Matt: I'm pleased to introduce a new contributor to the site, Jared L. Christopher. In the past six months the site added TF Tribe and JP Fanshawe as authors. TF Tribe provides a great look at the pedigree and ownership side of the sport, while JP Fanshawe is our handicapping contest and wagering strategy guru. Jared Christopher will primarily provide in-depth profiles on a variety of subjects. Below is his first contribution to the site, a fantastic profile of three-year-old Creative Cause, and his trainer Mike Harrington. You can also follow Jared on Twitter @thederbytrail.
Mike Harrington has been around racehorses for over half a century, longer than most of his peers have been alive.
The self-effacing, blue-collar cowboy from Southern California by way of Bend, Oregon was born in 1941. Like his father and grandfather before him, Harrington quickly found himself more at home around horses than people. Racing and training Quarter Horses at fair grounds and bush tracks would eventually lead to a career as a licensed veterinarian, practicing at various racetracks while still maintaining a small barn of runners.
In 1993 Harrington made a leap of faith and left his veterinarian practice to train full time. His most successful horse was Swiss Yodeler out of the Damascus line and owned by Harrington’s primary employer, Heinz Steinmann. "The Yodeler" won five Graded Stakes races as a two-year-old in 1996. Eventually retiring with lifetime earnings of $761,442, he would go on to establish himself as one of California’s preeminent sires. Another two-year-old star for Harrington was Buck Trout who became the first maiden winner of the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes.
Although the horses have been good to Harrington over the years (his horses have earned just north of $14 million over his career), he’s yet to have a truly great horse walk into his barn. One that has the talent to change his life; his "big horse". So when a gray two-year-old colt by Giant’s Causeway stepped off the plane last March, Harrington whose 70th birthday was one month away, went about his business as usual having no idea his greatest birthday present had just arrived.
Creative Cause entered the world on April 6, 2009. His dam, Dream of Summer, a six-time stakes winner, was owned and bred by James C. Weigel. Consigned by the Taylor Made Sales Agency at the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling sale and entered in Book 1 with the other top prospects, Creative Cause wasn’t getting much interest from the big spenders. That’s when Taylor Made’s people approached Becky Thomas, a highly regarded pinhooker and founder of Sequel Bloodstock.
"Frankly, I got lucky," said Thomas. "One of the Taylor Made consignors stepped in and asked me if I had looked at their Book 1 horses. Up until that point my focus was Book 2 (the second tier of the sale) because as a pinhooker I have to look for value, but apparently they were a little apprehensive about a few of their horses. They knew where I wanted to be (financially) and showed me a few horses that they thought might fall into my price range. So I took a look at them, and one of them was a gray Giant’s Causeway colt."
Her Sequel Bloodstock stands Freud, New York’s leading sire of Grade 1 winners. He also happens to be a full brother to Giant’s Causeway. So Thomas, intimately familiar with the pedigree, knew she was looking at a quality horse.
Later that evening Thomas signed a $135,000 sales ticket for the colt. She had bought herself a Book 1 horse at Book 2 prices.
Five months later down at her Ocala, Florida training facility, the gray colt was starting to make a name for himself showing signs of what he could be.
"Most two-year-olds don’t eat up the ground the way this horse did," Thomas said.
According to Thomas the young horse was full of personality.
"From the barn all the way to the track, he would rear up and play with his lead pony, acting like a "pickle-head", but once he got on the track, all the playing was over. He trained like a man every day, and he would do everything you asked of him. But as soon as we left the track, he would act up all the way back to the barn."
Back in California, Swiss Yodeler had just turned 16 years old. Mr. Steinmann called Harrington, his longtime trainer, and told him he thought it was time they found another "Yodeler".
"Mr. Steinmann told me to find three two-turn horses," said Harrington, "so that’s what I set out to do."
Harrington flew down to attend the Fasig Tipton sale at Palm Meadows in Miami. He managed to find a few good prospects but had trouble finding a third horse that fit the two-turn description he was seeking. That’s when he ran into Becky Thomas whom he had met many years ago at a Barett’s sale.
"I had scratched several horses out of the Tipton sale and one of them was Creative Cause (because of a minor suspensory issue)," said Thomas. "Mike asked me what I had at home because I didn’t have anything but fillies there. I told him about a (Medaglia d’Oro) colt I had and about an Indian Charlie colt, and then I told him about the Giant’s Causeway colt. Creative Cause is out of Siberian Summer out of Siberian Express, which is a California horse. He knew the mare, and he said ‘Well what about that colt’. I told him that he was very nice but that he needed a little more time."
The two parted ways and agreed to talk at a later date, but Harrington couldn’t stop thinking about the Giant’s Causeway colt.
At the end of the sale, he approached Thomas and asked her once more if she really liked the horse. Becky reiterated her high opinion of the colt and told him she had the horse entered in the upcoming Keeneland sale for two-year-old’s in training.
That’s when Harrington dropped the bomb. "Well, put him on the van and send him down here, and I’ll take him!" recalls Becky. "I was really nervous! I had never sold a horse this way before, sight unseen. I thought it over and remembered we had some horses going out to the Barretts sale in California, so I said, ‘Let me train him a bit more and then I will send him out with the horses we send out there.’"
After a quick terms discussion, Harrington agreed to the slight delay and flew back to California with his other two purchases. His birthday present, a precocious, gray two-year-old Giant’s Causeway colt, would follow him home a few weeks later.
Harrington went right to work on the colt upon his arrival.
"He was a high energy horse. He wasn’t ornery, but he was full of himself. Physically, he looked like a three-year-old when I started running him as a two-year-old."
Harrington planned to wait a bit to start the horse but Creative Cause had other ideas. His works at the track started taking a more aggressive turn, and Harrington felt the horse needed a race even if he was a little green. The horse was entered in a five-furlong sprint at Hollywood Park on July 16.
Coming out of the number 1 post, Creative Cause went straight to the lead and never looked back being hand ridden all the way by jockey Rafael Bejarano. His win by nearly five lengths earned him a Beyer of 98, the highest for any two-year-old up to that point.
Now confident that his horse was up to the challenge, Harrington entered him in the 6 ½ furlong Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, a race Swiss Yodeler had won in 1996. This time, Bejarano was able to rate the young colt for the first half of the race stalking the front-runners. As the horses made the turn for home, Bejarano gave him his head and Creative Cause exploded down the stretch, cruising, once again under a hand ride, to a near two-length victory. His time of 1:15.62 was the fastest Best Pal in over 14 years.
Mike Harrington had himself a Stakes horse.
Exactly one month later, Harrington and his horse were headed to the starting gate in the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity. With the winner of the Futurity automatically qualifying for the Breeders Cup Juvenile, Harrington and owner Heinz Steinmann were prepared to find out just how good their horse really was.
Creative Cause went off as the favorite at 9-10 against a field of tough contenders headlined by Drill, an unbeaten Bob Baffert trained son of Lawyer Ron, who was being ridden by Martin Garcia. Baffert, winner of nine Del Mar Futurity’s in a 14-year span, was looking for his 10th.
The horses all had a clean break from the starting gate as they headed into the backstretch. Unfortunately for Creative Cause, that would be the only thing clean about the race as he was forced to go wide for much of the backstretch. Drill, on the other hand, rode the rail for most of the race.
As the horses turned for home, Bejarano loosened his grip on the reins and signaled to his horse to go. Creative Cause responded just as he had in his previous two races, accelerating around the turn and zeroing in on the leaders for the final furlong stretch drive.
As the gray colt made his move, Majestic City, who had almost been scratched before the race because of a minor colic issue, drifted out and bumped Creative Cause causing him to be thrown off balance. Creative Cause regained his stride and worked farther outside to get around the veering Majestic City.
Meanwhile Drill and Garcia found themselves pinched in on the rail and were forced to drop back and attempt to go wide around the trouble ahead.
With a tired Majestic City on his inside and a fresh and driving Drill on his outside, Creative Cause made his final effort. But just when he appeared clear, once again, Majestic City went wide and banged into Creative Cause with only a furlong to go. This time Creative Cause was pushed way off course and thrown into the oncoming Drill.
Drill shifted his weight and continued home but for Creative Cause, the damage had been done. Drill crossed the finish line as the clear victor with Majestic City and Creative Cause finishing second and third respectively.
A steward’s inquiry on the stretch run held up the official results. Minutes later they ruled in favor of Creative Cause resulting in the disqualification of Majestic City from second to third place with Creative Cause being officially moved to second.
Harrington had planned to run Creative Cause three weeks after the Futurity in the Norfolk Stakes, a Grade 1 race run at 1 1/16 miles. This would be the first time Creative Cause would be asked to go more than a mile as well as his first trip to Santa Anita.
"He got pretty banged up in the (Del Mar Futurity)," said Harrington. "I wasn’t sure if I was going to run him for awhile after that."
With his mount uncertain, Bejarano accepted a call to ride a horse for none other than Bob Baffert in a race on the east coast. Harrington was forced to find a new jockey for his horse if in fact he chose to run him in the Norfolk at all.
Joel Rosario, one of the nation’s top jockeys by earnings in 2011, happened to have an opening and Harrison quickly filled the void left by Bejarano. Rosario had never ridden the horse, but he had worked for Harrington in the past.
As the date of the Norfolk neared and it became apparent that Creative Cause had no long-term effects from the run in with Majestic City, Harrington made the decision to start him in the race.
On Oct. 1, the horses loaded into the starting gate, Creative Cause in the fifth postposition, his adversary, Drill immediately to his right in post five. Creative Cause pawed at the ground, visually more aggressive than in any of his other races. One could assume he knew who was to his right and was anxious to prove himself.
As the gates sprung open the horses shot toward the first turn. Mike Smith, aboard front-running Ruler of Dubai took the lead with Creative Cause tucked neatly at his hip in second. Drill, once again, worked his way down to the rail and settled in the third position. This was to be a long race for the young horses and the jockeys knew if they were to have anything left underneath them down the stretch, they would have to get them to rate.
Ruler of Dubai continued to lead around the first turn and into the backstretch, running easily, ears pricked. Creative Cause, though, was under a strangle hold by Rosario. The colt wanted more rein but the veteran jockey refused to give it to him.
As the horses entered the final turn, still under a tight hold, Creative Cause managed to draw up alongside Ruler of Dubai. Martin Garcia saw what was happening up ahead and watched as any room to run on the rail quickly vanished. He prompted Drill to slip around the outside of Creative Cause and Drill responded, cruising alongside his rival.
That was all Rosario needed to see. He let go of his hold giving Creative Cause his head and the colt bounded away leaving Drill and the rest of the field in his wake. He hit the wire in 1:42.66, three lengths ahead of the lagging Drill.
With the win Creative Cause was headed to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as the West Coast’s best two-year-old horse.
Although this would be his first race out of state, Creative Cause would have his best friend by his side as Harrington sent his groom, Guadalupe Vasquez to stay with him at all times.
The Breeders' Cup Juvenile would be run at 1 1/16 miles just as the Norfolk. Only this time Creative Cause would face a field of horses that included two other unbeaten two-year-olds.
Union Rags, a strapping Dixie Union colt out of the mare Tempo, by the famed Gone West, had won his first three starts in impressive fashion. Preferring to come off the pace with an explosive stretch run, all eyes were on him the morning of the race.
The other unbeaten colt was a nearly all white horse by Tapit out of Stormy Sunday by Sir Cat. The ghost-white Hansen had won his only two races leading wire to wire in an all out sprint.
Creative Cause, who preferred to sit just off the pace, would be forced to keep himself from trying to chase the speedy Hansen while preserving enough energy to withstand the certain stretch drive from the powerful Union Rags.
As the gates flew open, Hansen, as expected, raced to the lead. Creative Cause settled nicely into third behind Speightscity and the pair followed the leader around the first turn running the opening quarter in 23.26 seconds.
Union Rags was forced to go outside around the first turn. Coming out of the number ten position, he was as far as four wide at one point.
Down the backstretch Speightscity tired from the hot pace set by Hansen and Creative Cause edged by to take hold of second. As the horses made the far turn, Union Rags was forced to make his move a little early. From far outside, the big colt lunged around the turn passing horses with every stride.
At the front, Hansen’s margin started to slip as Creative Cause was given the reins and the three horses set off down the stretch in a tight group, headed for the finish line.
At one point jockey Javier Castellano went to the whip on Union Rags and as he switched hands and struck him on left flank, the horse appeared to shy away and drift slightly wide. Castellano promptly compensated for the move and drove the horse back towards the rail and Creative Cause. With the door closed and nowhere to go, Creative Cause slowed.
With Union Rags driving from the outside, Hansen, still hugging the rail, gamely matched him stride for stride holding the lead just long enough to cross the wire a nose in front.
But a closer look at the final furlong reveals the third horse. Creative Cause was there all along, wedged in between the front running Hansen and the surging favorite, Union Rags. No were to go but still game, he crossed the wire one length back of his rivals.
After the horses slowed and were circled back, groom Guadalupe Vasquez was the first to grab his friend’s reins and lead him off the track. Harrington, while disappointed, was happy with his horse.
"He certainly was trying, I thought for a second we were going to win." Harrington said.
Only two winners in the history of the Breeders Cup Juvenile have gone on to win a single Triple Crown race.
On Monday night Creative Cause will finish third once again, but this time there will be no running, and he will have no say. The 2011 Eclipse Award for Champion Two-Year-Old Male will likely go to the stark white Hansen in a photo finish over foe Union Rags based largely on their dueling stretch drive in the Juvenile.
"I can understand why they’re getting all the publicity," said Harrington. "That’s certainly fine with me, we’d prefer to fly under the radar as much as possible."
When asked about the prospect of running the horse in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, Harrington had this to say:
"Mr. Steinmann and I had a little talk about that the other day and I don’t even like to talk Derby at this time of year. I think it is way premature but he said ‘We are not going unless we’ve got a good shot. We aren’t going to take the horse and run him in it just to be running in the Derby.’
"He’s got a lot more left in him," said Harrington. "He has to if he’s going to be the horse I want him to be, the horse I believe he can be. I think he’s going to be a good three-year-old, but is he going to be a Derby horse … I don’t know. We will have to wait and see what 2012 brings."
Creative Cause is pointed towards the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 19 where he will likely face his old rival, Drill.
While Mike Harrington’s sentiment for "The Yodeler" runs deep, he is very proud of his "big horse".
"Swiss Yodeler was a very good horse. He won five races for me as a two-year-old, but Creative Cause, he’s the best horse I’ve ever had."