Md. fruitful for Grapeshot

Horse: The fractious 5-year-old, an English Derby contender until suffering an injury, tries Saturday for his fourth win for his five Maryland owners.

August 19, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

It's not often that a potential star of English racing winds up in a Maryland barn.

But that's the case with Grapeshot, a 5-year-old who has been winning races for his trainer, Ann W. Merryman, and his five Maryland owners in a manner befitting a former contender for the English Derby.

His next race will be the Damascus Handicap on Saturday at Laurel Park.

Grapeshot's arduous path to Maryland began while preparing for the Derby in the spring of 1997, when he injured his suspensory ligament under the care of trainer Luca Cumani.

Eighteen months later, Ted Mudge, president of AmTote International and a racing lover, led a trip to England to buy horses. He purchased Grapeshot last October for about $42,000 -- or, as Merryman said, "10 cents on the dollar of his true value because of the severity of the injury."

Mudge, who lives in Riderwood, offered part of Grapeshot and a second horse he bought to Merryman, the Pimlico trainer, to veteran horse owner Richie Blue, and to two friends who had never owned horses, Tom McDonough and Mike Drummond.

The venture started poorly. Grapeshot arrived in the United States about 100 pounds lighter and "looking awful," Mudge said.

The second horse hadn't been here three months when another horse kicked it and shattered a leg, resulting in surgery to rebuild the leg using 10 screws and a plate plus a bill for $4,200.

Grapeshot hadn't raced since May 1997, when he won an English Derby prep as the 2-1 favorite by beating Running Stag, later a well-traveled, successful handicap horse. Grapeshot injured the tendon shortly after that.

The next year, when his handlers had him almost ready to race again, he threw a rider, ran into a wall and injured a shoulder. They threw up their hands and offered Grapeshot to the highest bidder.

That was Mudge, who owns a few horses but wanted one, in Merryman's words, "he could have fun with, a hard-knocking, older horse who could do well around here."

Fun came slowly.

Grapeshot was so wild, his owners gelded him. Still, he would jerk, shy and try to dump his rider.

"He sees things," Merryman said. "Bogeymen jump out at him in his mind."

Merryman trained him awhile at Pimlico and then took him to the family farm in Sparks, where she rode him.

"We had our arguments," she said. "But in the end he came around."

The turning point came in May, when jockey Mark Johnston worked Grapeshot on Pimlico's turf. Grapeshot suddenly seemed to remember his mission in life.

"He was breathtaking," Merryman said. "In hindsight, he'd been like a kid who couldn't succeed at anything. When he finally got to work on the grass, he felt a sense of accomplishment."

And Grapeshot became a more enjoyable horse to be around, credit for which Merryman gives groom Monroe Holloway and exercise riders Stacie Eggleton and Helen Ford.

After that work in May, seven months after Mudge bought him, Grapeshot raced for his new owners. He won at Pimlico by nearly five lengths. Then he won at Delaware Park, finished third in a Laurel stakes and, two weeks ago in his most recent start, won a stakes at Delaware.

He has earned $100,070, which means his owners have about broken even on their two-horse investment. And because horse ownership is often a losing proposition, breaking even translates into success.

Still, Mudge and the others understand that their good fortune could be short-lived. Grapeshot's old ligament injury could resurface.

"We're trying to be careful with him, trying to find races where he won't be overtaxed," Mudge said. "We know each race could be his last, so we're just grateful for everything he's given us."

Pub Date: 8/19/99

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