‘Life-Changing’ Monomoy Girl Has Lifted Connections into the Spotlight

Racing
Champion Monomoy Girl, shown winning the La Troienne Stakes in September, is scheduled to make her final career start in the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. (Eclipse Sportswire)

They’re all there in black and white: the Grade 1 wins, the Breeders’ Cup triumph, the Eclipse Award, the head-to-head advantage over a heralded rival. All the conventional measures the Thoroughbred racing community uses to separate the good from the great – those horses who reside in the ether with the all-timers.

Like ornaments on a Christmas tree, such glittering accolades decorate the résumé of champion Monomoy Girl, framing a career that stands a good chance of being voted worthy of a Hall of Fame plaque. Hers are gaudy enough achievements when taken at face value. Sometimes, though, even mountains of obvious evidence don’t tell the whole story.

While the lamp posts of ‘1s’ that conclude virtually all her past performance lines illustrate Monomoy Girl’s dominance over her foes, it is the year and a half gap between the end of her 3-year-old season and her 2020 debut where she proved most indomitable. And where countless horses have been credited with providing once-in-a-lifetime moments, the chestnut mare has been uniquely inclusive in her rise, pulling up those around her and planting them on pedestals that has allowed their own excellence to saturate the sport.

Without Monomoy Girl in his barn, trainer Brad Cox’s journey to the forefront of his profession may still be a work in progress rather than reality. Had the 5-year-old distaffer not been the first of her now litany of Grade 1 winners purchased, Liz Crow’s status as one of the sharpest bloodstock agents in the game may still be a best kept secret. And if the copper-colored mare hadn’t developed into the queen of her generation, jockey Florent Geroux wouldn’t be going through the current emotional exercise of counting down how many more times he has left to climb aboard her back.

Winning the 2020 Ruffian Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

So while each member of her team can point to various moments where they were left awestruck by her superiority, trying to quantify the enormity of Monomoy Girl’s accomplishments requires a deeper dive than a simple assessment of her statistics.

“It’s funny because…have you ever had something that completely changed your life? I think about what if I hadn’t landed on her that day, if I hadn’t signed the ticket that day, how different everything would be,” said Crow, recalling the moment the gavel fell in her favor inside the Keeneland sales pavilion in 2016, allowing her to purchase Monomoy Girl for $100,000. “It’s amazing to think how far everyone has come since we first started with her, what all of our lives would be like without her.

“She means more to me than anything I could ever describe.”

Because of an impending date on the calendar, those closest to Monomoy Girl have been repeatedly hit with such waves of nostalgia as they reflect on the impact the champion mare has had on their worlds while trying to reconcile the looming chapter on the horizon. One day after she is scheduled to take aim at capturing the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 7 at Keeneland for the second time in her career, the daughter of Tapizar is set to be sold as a racing or broodmare prospect at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale.

The mere mention that Monomoy Girl may only have one more start left to her storied career elicits bittersweet tones from her camp as they balance feeling ridiculously spoiled by her exploits with the lingering wonderment over whether the mare who never takes a step backwards has even hit her peak. Throughout her 14 starts to date, they have watched her get incrementally faster and stronger while racking up six Grade 1 victories - highlighted by triumphs in the 2018 Longines Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff en route to earning that year’s Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly. Technically, there are two blemishes on her record. But only one - a neck defeat in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes during her juvenile season - featured another horse actually beating her on the square as her only other loss came via disqualification to rival and future champion Midnight Bisou in the 2018 Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes.

In this her 5-year-old season, it’s been same old, same old in terms of Monomoy Girl leaving her challengers to fight it out for minor honors. Her three starts in 2020 have each ended with her sauntering into the winner’s circle. And in the wake of her latest triumph in the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes Presented by Oak Grove Racing and Gaming at Churchill Downs on Sept. 4, she is again likely to carry the happy burden of favoritism into the 1 1/8-mile Distaff.

What has added another layer of emotion to Monomoy Girl’s latest campaign for year-end honors, however, is the fact her on-track career could have easily been declared over at various points 12 months ago. Last spring, as she was preparing for her 4-year-old debut, she suffered a bout of colic that landed her in Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for multiple days before heading to WinStar Farm for an extended recovery. Though she was able to return to Cox’s barn to begin working toward a planned title defense in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she again went to the sidelines last September after emerging from a workout with a gluteal strain.

At that point, her already accomplished résumé and value as a broodmare would have been enough to prompt many an owner to call it a day on her competitive outings and book her a mating for 2020. Part of the reason exceptional athletes are so heralded, though, is because they are so scarce in nature. Hence, co-owner Sol Kumin and his partners decided that as long as their heady mare kept showing a willingness to get herself back into the on-track fray, they weren’t going to deprive her of the opportunity to take her lofty reputation into even more rarefied air.

“We talked about (retiring her) because it was just the right thing to do but honestly, it was never really that close,” said Kumin, whose Monomoy Stables owns the champion mare in partnership with Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group, and Bethlehem Stables. “She never had such a major injury that we felt like the chances of her coming back were not good. And she had gotten close to getting back to the races twice. We had put a foundation into her both times and felt like she was close and breezing lights out.

“Also, we love racing and we don’t always do the best economic thing. She’s got a great fan base and an ownership group that is racing first so, honestly, it was a pretty easy decision. This filly… she means a lot to Brad, and she means a lot to Liz and to this ownership group. These are the horses where when it’s all said and done, these are the ones that you really remember - the ones that make such an impact on so many people’s lives.”

If the Breeders’ Cup goes down as the last time the public sees Monomoy Girl flaunt her quality, it will be a full circle moment to say the least. It was on the Keeneland grounds after all when Crow first spotted what would become obvious to the rest of the racing community.

The Presence of Something Special

The moments after Crow signed the ticket for Hip 1611 at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale are ones she can joke about now. Though she had previously served as director of racing for Bradley Thoroughbreds from 2011–2015, Keeneland officials not only misspelled Crow’s last name in the system – adding an errant ‘e’ at the end – but she then had to explain she was buying on behalf of Kumin when questioned about whether she had credit with the sales company.

It was a heck of a way to make one’s first Keeneland purchase, but the chestnut youngster Crow secured has since made sure the Maryland native is anything but an unknown figure in the auction arena.  Though her pedigree wasn’t the flashiest in the catalogue, the filly who would be dubbed Monomoy Girl jumped out to Crow both in terms of her physical potential and beyond-her-years intelligence.

“She was a very strong filly. She was built with great bone and had this amazing shoulder and hip – just an incredibly well-balanced filly,” said Crow, a partner with Bradley Weisbord in BSW/Crow Bloodstock, one of the leading full-service agencies in Thoroughbred racing, and co-owner of the boutique consignor ELiTE Sales. “I thought physically, it was hard to knock her. There really wasn’t much to say that you didn’t like about her when you saw her. She’s just physically very imposing…and she had the attitude to back it up.

“You see her out of her stall or when I saw her at the sale, she never flicks an ear wrong. She always stands like a statue, nothing ever bothers her. I don’t know how to describe it other than you feel like you’re in the presence of something special when you’re around her.”

With Cox after the La Troienne. (Coady Photography)

Hindsight has proven Crow prophetic in that statement, but Monomoy Girl’s early days weren’t necessarily indicative of what was coming down the pike. When she arrived in Cox’s barn after having her foundation put into her by consignor and bloodstock agent Paul Sharp, she flashed talent but also immaturity, particularly when it came to breaking from the gate.

Her struggle to get away well wasn’t going to serve her well in the traditional dirt sprints many 2-year-olds often debut in. So instead of having her confidence potentially take a hit off the bat, Cox made the astute choice to start his protégé in a pair of one-mile turf tests at Indiana Grand and Churchill Downs, respectively, in September 2017 – both of which she won handily.

“That was the one thing she didn’t do well was break from the gate,” Cox said. “We were talking about it one day and we decided, let’s run her long on the grass so she doesn’t get left going three-quarters on the dirt. It wasn’t that we thought she was a grass horse. That time of the year it’s just hard to get a long race to go on the dirt.

“We decided to run at Indiana and she didn’t break well but she was able to get the job done. Then after that she just stayed at Churchill and I worked her with a good filly Sassy Sienna that had run in the (Grade 1 Darley) Alcibiades (at Keeneland)…and (Monomoy Girl) was the better of the two.  I thought well, if Sassy Sienna runs on dirt, maybe this filly can too. So she ran in the Rags to Riches. And the rest is history.”

It’s easy to overlook an $80,000 race on a résumé filled with eight graded stakes victories, but the 2017 Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs is where Monomoy Girl officially signaled she was going to be a problem for her classmates. It wasn’t just that she got away well and was able to lead every point of call of a 6 ½-length victory.

It was that she finished up like she had gears that she didn’t even bother to uncork.

“Brilliance. That’s when she showed her brilliance,” Cox said. “I remember she broke well and I was like ‘Okay, she obviously knows how to come out of the gate now,’ but she went fast and she kept going fast. And I was like ‘Wow, this is a serious filly’. To sit here and tell you I thought she was going to win graded stakes prior to that, it hadn’t really crossed my mind. But when she performed the way she did in the Rags to Riches I was like ‘This is a serious race horse.’”

Defeating Midnight Bisou in the CCA Oaks. (Eclipse Sportswire)

In the nine wins Monomoy Girl has racked up since that first black-type victory in the Rags to Riches, she has shown she can knock the spirit out of her challengers in all manners of fashion. Leave her alone up front and she’ll set fractions as she pleases, like she did in taking the 2018 Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks over Midnight Bisou – whom she was victorious over in three of their four career meetings. If someone else wants to press the issue, she is happy to sit back and rate until Geroux gives her the green light to end the drama.

When Monomoy Girl made her 2020 debut in an allowance optional claiming race at Churchill Downs on May 16, her first outing in more than 18 months, many wondered if she would look remotely like her old self given the time away. In her typical fashion, she put her connections’ minds at ease when she cruised to a 2 ¾-length triumph that day, then followed that up with a two-length win in the Grade 2 Ruffian Stakes on July 11.

“What comes in my mind first is she’s just super gifted with a ton of ability,” said Geroux, who has been aboard Monomoy Girl for all but her first career start. “That’s her main weapon. She does things very easily. We can see in almost all of her races, she’s not even fully trying at the end. She’s kind of messing around and stuff like that. It shows you that if she was putting her head down and really trying, she probably could win easier every time.”

“This sounds strange but, she’s almost underrated,” Kumin added. “I kind of forget how good she’s been because… she doesn’t put on a show or win by 10 or whatever. She doesn’t dazzle you. She just does what she needs to do to win, she knows where the finish line is. She’s so tough, so game. She has so much heart and she’s a fighter.”

And she has been a generous queen during her reign.

Sharing the Spotlight

When Monomoy Girl captured the 2018 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, it marked the first Grade 1 win of Cox’s career and the jump off point for his barn to explode onto the national scene. Last season, Cox celebrated a pair of Breeders’ Cup triumphs when British Idiom took the Juvenile Fillies and Covfefe prevailed in the Filly and Mare Sprint. In addition to watching those two charges win divisional honors at the 2019 Eclipse Awards, Cox himself was a finalist for Outstanding Trainer – a rise he attributes in no small part to the spotlight Monomoy Girl provided.

“Oh yeah, it’s huge for your career to get a horse like this,” said Cox, who celebrated a second Kentucky Oaks victory along with Geroux this September with Shedaresthedevil. “I can remember dreaming of being a trainer and becoming a trainer and people saying how you need that one horse that gets you going, that shows the racing world you can be trusted with a Grade 1 horse. And she was that for me, without a doubt. I had a lot of great horses help put me in a position to get a horse like her… but ultimately she was one that was able to show the racing world that you’re able to compete at the top level.”

Similarly, Crow has proven that her ability to pick out talent wasn’t just a one-off success story.

Kumin (right) and connections celebrate in 2018. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Since purchasing Monomoy Girl, Crow has been responsible for landing fellow future Grade 1 winners Leofric and Long On Value at public auction as well as 2020 Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou. Her list of clients with BSW/Crow Bloodstock is among the most enviable in racing, and the 2020 Keeneland September Sale saw her sign for more than $5 million in purchases, including going to $1.025 million for an Into Mischief filly.

Even as her own list of successes continues to grow, Crow says there is no topping the experience of going to the backstretch in the mornings and being greeted by the red-haired beast she picked out four seasons ago.

“It’s been one of the biggest honors and privileges of my life to be involved with this filly. I just can’t say enough about what she means to me and my family,” Crow said. “My whole family comes out when she runs. There will never, ever be another filly that means more to me than her because of how she started my career but also, for everyone around her. It’s not just me. But obviously I feel so grateful to her.”

While Crow is preparing herself emotionally to let Monomoy Girl go as hip No. 192 in ELiTE’s Fasig-Tipton consignment, Kumin is cautiously leaving the door open for more chapters to be written. Depending on how the Distaff shakes out, he and his partners could opt to hold onto their girl a while longer and potentially take a shot against males in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct on Dec. 5.

“It’s definitely something to consider. But it’s tough,” Kumin said. “The end of this season will be difficult no matter what. I would say the door is slightly cracked open, but we have every intention to sell her this year.”

But first, there is still business to attend to.

A victory in the Distaff would make Monomoy Girl just the fourth horse to win the race more than once and would have her join the legendary Beholder (2013 and 2016) as the only ones to capture it in nonconsecutive years. It would be yet another statistical milestone for a mare who lacks for little in the way of achievements.

 It would still pale in comparison to what she has already gifted those around her.

“You think about all the emotions and especially how much she means to Brad and the barn and…it’s made us all closer,” Kumin said. “That’s the magic of this whole sport. When you have a special one and you go on a journey like we’ve been on with her, with all the people involved, you have a bond that you can never take away.”

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