After being stood up by a young trainer who had actually scheduled a Stable Tour Thursday morning, The Special had to scramble.
Tom Law and Sean Clancy rolled up to Barclay Tagg’s barn late Thursday morning and looked at each other.
“If he won’t do it, we’re in trouble,” Law said.
Clancy climbed out his golf cart, “He’ll do it.”
Sometimes a scramble turns into a bonanza.
In four years of doing the Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour, a member of The Special has always made sure to walk down Barclay Tagg’s shedrow with the trainer or his assistant Robin Smullen. This year, it was bonus time as Tagg and Smullen took Clancy on a tour of their main barn and around to Ralph Nicks’ barn where they have three horses stabled on the main track.
As always, the barn focuses on quality rather than quantity with a typical cast of Bonner Young homebreds, Chuck Fipke’s homebreds, a couple of promising New York-breds and a handful of shrewd yearling and 2-year-old purchases by Tagg.
By the end of the conversation, the tape had run one hour, three minutes and 47 seconds. The conversation had bounced from Tagg’s Spinaway starter to when Tagg had to beg for stalls from racing secretary Larry Abbundi in Maryland to long ago steeplechaser Gaddo to riding timber races with Hall of Famer Joe Aitcheson to stories about iconic trainers Ben and Jimmy Jones.
As always, it was a treat.
Im The Captain Now: Purchased by Tagg for $15,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale in 2015, the son of Trappe Shot won an allowance on the turf here Aug. 5 to push his earnings to nearly $200,000 for Sure Thing Stable. Tagg: “He’s the greatest.” Smullen: “It took him 10 starts to break his maiden and then he won his a other than three starts later.” Tagg: “I bought him at Kentucky yearling sale for $15,000, I was prepared to go higher, but it didn’t go any higher. Just a little, long-bodied horse, with a great ass end, which I liked. Trappe Shot was brand new, he’s a son of Tapit, I said, ‘I can’t afford a Tapit but I might be able to afford a Trappe Shot.’ He stops at $15,000 and I led him home. He’s been a champ. He’s little, he’s handy, he’ll go all day, he’s absolutely tireless.” Smullen: “Then he kept getting beat by stake horses, Yoshida, Rocketry.” Tagg: “You’re running in a maiden race in New York you’ve got the best-bred animals around. He got a bad injury in his second race, he sliced his hind leg, it opened up like a glove. We missed a year. The Vetrap was sheered right off, it looked like somebody took a precision instrument and cut it. The bandage was completely gone, there was one piece of tape, that’s all. Dr. Kristian Rhein looked at it, he got down on his hands and knees and looked at it, he said, ‘Put him in the stall.’ I said, ‘You don’t want to send him to the clinic?’ He said, ‘No, let me get my tools.’ He put that leg on a bucket and went to work, stitched the whole thing up, the inside and then the outside. It was amazing.”
Realm: Another shrewd purchase by Tagg, the Virginia-bred son of Haynesfield cost $75,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2014 Eastern Fall Yearling Sale. He’s earned $350,000 for Eric Dattner, Harry Astarita and Tagg. The bay gelding won the Alydar Stakes here Aug. 5. Smullen: “You’ve got to love those Virginia-breds, you win a race and they send that money right to you.” Tagg: “He’s turned out to be a nice horse. He was third in the Cigar Mile as a 3-year-old. He had a problem in his right rib cage, he was standing on the wash board after a race at Gulfstream, you know when they stand while they’re washed and then they get stiff and then they show lameness if they’re going to. He picked his leg up and couldn’t move.” Smullen: “We thought he broke his shoulder and then in about 10 seconds, he walked off fine. They think something pinched him in his neck. We thought about going in the Woodward but there were so many horses, he doesn’t like the inside, so you have to work your way outside to make your run, 13 horses, forget it. We’ll go to the Kelso.” Tagg: “I’d like to try the Cigar Mile again, he ran well in it but he ran like a immature horse, he loves Aqueduct.”
Highland Sky: Bred by longtime Tagg client Bonner Young and owned by her, Gerald McManis and Jerrie Stewart, the son of Sky Mesa has bankrolled $581,222 in 19 races. He won a tough allowance at Belmont Park in June before finishing fifth in the Bowling Green and fifth again in the Sword Dancer this summer. Tagg: “Joe Hirsch, that’s what I want to do, if that doesn’t work, we’ll start over.” Smullen: “If he gets pace in front of him, he’s going to run his race.”
Firery Tale: Chuck Fipke homebred finished seventh in his debut here Aug. 18. The 2-year-old son of Tale Of Ekati, who Tagg trained to win more than $1 million, ran into the likes of Code Of Honor and Wild Medagliad’oro in a hot maiden on Alabama Saturday. Tagg: “We were conceding that he’s probably a turf horse. He had a really good work (on the dirt) and I said maybe he’s coming around.” Smullen: “He breezes well, but he didn’t run the other day, we’ll start him once more on the dirt and then we’ll probably have to go to the turf because his mother won on the Polytrack.”
Sir Frost: Owned by John Murrell and Hayward Pressman, 3-year-old New York-bred son of Frost Giant has made two starts for Tagg, finishing seventh in his most recent start here Aug. 8. Tagg: We just picked up these people, Carl Domino was nice enough to talk all his owners into coming to us. Wonderful people.” Smullen: “They’re looking to get more horses. We claimed a filly for them that’s OK. They love their horses and love the game.”
Ghosting: Daughter of Ghostzapper graduated the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Sale last year and the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old sale this year. Beautiful dark bay filly bites at Tagg, Smullen, anybody near her. Tagg goes in the stall and shows her off. Smullen: “She’s owned by Eric Dattner, he’s been very lucky, he owned Confrontation. Barclay bought this filly for him. She’s going to be a late developer. Tagg: “We’ve been slow with her, we haven’t pushed on her because she’s so big.”
Cassie’s Dreamer: A rare claim by Tagg, the daughter of Flatter attracted the attention of Rusty Jones’ Turf Stable Racing and Hayward Pressman, who ponied up $50,000 to claim her from her debut here Aug. 3. Sent off favorite, she drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths. She’s entered in Saturday’s Grade 1 Spinaway. Smullen: “They picked her out on paper and said, ‘Are you against claiming a 2-year-old? If you like this filly, we’re going to drop the slip.’ ” Tagg: “Well, I said, ‘Let me watch her walk down the gauntlet, between all those people.’ Big, good-looking filly, she didn’t turn a hair. They picked her out on pedigree or something. She just won easy and we thought, ‘How lucky did we get?’ ” Smullen: “She does everything right, she really feels good underneath you. She’s really classy.” Tagg: “I’m guessing 30 years ago since I claimed one, for Chris Elser’s father at Laurel, maybe Bowie, in Maryland.”
Dearly Declared: Sackatoga Stable purchased the New York-bred filly for $90,000 at the Fasig-Tipton New York-bred yearling sale last year. Smullen: “She’s a big girl, by Declaration Of War. She was just about ready to run but she got a temperature, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. She’ll be second book at Belmont. She’s going to breeze out of the gate for the first time (Friday). She’s done everything right so far, we worked her on the grass but she didn’t work as good as we hoped, that’s fine, she’s a half-sister to (multiple stakes winner) Saratoga Snacks, if she wants the dirt, that’s fine.”
Niko’s Dream: Two-year-old daughter of Central Banker finished fourth in her debut here Monday. She walked around the outside walking ring and Tagg made sure to take off her blanket and show off the chestnut filly. Tagg: “We hardly ever run 2-year-olds until fall.” Smullen: “We were pushing, pushing, pushing, she was really bad in the gate, she was trying to climb up, out, she was trying to go under, she was up against the sides, finally, she broke and she was 20 behind the leader, maybe 6 behind the last horse. She’s still last turning for home and came flying down the middle of the turf course and finished fourth.”
Verve’s Tale: The big mare. Owned and bred by Fipke, the daughter of Tale Of Ekati finished third in the Shuvee, improving her earnings to $568,400. Smullen: “She just got beat in the stake, she came down the stretch, kind of got bumped, just enough to stop her forward momentum. She’s going to run in the Beldame.”
Dr. Edgar: The hard-luck horse at the meet, 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky won a turf allowance but was disqualified for drifting out. Tagg and Smullen are trying not to dwell on the controversial call. Smullen: “He got the wrong end of the stick, he doesn’t know he got beat, he’s a cool horse to be around.” Tagg: “We had three wins, four would have been made a very nice meet for us and they took him down.”
Ferdinanda: Virginia-bred 3-year-old filly owns two wins from nine starts for the William Backer Revocable Trust. Daughter of Giant’s Causeway finished seventh in the Riskaverse last week. Tagg: “I love this filly.” Smullen: “She tries so hard, she’s an overachiever. She likes Gulfstream. She got beat a dirty, rotten nose there. Temperamental. Very temperamental, she’s so tough to ride, you’re standing up, you’re jiggling, this pulley, that pulley, every stride is something different because if you just sit, she’s gone.” Tagg: “She’s just a trooper, no matter what we throw at her, she’s dancing the next morning.”
Hy Sweet Girl: Purchased for $50,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky February Mixed Sale in 2016, the 3-year-old daughter of Violence looks out Nicks’ big back window toward Tagg’s main barn. Smullen: “She has taken a long time, she has some knee issues, they said you’re going to have to go real slow if you’re going to get to the races.” Tagg: “She’ll be all right.”
Brucia La Terra: Selected by Tagg and purchased by Bill Ferrone for $20,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2017 Eastern Fall Yearling Sale, the Maryland-bred daughter of El Padrino won her debut impressively here Aug. 12. As three visitors showed up Thurday morning, the imposing bay filly hopped in the air and pinned her ears at the intrusion. Tagg: “The only thing I faulted her on was she was a little light in her cannon bone. At the very end we had two or three we were going to bid on and Bill said, ‘Can we go back and look at that filly again?’ She grew out of that, she looks like she has the right legs for her body. I was surprised we bought her for 20, in that sale, she stood out a little bit I thought.” Smullen: “She’s the star. She doesn’t look like a star, but she’s a star. The filly she beat came back and just got beat a head in her second start. We thought she would run well, we took her over and breezed her on the turf and we kept saying to Bill that we were going to try to her on the turf. He said, ‘Barclay, you know I don’t like going against you and I won’t go against you, but she has zero turf pedigree.’ She loved the turf, that’s why we put her in on the turf, then when it came off, we decided to run her anyway because she has no turf pedigree. I guess she’ll run in the Frizette.”