Thunder Gulch powers to victory in the 1995 Kentucky Derby (G1).Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com
Called “a living legend” by one of his grooms at Ashford Stud - 18 years after his Kentucky Derby (G1) - win Thunder Gulch continues to be a fan favorite.
The colt was sent off at 24.50-to-1 odds in the 1995 Kentucky Derby, the second-longest odds that year, but his upset wasn’t as big as the odds showed. The Gulch colt had won three graded stakes races on his way to the Derby, including the Florida Derby (G1), but had disappointed in his last pre-Derby start when he finished fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
However, even after his pre-Derby victories, Thunder Gulch was still a longshot in the barn that included 1994 champion 2-year-old male Timber County and superfilly Serena’s Song. The week before the Derby, trainer D. Wayne Lukas had ranked Thunder Gulch as the most unlikely of his entries to win, believing that Timber Country was the one that would take him to the winner’s circle.
"Timber Country and Serena's Song can win on their own. The only way Thunder Gulch wins is if a number of things break right for him. They have to break perfectly," Lukas said the Wednesday before the race.
Thunder Gulch was reunited with Gary Stevens for the Derby and the pairing proved successful as Thunder Gulch beat Tejano Run by 2 ¼ lengths with Timber County, part of the favored coupled entry with Serena’s Song, in third.
THUNDER GULCH WINNING DERBY
Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com
Timber Country exacted revenge on his stablemate in the Preakness Stakes (G1), winning the race with Thunder Gulch finishing third. A two-length victory by the Derby winner in the Belmont Stakes (G1) three weeks later after Timber Country was scratched due to fever capped a sweep of the Triple Crown races by Lukas’ horses.
Thunder Gulch and Stevens didn’t disappoint their fans after the classics, winning three in a row after their Belmont win, including the Travers Stakes (G1) by an easy 4 ½ lengths. The winning streak coincided with a four-race favorite streak, with the pair going off at less than even-money odds for the three races after their Belmont Stakes victory.
After a summer of triumph, the winning streak came to an end when Thunder Gulch ran into the best horse of the decade in Cigar. The pair matched up in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) with Cigar walking away with his 11th consecutive victory. Thunder Gulch, who entered the race as the second-choice, finished a disappointing fifth, only beating two horses. Upon his return to the barn, it was noted that Thunder Gulch was uncomfortable and x-rays showed that the 3-year-old had fractured his left front leg.
The fracture sent Thunder Gulch into retirement and was a tough loss for the Lukas’ barn. After winning all three Triple Crown races, Lukas had to deal with the heartbreak of losing both his 1995 classic winners as Timber Country was retired after tearing a tendon in his left front leg a few months after his Preakness win. Thunder Gulch was retired to Ashford Stud, the Central Kentucky division of Coolmore Stud, for stud duties with a record of nine wins, two seconds, and two thirds from 16 starts for $2,915,086. Later that year, the Derby winner was named Champion 3-year-old male at the Eclipse awards.
Thunder Gulch stood his first northern hemisphere season at Ashford Stud for $40,000 in 1996, a season that resulted in 79 foals, with 52-percent making it to the winner’s circle. Thunder Gulch then shuttled to Australia for the Southern Hemisphere season, a practice he continued until 2002. In 2004, Thunder Gulch resumed shuttling duties, this time shipping to South America to spend time first in Argentina then Chile during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He stopped shuttling after the 2010 season with no plans to resume dual-hemisphere duties.
“He’s seen quite a few countries, but as he gets older he’s happy to be here in the winter hanging out,” Ashford’s Scott Calder said.
As a sire, Thunder Gulch had immediate success. His first crop produced top filly Spain, who won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) during her 3-year-old campaign and finished second in the Distaff to Unbridled Elaine as a 4-year-old to win more than $3.5 million in earnings. The next year was another home run for the stallion when he produced the 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given and multiple graded stakes winner Mystic Lady.
Thunder Gulch’s early success wasn’t just felt in North America, as his 2000 Australian-bred son Recast won six stakes races on his way to becoming a champion in Singapore, and Montparnasse, another 2000 model won a stakes in Japan. The stallion’s success carried over into the mid-2000s when his daughter Balance (older half-sister to Horse of the Year Zenyatta) won multiple Grade 1 races during the 2006 and 2007 seasons and son Circular Quay made himself known on the Triple Crown trail by winning the Hopeful Stakes (G1) and finishing second in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to eventual Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.
“He’s always been a popular horse [with breeders],” Calder said. “He was champion sire in 2001 and has had a number of Grade 1 winners in America and has also shuttled and had Grade 1 winners around the world. … He’s always been a popular horse and his progeny have done well on the track for a long time.”
THUNDER GULCH AT ASHFORD
Photo courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog
Due to his success in the breeding shed, Thunder Gulch earned the North American title of leading general sire in 2001. As of Feb. 18, with 2,356 foals from 15 crops from both hemispheres, he has had 73-percent of his foals hit the track with 48-percent winners and more than $85.4 million in progeny earnings.
His success has also carried over the broodmare sire ranks with 817 winners from 1,312 runners as of Feb. 18. Thunder Gulch proved that he has the potential to be a top broodmare sire when he ranked in the Top 25 of the broodmare sire standings in 2012 with multiple graded stakes winner Daddy Nose Best leading the charge with $551,640.
“When you have such good fillies on the track, you’re expected to go on and have good broodmares as well,” Calder said. “He’s been a pretty good sire across the board, really. Thunder Gulch is making a name for himself as a broodmare sire and his daughters produced 35 stakes performers [in 2012] alone.”
While Thunder Gulch is 21 years old, he continues to attract plenty of mares every year, covering 39 in 2012. As a fan favorite at Ashford Stud, there’s little doubt he will have many human and equine visitors come to visit him from near and far for years to come.