Brad Grady’s Girvin, who won the Louisiana Derby (GII) at Fair Grounds, will head to Louisville as one of the top contenders for this year’s Kentucky Derby (GI). However, the Joe Sharp-trained son of Tale of Ekati has some history going against him, as only two winners of the Louisiana Derby have ever worn the blanket of roses under the Twin Spires, the first being Black Gold in 1924 and the last being Grindstone in 1996.
Grindstone was retired a few days after his nose victory over Cavonnier in the Derby and was sent to owner W.T. Young’s Overbrook Farm near Lexington where he stood at stud until 2009. In 2009, five years after Young passed away, Overbrook was shuttered, the horses were dispersed and Grindstone was purchased by veterinarian Dr. Jack Root to stand at Oakhurst Thoroughbreds in Newberg, Oregon.
Now 21 years after that Derby victory Wes Lanter remembers his years with Grindstone while serving as stallion manager at Overbrook Farm.
Foaled: January 23, 1993
Owned by/Bred by: Overbrook Farm (W.T. Young)
Career Record: 6-3-2-0, $1,224,510
Notable Victories: 1996 Kentucky Derby (GI), 1996 Louisiana Derby.
The Emperor Has No Clothes
By the time Lanter had assumed his duties as stallion manager at Lexington’s Overbrook Farm, Grindstone had been standing at stud for three seasons. Aside from knowing he was a Derby winner, Lanter was completely unaware of the horse’s behaviors and idiosyncrasies, which actually was a good thing as poor stallion behavior traveled like wildfire among the exclusive club of caregivers in the industry. It didn’t take long for Lanter to find out Grindstone’s people may have just been better at keeping secrets.
“He was just quirky,” Lanter explained. “And I was surprised to find out he was a nudist. He didn’t want to wear a halter so he wouldn’t keep one on. Before I got there, they’d turn him out with his halter on every day and then spend a while walking through his paddock after the fact to find it. They eventually started to leave it off of him completely, which was a good decision. I wasn’t about to hang a horse just to keep a halter on him.
“Sometimes, though, it would take two guys to even get a halter on him to begin with. And sometimes he just didn’t want to come in at all, which made for a very difficult situation. So, one day, after way too long trying to catch him, I went over to my house and found some bananas; sure enough, they worked. After that, those bananas got him every time. He liked bananas and was in good company — Forego liked them, too. Grindstone was a pain in the butt because he wouldn’t wear a halter, but he could have been a lot worse.”
Beloved Kentuckian Finally Gets A Derby Winner
Lexington native W. T. Young was much beloved in Bluegrass Country, both in and out of the thoroughbred industry, so when he finally got his homebred Derby winner after more than 25 years breeding countless good horses, the region rejoiced. One of the best aspects of working at Overbrook, Lanter recalls, was getting to know Young. In addition to their mutual love of Thoroughbreds, both loved the New York Yankees and their Kentucky roots, which included talking about the horses.
“Mr. Young told me this great story about Grindstone after he won the Louisiana Derby,” Lanter recalled. “He said he was on the plane with [jockey] Jerry Bailey after the race and Bailey said to him, ‘Mr. Young we’re going to win the Derby with this horse,’ which really excited him.”
On thing most racing fans remember about Grindstone’s Derby is the lengthy photo finish. Grindstone made a tremendous move in the lane to pass almost every rival, including the favored Unbridled’s Song, to just get up past Cavonnier at the wire and earn the win after a very lengthy examination of the win photo.
“[Young] told me that after the Derby that he refused to go to the winner’s circle until they declared the race official. He sat there in his seat during that photo finish and wouldn’t go anywhere until they took the photo finish sign down. I don’t think any of us can blame him there. Mr. Young was a special man and everyone was happy when he got his Derby winner,” Lantner said.
A Special Visitor
Kentucky Derby winners always hold a special status among racing fans and it’s a good bet that, overall, they receive more visitors than many of the stallions they stand beside. Lanter said that, despite the presence of leading sire Storm Cat, Grindstone was no different and he even attracted a celebrity or two, sometimes ones they’d least expect.
“One year on Oaks day, [Hall of Fame jockey] Chris McCarron came by with a group of people,” Lanter explained. “He and his guests spent the afternoon wandering around and touring the farm and, then, I took them to meet the stallions.
“So we get to Grindstone and I say, not really thinking much about it, I say, ‘This is Grindstone. He won the Kentucky Derby.’ And McCarron says, kind of tongue-in-cheek, ‘Yeah, I remember. I was there.’ I had forgotten that McCarron was on Cavonnier in the Derby and was on the other end of that win photo. McCarron had a great sense of humor about it.”
Grumpy Old Man
For the most part, Lanter said, Grindstone was a fairly easy horse to deal with. Aside from his pesky little issue with his halter, the stallion was by and large fairly easy and predictable. However, when well into his teens his “dark side” started to show a little more. He’d become regularly testy and lose patience with his grooms, and sometimes he’d take a run at a person or two.
“Well, he was out of a Drone mare [Buzz My Bell],” Lanter explained. “And Drone was notoriously nasty. I never had the pleasure of working with Drone, but it was well-known to just about everyone. For the most part, Grindstone was a gentleman, but as he got older, every now and again he’d take a stab at someone. In the couple of years before he left you really had to be on your toes around him because if you had him on a shank and were leading him anywhere you’d have to be ready for him to try to bite you. He never hurt anyone, but he definitely tried more than a few times.”
A Lasting Legacy
Most of the Kentucky Derby winners of the last three decades have, unfortunately, been what can only be described as under-performers in the breeding shed. Since Unbridled, who captured the Run for the Roses in 1990, none have set the breeding world on fire, though Grindstone has been represented by his share of good runners, including 2004 Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Birdstone.
“I was most definitely a Smarty Jones fan,” Lanter explained of the dual classic winner searching for a Triple Crown in the Belmont. “But when the weather came up the way it did, I most definitely liked Birdstone’s chances on that track. He’d won the Champagne (GI) on that track and I knew he’d be tough. That was a good day for Grindstone and he had a nice little run there. And then there are his [grandsons] Summer Bird and Mine That Bird, so Grindstone has definitely made a good accounting for himself.”
Lanter, who had spent nine years at the helm of the stallion division at Overbrook, was sad to see it all end in 2009 and his “boys” disperse to various destinations, and the thought of Grindstone standing in Oregon was bittersweet in that he’d be far away and their goodbye that day would likely be final. But he also was happy that the then 16-year-old stallion would be the Northwest’s only Kentucky Derby winner standing in the region and a deserving star for the area.
“It was a big move for Oregon and the Pacific Northwest,” Lanter said. “He was a Derby winner and you can never take that away. I thought it was great that Dr. Root was taking the leap and trying to build up the breeding program with him in Oregon. And I knew he’d be well cared for.
“So one day that summer in 2009 I remember a gooseneck coming to the farm to pick Grindstone up. And that was it. He was taken to Keeneland where he got on a tractor-trailer and headed to his new home in Oregon. And I knew it would have been OK with Mr. Young because Grindstone would be very well cared for and he’d still be a star.”
Editor’s Note: Now 24 years old, Grindstone still stands at Oakhurst Thoroughbreds and has been a leading sire in Oregon for several seasons.
Lexington, Kentucky native Wes Lanter has spent most of his life surrounded by some of the best thoroughbreds of the last generation. The veteran horseman served as both stallion groom and/or stallion manager at the most successful and popular breeding farms in the Bluegrass, including Spendthrift Farm, Three Chimneys and Overbrook Farm, in addition to a pair of separate stints at the Kentucky Horse Park. Over his nearly 30-plus-year career, the 52-year-old has worked with three Triple Crown winners, both thoroughbred and Standardbred, five additional Kentucky Derby winners and multiple champions and Hall of Famers.
A walking encyclopedia of most things thoroughbred racing, Lanter is sharing his favorite stories about the horses whose lives he considers himself to be privileged to have been a part of throughout his career. Since leaving his position as Equine Section Supervisor at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions in 2015, Lanter has been working on compiling stories about his horses and deciding where his next life chapter will come from. Lanter also is the proud father of 20-year-old Noah, a standout baseball pitcher and outfielder at Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minnesota.