Along for the Derby ride with Irish War Cry

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When Irish War Cry made off with the Wood Memorial in April, Ellie Glaccum thought of her great aunt Isabelle de Tomaso and smiled. De Tomaso, 86, had just landed her biggest prize as an owner/breeder while also earning a spot in the Kentucky Derby four weeks in the future.

Representing her aunt along with a small, giddy group of relatives, Glaccum headed to the winner’s circle. Out on the track at Aqueduct, groom Francisco Mundo Garcia collected the colt and handed the shank to Glaccum – who immediately went into defense mode.

“This horse better not bite me,” she told herself. When she heard camera shutters clicking and NYRA’s chief photographer Adam Coglianese instructed her to make a few turns, the mantra changed to “Don’t fall down . . . don’t fall down . . .” Recalling a (very) brief job as a hotwalker for trainer Michael Moran when she was 14, Glaccum made a few left turns, navigated the colt into the winner’s circle and then gladly handed him back to Garcia.

Glaccum is from a horse family. She’s the secretary of the Cheshire Foxhounds, she rode plenty of ponies growing up and her parents Denis and Bambi have been involved in three-day eventing for years. But that’s a long way from handling a colt bound for the Derby. Her chief accomplishment while with Moran involved breaking the lawnmower.  

“I’m not sure I ever led a 3-year-old colt before,” she said. “But I have led many horses, including ones for hunt members who fell off out hunting this past season, and for my father in different capacities. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would lead a Wood Memorial winner, though I have to say that there is definitely something about Irish War Cry that has always made me think anything is possible.”

Anything might happen Saturday as the son of Curlin is part of the field for the $2.4 million Derby. The fourth choice at 6-1 on the morning line – behind Classic Empire, Always Dreaming and McCraken – will break from post 17 of 20. Glaccum will be there, on one of the great thrills of her life.

“I joke that I’m the ultimate hanger on but in actuality I feel incredibly blessed because Aunt Isabelle has been so generous and has made me feel so included,” said Glaccum, who lives in Unionville, Pa. not far from Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. “I’m shallow enough to admit (her small part in the Wood Memorial win) was right behind the births of my children.”

Before all of this, Glaccum had a relatively simple best moment in racing – when she won $2 picking a family friend’s horse named Christmas at a steeplechase meet in 1978.

Move over Christmas.

Because of her proximity to Fair Hill and friendship with trainer Graham Motion and his wife Anita, Glaccum was a regular visitor to the barn this spring when Irish War Cry returned from Florida. Motion trains a handful of horses for de Tomaso and her sister Hope Jones (the latter’s Party Boat won a stakes in New York last month as well). Glaccum, camera in hand, has been able to give her aunts – who live in Florida – some additional access to the horses. Bred in New Jersey, Irish War Cry has deep roots in the Garden State – as do de Tomaso and Jones. Their father, Amory Haskell, was the first president of Monmouth Park and the namesake of the Grade 1 race at the Jersey Shore track.

Haskell owned Woodland Farm in Red Bank, N.J., home to fox hunts, the Monmouth County Hunt steeplechase races (1926-95) and a Thoroughbred breeding program. He bred and raced the champion older mare of 1956, Blue Sparkler, among others.

Deeper family history meanders like a good day of fox hunting with ties to the DuPont Company (Stine-Haskell Research Center in Newark, Del.), General Motors, auto racing, Thoroughbred racing, Delaware politics and – of course – Monmouth Park. Amory Haskell lobbied New Jersey to legalize pari-mutuel wagering and then organized the track’s construction in 1945. He was at the helm until he died in 1966.

His daughter Isabelle inherited a love of racing – equine and automobile. She raced cars (successfully) in the United States, Europe, the Bahamas and other locations. She later married driver Alessandro de Tomaso, who had fled his native Argentina for Italy to escape the regime of President Juan Peron. In 1959 they founded the De Tomaso company, which built high-performance race and sports cars including the Pantera and expanded to include motorcycle builders and automobile holdings such as Maserati, Ghia and others.

Glaccum heard the stories growing up, but didn’t really know her great aunt well until after Alessandro died in 2003.

“She was a legend in our family but I only have whispery memories of her as a child as she lived in Italy,” Glaccum said. “William and Isobel, my mother’s younger siblings who are closer to my age, would go to Italy for two weeks every August with my grandmother (Anne Haskell Ellis) to visit Aunt Isabelle and Uncle Al. These trips stand out in my memory mostly because I was sad when they left but they always came home bearing gifts including De Tomaso and Maserati swag which I would proudly display on my notebooks at school.”

Glaccum has never driven a Pantera, but did get a 1986 Maserati BiTurbo Spyder from her grandmother. Silver, tan interior, a little bit mysterious, the car served Glaccum for years. She thought she was cool.

Racehorses were never far from the picture and Glaccum remembers plenty of days at Monmouth Park with her grandmother and Aunt Hope to watch LOTSOC Stable (Long On Tradition Short on Cash) horses run. Glaccum does not remember a winner’s circle photo, though she does recall watching Irish War Cry’s sire Curlin win the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Isabelle and Hope at Monmouth in 2007.

It all feels meant to be now as de Tomaso (with the help of her sister Jones) sent the mare Irish Sovereign to Curlin in 2013. The stallion had yet to catapult into the $150,000 fee he demands now.

“Aunt Isabelle lets Aunt Hopey do all of her calls and deals with the breeding stuff,” said Glaccum. “Curlin was 25 (thousand) that year and she probably tried to barter it down from there. Aunt Isabelle says she couldn’t afford him now.”

Irish War Cry’s stallion future is already secured with a deal announced this week by Kentucky’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm and several partners. De Tomaso, and her family, will continue to manage the horse’s racing career – with great joy

“Aunt Isabelle cares, really cares,” said Glaccum. “When Graham calls her, she says ‘What’s wrong?’ which is such a trainer answer. She loves it. It’s been a lot of fun. The men in the family tend to have been very anti-horse – they’re more into cars – but they have no leg to stand on now. Never in anyone’s wildest dreams did we think we’d be here.”