04/20/2013 4:57PM

Catching up with Grindstone: Derby winner now a star in Oregon

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Michael J. Marten
Grindstone, the 1996 Kentucky Derby winner, has sired 20 stakes winners from 14 crops of racing age.

Grindstone showed his class in winning the 1996 Kentucky Derby, rallying in the final strides to prevail by a nose in what would be his final career start.

He showed his class again on another Derby Day some 14 years later, when veterinarian Jack Root vanned the stallion from his Oakhurst Thoroughbreds in Newberg, Ore., to parade him before the crowd at Portland Meadows in Portland, Ore.

“I was a nervous wreck about hauling this horse up,” Root said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, God, he’s a racehorse; he’s going to get back on the racetrack and be all washed out.’ That’s not what happened at all. We pulled the trailer onto the track to unload him, and he just walked around and kept striking poses. He’d take a picture and then say,‘OK, let’s move,’ and he’d literally pose. My son said, ‘Dad, he’s been doing this his whole life.’ ”

Grindstone got used to having his photo taken during a brief but high-profile racing career in which he won three of six starts, including two graded stakes, while earning $1,224,510.

From the first crop of classic winner Unbridled, the Overbrook Farm homebred captured the Grade 3 Louisiana Derby and finished second in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby to earn his spot in the Kentucky Derby. He closed furiously to edge Cavonnier by a nose in the classic, giving Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas his sixth consecutive win in a Triple Crown event.

Five days after the Kentucky Derby, however, Grindstone was forced into retirement when a bone chip was discovered in his right knee. He began his stud career in 1997 at his birthplace, Overbrook Farm in Lexington, Ky., and through April 14 had sired 256 winners and 20 stakes winners, with progeny earnings of $19,339,696, in his first 14 crops of racing age.

He is best known for siring 2004 Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes winner Birdstone. That stallion, in turn, sired 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird in his first crop.

In the fall of 2009, as Overbrook was dispersing its stock following the death of owner William T. Young five years prior, Grindstone was purchased by Root and moved across the country to take up stud duty at Oakhurst the following spring.

“I think it’s the highlight of my Thoroughbred-owning career, really,” Root said of standing a Kentucky Derby winner at his facility. “The Kentucky Derby, people who don’t know anything about horse racing know all about Kentucky Derby horses. Having this horse is awesome. I love it. Every day, I kind of kick myself to make sure it really happened.”

Although he recently turned 20, Grindstone still carries himself with a personality befitting a top racehorse.

“He’s really kind of a character,” Root said. “He’s really smart, and he knows it. He expects you to act like he’s special. He likes to be in command of the world. I think the very good horses, overall, are probably like that.”

In keeping with Grindstone’s status as a winner of America’s most famous race, Root said there is still a fair amount of public interest in the horse almost two decades after his Derby win. A local news crew produced a piece on the horse that aired two years in a row, while a number of local newspapers have published stories about him.

“The local horse community, they know he’s here,” Root said. “Other people, you tell them there’s a Kentucky Derby winner here, and at first, they don’t believe you!”

Root has strongly supported Grindstone’s stud career in the Northwest with mares from his own broodmare band. He said he has about 35 offspring by the stallion, including juveniles, yearlings, and foals of 2013 at Oakhurst. Root said Grindstone stamps his progeny in both looks and personality.

“They’re very consistent in what they look like,” Root said. “They all look alike. I keep saying, ‘I’m going to have to microchip all my Grindstone babies.’ They’re very uniform. They’re very tractable, very smart, just like their dad. They’re very easy to handle. Conformation-wise, I don’t have a single one that in my mind is a reject. Stallions tend to have a certain percentage of those, but we don’t have a single one that is a cull on conformation. I’m sort of stunned by that.

“They’re smart, little horses,” he added. “They learn stuff easily and fast. ‘Personable’ is a good word for them. They’re easy to handle. They don’t act silly and crazy.”

Grindstone’s first foals conceived in Oregon are now 2-year-olds, and Root said his family is hearing positive feedback from owners and trainers preparing to run the stallion’s offspring on the local circuit.

“Every day, someone is bragging on their horses,” Root said. “Everyone up here is just crazy about them.”

Root said Grindstone is in good health and is still maintaining excellent fertility as his stud career continues.

“He’s doing very well,” Root said. “Health-wise, he’s really, really good. He’s pretty youthful for 20. He’s happy. He kind of runs the farm, he thinks.”

Grindstone

1993, dk. b. or br. h.,
by Unbridled–Buzz My Bell, by Drone
Major wins: 1996 Kentucky Derby (G1),
Louisiana Derby (G3)
Earned: $1,224,510
Top foals: Multiple Grade 1 winner and classic winner Birdstone; Grade 2 winner Frumious; Grade 3 or Group 3 winners Ekolu Place, Miss Grindstone, Organ Grinder, Kid Grindstone, Smooth Maneuvers, Ommadon
Standing: Oakhurst Thoroughbreds,
Newberg, Ore.; 2013 fee, $2,500