meant to be, you know. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Doing right by the horse has certainly payed off for Dodd and Grady.

“When I bought him and was signing the ticket, Beau Lane came and said, ‘you see this pedigree on this horse, he can be any kind of horse, you take care of him.’ So, I just really did take care of him,” Dodd said. “He had a little incident in April where he stepped on his coronet band. We couldn’t sell him and we were getting him ready for Maryland, and I told Brad, ‘we could take this horse to Maryland and he’ll bring $300,000 or $400,000. He’s a good horse, but he’s a really good horse.’ He said, ‘well don’t take him.’ So we gave him four months off and then put him back in training, and he just bloomed.”

Bloomed is an apropos verb to use when describing the relationship between Dodd and Grady.

“I was renting stalls from the McKathan brothers and Brad decided that he wanted to buy a farm. He came down there and bought Gulf Coast Farm in Reddick, Florida. Beautiful place, seven-eighths-mile track, 415 acres, swimming facility, 144 stalls, 11.7 miles of four-board fences,” Dodd said with a big smile. “I was training horses for him on his farm, and paying him rent, then he says, ‘I’m going to hire you.’ Our first year together over there we sold our first big horse, we gave $200,000 for a Malibu Moon (as a yearling), and he brings $1.3 million (as a 2-year old). We got a good team down there on the farm, I’m sure every one of them down there is around a TV right now.”

The team at the farm should keep the TV and remote handy for another viewing party on the first Saturday in May.