Louisville Magazine

APR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/1096834

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Page 88 of 148

58 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 4.19 abrasions caused by racetrack sand) and the company's Blue Grass perfume to dab be- hind her fillies' ears — well, a horse owner like that needed an advisor who understood her style. Graham treated her horses like pets, and Combs kept her Maine Chance Farm well-stocked with winning pets. One year she led the list of money-winning owners, and her Jet Pilot won the 1947 Kentucky Derby. Key to any sales business, of course, is understanding the depths of the deep pock- ets of clients like Mayer and Graham. "You know," Mahan says, "(Combs) found a lady named Dolly Green, and I remember when he introduced me to her. He goes, 'Yeah, she's in the real estate business, Ryan. She's got three acres.' He kind of looked at me, and I'm like, 'Well?' He says, 'In downtown Beverly Hills.' I said, 'Oh, I got you now,'" Mahan says. "She bought a foal by Mr. Prospector, and she spent a lot of money with him." Mahan remembers a hot night in July, with the air conditioning humming in the Keeneland sales pavilion. "Ms. Green was getting a little cold, so Leslie put his suit jacket over her shoulders. en he came over to me and asked if we could turn the air conditioning down. In July! I said, 'Whatever you want.'" Combs was especially engaging before the sale, when he would chauffeur clients around Spendthrift to see his best yearlings. e very best in the sale. For special clients. Mahan says a visitor would ask to see some horse Combs had told him about. "He'd wheel around and bellow, 'Bring out the Big Horse!' Of course (the barn crew) didn't know which horse he was talking about. ey were all 'e Big Horse.' But he'd have some signal and they'd understand which one he meant," Mahan says. Combs bought a bus and painted it blue. e Blue Goose, as it was known, would ferry customers out to the sale. You'd think wealthy people with the business acumen to compile fortunes would have more sense than to ride a bus to a horse sale. And some of them did, arriving in limousines. But then they'd miss out on the fun. And maybe miss out on a horse. Racing author Ed Bowen once drew a picture of Combs as a "garrulous showman with a faux Southern gentleman surface charm…a gambler/investor with his own money, and a high-roller with others'." In his book Legacies of the Turf, Vol. 2, Bowen wrote that Combs got his broodmare "band" rolling with a mare named Myrtle- wood, foaled in 1932. Myrtlewood won 15 of 22 starts but only earned $40,620 for doing so because she hit the track during the Great Depression. But on the farm, Myrtlewood proved to be a "blue hen" producer of racehorses and bloodstock for generations to follow. But Combs' best hand was in stallions. Nashua, the high- born rival of Swaps, was on stallion duty at Spendthrift, and he brought his class with him to the stud barn. en Raise a Native came along. e horse had briefly set the turf world on fire in 1963, winning four straight races while showing blazing speed before "bowing" a tendon. e horse was a son of Native Dancer, but having run only at sprint distances, never competing in classic races, Raise a Native seemed only a possibility as a stallion prospect. But Combs bought in with owner Louis Wolfson — and hit it big. Especially in the Kentucky Derby. Majestic Prince would be the first import- ant offspring of Raise a Native, and Alydar was another. But then the sons of Raise a Native also became powerful stallions, including Mr. Prospector. And their sons, too, excelled, extending by far the most successful line of Derby blood the race has known. As the 20th century came to a close, the Raise a Native line scored with horses like Affirmed, Genuine Risk, Alysheba and Unbridled, then kept right on going into the 21st century, most prominently with American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown champion. But it was Majestic Prince that would get all that rolling. Hip #126 in your catalog. e bright-red chestnut yearling that would become Majestic Prince was the talk of the 1967 Keeneland yearling sale. All Combs had to do to get him sold was lead him out of the stall and people couldn't catch their breath fast enough. He was that beautiful. And with everything in the right place: e colt had size, scope, length, shoulder, bone, feet, mane, tail… and that "look of eagles" the horse poets all talk about. Winning the bidding battle at $250,000 was Frank McMahon, an oil industrialist from Vancouver, British Columbia, with a strong racing stable based in Califor- nia. McMahon had paid big prices for yearlings before and would continue to. With Bing Crosby and publisher Max Bell, he bought the horse Meadow Court in Ireland and won the Irish Sweepstakes. Combs sold McMahon Royal Serenade, which won the Hollywood Gold Cup. So McMahon knew what he was doing. Soon after the Majestic Prince sale came some interesting news that McMa- hon owned the dam of the record-priced yearling. So McMahon actually already owned half of the horse he just bought, with Combs the leader of the syndicate that owned the other half. In other words, Combs and McMahon had sold them- selves their own horse. But nobody cared! Not a bit. Oh, some horse people thought Combs and McMahon were foolish not to simply let the horse go to another bidder, and take the cash. But most admired the artistry of the thing. Combs wanted the record price, and he wanted McMahon to get the horse. McMahon shipped the newly named Majestic Prince to California and placed it with Johnny Longden, the recently retired Hall of Fame jockey. Longden was starting up a career as a trainer at Santa Anita race- track, near Pasadena. He'd inspected the colt at the sale, done the bidding, couldn't have been more thrilled with such a scin- tillating prospect. Longden later filled in Los Angeles Times writer Bill Christine on the Prince. He weighed a whopping 1,180 pounds and was 75 inches at the girth. And the horse got along with his trainer. In the saddling paddock before the Santa Anita Derby, Majestic Prince suddenly got loose from a handler, but Longden yelled, "Stop!" And the horse did. Space exploration was in the news in 1969 (the moon landing would happen that July), and ahead of the Belmont in June, the Daily Racing Form's Pierre "Peb" Bellocq depicted Majestic Prince as a spaceship, with jockey Hartack attempting to land the Triple Crown.

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