Patience, loyalty, and a rare international spirit for high-quality Thoroughbred racing are hallmarks of George Strawbridge’s Augustin Stable, and Strawbridge has reaped the benefits of all three traits this summer on both sides of the Atlantic.
In June, Strawbridge’s homebred Spring Quality succeeded at the highest level in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park. It was a giant reward after a long, bumpy road for a talented horse who began his career with a debut win on dirt as a 2-year-old in 2014 but, due to injury, was only able to race once more over the next 27 months.
Spring Quality has now scored six times in 11 career starts and the Manhattan provided a significant breakthrough: Strawbridge’s first Grade 1 triumph with trainer Graham Motion. Their working relationship predates Motion’s own stable and goes back to his time as an assistant trainer under two of Strawbridge’s long-time conditioners, Jonathan Sheppard in the U.S. and Jonathan Pease in France.
“Mr. Strawbridge was the connection that led to me going to France, so yes, he has been integral for me all throughout my career,” said Motion, who met his wife, Anita, during his stint in Chantilly. “I’m very happy to have a horse like this for him. He has been rewarded for his patience. Every time there was any little, nagging issue, we stopped and gave the horse a break. Look, I think the proof is in the pudding. He has done so well with time. It just took him a long while to get to this point. It was only because of Mr. Strawbridge’s patience that we got him there.”
Strawbridge is one of the few American owners-breeders with a consistent presence in Europe, and it has been on a grand scale in recent years as he has been represented by an English classic winner in Lucarno and two near-champion fillies in Rainbow View and Moonlight Cloud.
His latest European star, the French-based 3-year-old filly With You, may be operating at another level altogether, judging by her explosive victory by three lengths against older females in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville on July 29. She has won three times in five career starts and is less than a length shy of a perfect record: she finished second by a short head in the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary in May and followed with a fifth-place finish in a blanket finish in the Group 1 French Oaks, beaten a half-length after a wide trip.
“I’ve gone over there to watch her twice this year and those were the two times she has lost,” Strawbridge said with a chuckle this week from his office in Wilmington, Del. "I think I will leave well enough alone and watch her on TV now. You do get a little superstitious in this game.”
Strawbridge would know, after more than five decades as an elite owner of flat and steeplechase horses alike. He pointed to the late Paul Mellon as a key influence, and the comparison can be drawn in a straight line. Mellon’s famed Rokeby Stable campaigned Mill Reef, one of the all-time greats in England, as well as American Hall of Famers Arts and Letters and Fort Marcy, and he captured the Kentucky Derby late in life with Sea Hero.
“I have nothing but admiration for Mr. Mellon; he was such a wonderful sportsman,” said Strawbridge, 80. “It’s the highest honor I could receive to be somewhere in his shadow.
“I did get know to him, and he was such a nice gentleman. At Royal Ascot, he would give me rides back to the hotel and things like that, and I would just enjoy the chance to spend time with him.”
Freddie Head is the trainer of With You and has overseen horses for Strawbridge since soon after he retired as one of France’s leading jockeys in 1997. Longstanding relationships are a common thread with Strawbridge’s far-flung stable. For more than 20 years, he had horses with Pease in France, including 1994 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Tikkanen, until Pease retired at the end of 2015. Strawbridge’s original conditioner in England was Mill Reef’s trainer, Ian Balding, and for many years now he has had horses with Balding’s son, Andrew. John Gosden also has trained Augustin runners in England for more than a quarter-century, among them Rainbow View and Lucarno.
“Mr. Strawbridge has few equals in our game today as a sportsman,” said Head, who considers With You to be an obvious candidate for the Breeders’ Cup in November, whether in the Breeders’ Cup Mile or the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in November at Churchill Downs. “I have enjoyed training for him all these years, and it makes winning a race like the Rothschild especially meaningful.”
Other than the two narrow defeats, Strawbridge said the road has been consistently smooth for With You, in stark contrast to the niggling issues that disrupted the development of Spring Quality, who will now target the Grade 1 Arlington Million.
“With You is absolutely superb and she has always been perfect, from day one,” Strawbridge said. “As a foal, she was outstanding, she was an outstanding weanling, an outstanding yearling, an outstanding 2-year-old, and now she is an outstanding 3-year-old. This is just on looks, and on top of that, she has a bullet-proof temperament. She is nice and sweet. Nothing seems to bother her, a lot like Moonlight Cloud. With fillies especially, I think that goes a long way.”
Strawbridge would know, nearly 40 years since Waya delivered his first Eclipse Award as America's champion older female of 1979. He raced her in partnership with Peter Brant. On Saturday, the Grade 3 race named for Waya will be contested at Saratoga.