For most athletes, a career ending injury can leave them wondering what to do for the next stage of their life. For Hannah Mathiesen, it led her family on the adventure of a lifetime.
Mathiesen, who spent years going to Del Mar to watch the races, was injured playing volleyball at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and decided to join the Thoroughbred Enterprise program while looking for a new hobby. That led to a journey that saw her family’s Nadal win Saturday’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and a runner in Australia’s Group 1 Golden Slipper next weekend.
“I’d always loved animals and loved athletics and I thought [Thoroughbred Enterprise] combined the two so it’d be a good option for me,” she said. “With all the hands-on care of the horses and a lecture a few times a week about nutrition and pedigrees and all that, I just fell in love with it. We got a bit more involved at Del Mar that summer, going to morning works and stuff like that. We ended up buying 5 percent of a syndicate horse from West Point [Thoroughbreds in 2015] and it just went on from there.”
Mathiesen’s new obsession led to her taking the leap to work in Australia with Ciaron Maher Racing in 2018. It was during her time down under that she had a fortuitous conversation with Kerri Radcliffe during the 2019 Magic Millions Gold Coast yearling sale.
The conversation led to discussions about purchasing a filly to chase the Women’s Syndicate bonus Magic Millions offers during its races with the hopes they could make it back to the Magic Millions 2-Year-Old Classic in 2020.
Early in the third session of the sale, they purchased just the right filly with Radcliffe winning a bidding war to buy a $425,000 Snitzel daughter later named Away Game. Joining the stable of Maher and co-trainer David Eustace, Away Game bloomed and won a stakes in her second start.
The filly lived up to expectations in the 2-Year-Old Classic in her next start when winning by 1 3/4 lengths only a week before Nadal made his impressive winning debut.
“It was incredible,” she said. “Just to see all the pieces come into place and obviously in horse racing, there’s so many things that can go wrong along the way. [Winning the 2-Year-Old Classic] was super special, I had my whole family there and friends and since I worked with the team at Ciaron’s, that made it so much more special … It was a good start to 2020 and we figured we had two pretty good prospects on our hands. They’ve gone on to train on well and have done well since those first performances so it’s very exciting.”
That week in January was just the tip of the iceberg with both horses going on to win graded stakes in February and put themselves on the trail to their respective big races. While Away Game will reach the pinnacle of 2-year-old racing in Australia next weekend in the Golden Slipper, Nadal still has a few more steps.
Coming into the Grade 2 Rebel undefeated, Nadal showed his grit matches his talent in the mud at Oaklawn Park. Pushed throughout punishing opening fractions, the colt had to hold off a late charging Excession to win the race by three-quarters of a length.
The family couldn’t attend the race but that didn’t dull the excitement they felt watching the colt quickly become one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby.
“It would have made it better to be there but just to win a race like that, he had won the sprint races and we thought he could stretch out, but you never know until they do it,” she said. “Then having the horse on the outside pushing him the whole way to go 46 for the half mile is just insane. So it just kind of proved what a tough horse he is and how talented he is.”
For Mathiesen, it was beyond her wildest dreams to imagine having horses in the Golden Slipper and the Kentucky Derby – especially in the same year – but it’s an adventure she’s happy to take.
“They both have that grit and determination that you need in a racehorse,” she said. “Every question that we’ve asked them, they’ve answered. Away Game has been able to run all these big races and she’s headed to the Golden Slipper so just to see them be able to find more and keep fighting in those big races is pretty amazing.
“It’s crazy, I could have never imagined that, first of all, we’d be running in both of those races and second of all to have it happen in the same year and the span of a couple months between it. We’re just enjoying the ride and pinching ourselves.”
While it will be hard to top the first few months of 2020, the Mathiesens still have plenty of optimism given their current and future stars.
The stable includes the Bob Baffert-trained Dodger, who is nearing his 2020 debut, while in Australia they’re already looking forward to next season’s 2-year-old races with an I Am Invincible filly out of Anatina, who Mathiesen says is already receiving top grades during her early training.
Trainer of the Week: No horsemen will approach this year’s Kentucky Derby with more confidence than Bob Baffert, who unleashed another impressive 3-year-old in Charlatan just minutes after Nadal won the Rebel.
Making his second start, Charlatan looked like he was out for a paid workout when winning an optional claimer by 10 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita Park. A $700,000 yearling, Charlatan has won his first two starts by a combined 16 lengths. While there hasn’t been any talk about Charlatan’s next start, his first two races have been on a similar schedule to Justify whose only Triple Crown prep start came in the Santa Anita Derby.
Currently with three horses in the top 20 in points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, Baffert also won last week’s Grade 2 San Felipe while his previously undefeated Thousand Words finished fourth in the race. Baffert also has El Camino Real Derby winner Azul Coast on the Kentucky Derby trail while his Grade 1 winner Eight Rings (owned by the same connections as Authentic and Charlatan) is working toward a 2020 debut.
Sire Of The Week: Sally’s Curlin, winner of Saturday’s Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie at Gulfstream Park, led a big weekend for Curlin when she was one of two stakes winners for the top stallion. The 4-year-old filly was joined by Arrifana, who won the Nellie Morse Stakes at Laurel Park in her seasonal debut. Curlin also sired winners Thursday and Friday and added additional blacktype when Mylady Curlin finished second in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes behind Serengeti Empress.
Horse to Watch: It would be easy to put Rebel Stakes second Excession here after the Union Rags colt nearly ran down Nadal after closing quickly but Bourbonette Oaks second Pass The Plate gets the nod.
The filly is still searching for a stakes victory but has placed in her last two attempts and was flying home from the back of the field late in the 1-mile race. Pass The Plate didn’t seem to appreciate the synthetic kickback, settling into a better rhythm in the stretch once she got some clear running room when switching to inside winner Queen Of God.
A daughter of Temple City, it won’t be surprising to see Pass The Plate head to the turf where she’ll be an interesting runner with her breeding and late kick.
Quote of the Week: “I loved him last year when I first rode him when he was a maiden. He’s a special animal. I can’t wait until he learns how to run. He’s kind of a big dummy, but I had the exact trip I wanted. I wish I would have had a clear trip, but he ran his heart out.” – Tyler Baze on Excession.
To those a bit offended on the horse’s behalf after he was called a dummy, take solace that Baze doesn’t seem willing to give up the mount any time soon.
Bits and Pieces: Following Pennsylvania’s racing shutting down Sunday amid the Coronavirus, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that Laurel Park and Pimlico are to close for an indefinite amount of time as of midnight Monday. They were followed by New Mexico’s governor asking Sunland Park to close, cancelling this year’s Sunland Derby. … Field Plan earned 20 points toward the Kentucky Derby when winning the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks Saturday at Turfway, though he has not yet been nominated for the Triple Crown. … Ce Ce is the newest Grade 1 winner of the year after she pulled a minor upset in Saturday’s Beholder Mile, upsetting heavy favorite Hard Not To Love. … On a weekend of uncertainty regarding the Kentucky Derby, last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress earned her first win since the Oaks when winning the Grade 2 Azeri as a prep for the Apple Blossom.