Horse Racing Takes A Drop In Class

August 10, 2020

The term “drop in class” took on new meaning Sunday, August 9 when 10-year-old Graded stakes-winning millionaire Green Gratto ran for a $20,000 tag off a 28 month layoff. 

News of the entry hit online trade publications Saturday and the dust up hit social media on Sunday before and after the race took place at Monmouth with dismal results. 

A six furlongs allowance optional claiming race on the dirt with a purse of $65,625 including a Jersey bred bonus of $13,125. The chart notes state “(He) chased inside, gave way on the turn and jogged home.” In reality, Green Gratto simply gave up finishing 41 1/4 lengths off the pace earning $500. The son of Here’s Zealous is saying he’s done. But are the right people listening?


After being retired in 2018 by his long-time owner-trainer Gaston Grant, Green Gratto popped up on social media in November 2019. He was entered in a race at Gulfstream Park. After much social commentary officials determined that the 9-year-old could not race at Gulfstream Park or Gulfstream Park West. 

On February 8, 2020, Green Gratto breezed 4 furlongs in 50.00 at Tampa Bay Downs. February 19, he breezed 4 furlongs from the gate in 49.20. Green Gratto breezed 5 furlongs in 1:03.20 on February 29, ranking 8/12 against 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, the oldest being half his age. The pandemic arrived and he fell off the radar again. 

The New Jersey bred resurfaced in late June at Monmouth Park with a four furlongs breeze on the dirt in 51.80 for trainer Kathleen O’Connell under the ownership of Norman and Liz Wilson, who race as Oakleaf Farm. He returned July 19 for another four furlongs work in better time of 48.20 “handily from the gate” ranking 4/75. Then on August 2 he did four breezing in a rather relaxed pace of 51.80. 

Green Gratto hadn’t started in a race since April 19, 2018, when under trainer Gaston Grant, he finished a very game third in a tightly-contested six furlongs Allowance Optional Claiming race in a field of five. 12 days prior, he finished 11th of 11 by 34 1/4 lengths in the Carter Handicap G1, a race he had won in 2017 with 54-1 odds. 

In 2018, the 8-year-old Grade 1 winner was retired by his owners Anthony Grant and Gaston Grant, also his trainer, his only trainer. But we’ll get to his retirement in a minute. 

Humble Beginnings

The Grants had acquired Green Gratto as a yearling for free, sort of. Gaston’s former boss, trainer Peter Chin, from whom Gaston had learned everything he knew about being a horsemen, was trying to find a couple of friends who were interested in getting into the business but unable to buy or claim horses. 

Chin works with Peter Kazamias of Kaz Hill Farm where Green Gratto was bred, to sell his yearlings. If Kazamias cannot find a buyer for any, he tells Chin to go out and make the best deal possible. That deal was as long as the Grants paid the bills for Green Gratto while he was being broken and trained in Florida he was theirs with no other charge.

The “free” yearling became a millionaire  for the Grant brothers. Natives of Jamaica, both have regular jobs to supplement there racing enterprises. Anthony is a contractor and Gaston works for UPS.

Retirement, almost 

The Grant Brothers stipulated Green Gratto was not to return to the track upon retirement. The son of Here’s Zealous was sent to stand stud at Robert Wright’s Total Bloodstock Farm near Fort Edward, N.Y., north of Saratoga Springs. 

After a full reproductive workup showed the stallion was sterile, he was gelded and, again, retired–from stud. Tamara Levy, Green Gratto’s new trainer, picks up the story. Levy said that after the horse was unable to perform at stud, he was sent to pasture in Kentucky, where she believes he did not receive the best of care. 

It was reported Green Gratto’s new connections then sent him to Ocala to be sold at a livestock auction. The horse went through the sale and was purchased by Liz and Norman Wilson, who brought him to their farm in Florida and focused on returning him to good health.

According to Levy and the Wilsons, Green Gratto was not happy with retired life, was running the fences and acting aggressively toward other horses. Then Norman Wilson claimed that race training made him much more pleasant. 

Wilson said in training Green Gratto put on weight and was legged up to a quarter-mile work. Before Wilson sent the horse to Levy to train, he had a complete physical, which he reportedly passed. Green Gratto was then shipped to Gulfstream Park West, where he eventually breezed and cooled out well, Levy told the Daily Racing Form.

Social Reaction

After the news hit social media in 2019 of Green Grotto’s planned return to racing a campaign to re-retire him began. 

On November 11, 2019, notable horsemen Kevin Cox Tweeted “As an advisory board member of @OldFriendsCC & the FIRST ever donor of @Oldfriendsfarm, I am honored to announce that if the owners of Green Gratto wish to retire him to a forever home, we will take him in at NO expense whatsoever.”

The offer was rejected by the owners. “Old Friends and Florida TRAC offered to take him in, but, trust me, at no point since this ownership group took him in has he needed to be rescued,” Levy told DRF. “And he certainly wouldn’t be the only 9-year-old running here or at other tracks around the country, for that matter.”

After Green Gratto ran August 8 and bottomed out social media pleas were resoundingly for the brave gelding to be retired.

Green Gratto By The Book

Making his first start on March 9, 2013, Green Gratto spent his first year with slow speed figures and bad results until he broke his maiden in January 2014 and won his next two starts with much improved speed. His progress continued as he hit the board finishing third in the 2014 Diablo Stakes (Black Type), fourth in the Gravesend (Black Type) and many Allowance races. 

2015 would prove a good year for the 5-year-old horse. In March, Green Gratto would finish third in the Tom Fool Handicap G3 at Aqueduct with a very respectable Equibase Speed Figure (ESF) of 107. A month later, on April 4, he would finish second by a nose in the Carter Handicap G1 as a 53-1 longshot. 

In his next 13 starts, Green Gratto would finish no less than fourth, winning three including the G3 Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct, his first graded stakes, and the Gravesend Stakes (Black Type). He would also finish fourth in the G3 Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes, the G3 Bold Ruler Handicap and the New Jersey Breeders Handicap (Black Type). The stalwart gelding would end the year earning $480,550 in 16 starts with three wins, four seconds and four third place finishes. 

One reason for Green Gratto’s success and consistency in 2015 could be attributed to an equipment change. Jockey Kendrick Carmouche approached Gaston Grant with a suggestion for Green Gratto’s blinkers. Carmouche believed that if the horse could see what was going on behind him, he would never let another horse pass him. He showed Grant how to drill holes in the sides of Green Gratto’s blinkers to give the horse enhanced peripheral vision. Green Gratto placed second in his next race at Aqueduct. 

Grant and Carmouche then switched to “cheaters,” blinkers with low sides that give a horse full-peripheral vision. Carmouche volunteered to ride Green Gratto, and in their first race together in 2015 they placed second, winning a $70,000 purse. In their next race, a few weeks later, they placed first in the Fall Highweight Handicap. 

The New Jersey bred started off 2016 with a very close third place finish in the six furlongs G3 Toboggan Stakes at Aqueduct and a fourth in the G3 General George at Laurel Park at seven furlongs. He would then have an eight week rest before his game effort in May in the G1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct where he “hustled from the gate, cut a solid pace, swung just off the inside for home and faltered” finishing eighth with a low ESF of 71. Green Gratto would rebound handily hitting the board twice in May in stakes back to his usual triple digit speed. 

The 6-year-old would round out the year with mixed results in five graded stakes and two listed and black type stakes including his one win for the year in the Hockessin Stakes (Black Type) Delaware Park. With 13 starts in 2016, all stakes, eight graded, all six or seven furlongs, Green Gratto had the one win, three seconds and two thirds. His earnings had dropped considerably to $149,024 but his speed remained consistent. 

As a 7-year-old Green Gratto again kicked off the year with the Toboggan Stakes at Aqueduct January 16, 2017, this time with success. With a vigorous hand ride under Kendrick Caramouche, the tenacious gelding fought off a stretch duel with All Star Red to win by a neck with a wicked ESF of 117 to collect $75,000, $50,000 more than second place. 

The stately 17 hands horse would have a subpar performance in the G3 Tom Fool Handicap in March before the biggest win of his career in April at Aqueduct. At 54-1 Green Gratto lead gate to wire to win the G1 Carter Handicap by a neck paying $110 for the win. 

The Grant-conditioned horse would run in eight more stakes in 2017, six graded, with mediocre results, a best finish of fourth. He would end the year with two wins out of 11 starts, his only times hitting the board, and earned $351,834. But, oh, that one win! And Green Gratto was now a millionaire. 

Green Gratto would make four starts in 2018. In the Toboggan he made contact with another horse springing from the gate, recovered well to stay second by a head and then tired and drifted back. The gritty 8-year-old would take the lead in the Tom Fool under steadily increasing pressure to the outside through swift splits, came under a drive inside the five-sixteenths, swung three wide into the upper stretch, yielded the front, straightened away for home and faltered finishing last. 

In the Carter Handicap April 7, Green Gratto would start well holding on to second and then falter to his worst finish of 11th of 11 by 34 3/4 lengths. His last start twelve days later, he finished third in a tightly-contested six furlong Allowance Optional Claiming race showing his perseverance and stamina. 

The big dark bay colt from a humble pedigree that was given away had compiled a 9-9-9 record out of 65 career starts and earned $1,149,202. He had proven his mettle and given his owners and trainer the ride of their lives. 

How Old Is Too Old? 

While fans are concentrating on the upcoming 2-year-olds and the 3-year-old class competing for a slot in the rescheduled Kentucky Derby, many other Thoroughbreds race every day under the radar in allowance and claiming races. Quite a few are older horses. But when are they too old?

Each horse is different. It’s not just how old. When did they start? Were there layoffs? Do they have the stamina? Are they just happy runners? 

Having read dozens and dozens of charts I have learned you have to read between the lines. It’s important to know how a horse broke from the gate, if there was interference, what was his position throughout the race, what did he win or lose by. All of the statistic and notes on the chart tell a story. Let’s look at some numbers. 

According to Equibase stats, in 2019, 308 10-year-olds Thoroughbreds made at least one start in North America and Puerto Rico in flat races or steeplechase. 124 11-year-olds, 47 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds. 

Of those 13-year-olds, the top three were: Pacific Tsunami with a record of nine starts: 3-1-0; Benjamin E, seven starts: 2-2-1; and, Eighty Light, seven starts: 1-2-1. 

The lone 14-year-old was a steeplechaser named Embarrassed who left the course before the final fence in his race on May 12. 

In early 2020 before the pandemic shutdown, 21,037 Thoroughbreds had made at least one start in North America and Puerto Rico in flat races or steeplechase. Out of those 132 were 10-year-olds, 40 were 11-year-olds and nine were 12-year-olds.

The top 10-year-old was Matroch whose record to date is a perfect two starts: 2-0-0 with an ESF of 106. Social Misfit followed as the top 11-year-old with two starts: 0-2-0, ESF of 91. With three starts: 2-0-1 is Smack Ridge with an ESF of 89. All respectable records for horses of any age. 

Is 13 Too Old??? 

The lone 13-year-old to make a start in early 2020 was Bullitone. On first impression one might say this Arizona-bred was ready to retire. But scroll through his results on Equibase and a different picture begins to emerge. 

Owner/trainer Ronald Chappell purchased Bullitone in 2008 at the Arizona Thoroughbred Breeders Auction. There’s a lot to be said for consistency in a trainer and owner in longevity and success. 

The chestnut colt made his first start in November 2009. He would break his maiden on third asking. In April 2010 Bullittone would place second in the Arizona Breeder’s Derby. 

His record remained consistent with the majority of finishes in the top five and ESF averages in the 60s and 70s. Bullittone ran at the same tracks in the same classes and wasn’t over started. He had a couple of extended layoffs but it didn’t seem to impact his performance. 

Running mostly in claiming and allowance races, in 2012, Bullittone finished fifth in the Dwight D. Patterson Handicap at Turf Paradis. In 2013, he would finish second in the Patterson and third in the Wildcat Handicap with a ESF of 109. 

After an almost three-year layoff, Bullittone would return in 2016 to the claiming ranks with 12 starts and a record of one win, two second places and four thirds. Fairly good results for a 9-year-old coming back after a few years. 

The chestnut Arizona bred would have a respectable year in 2017 finishing in the money six out of seven starts with one win, two seconds, one third an two fourths and a zippy ESF high of 101. Bullittone would slow as an 11-year-old as he only had two fourth and two fifths in six starts. He’d slow even more in 2019 with three fourth place finishes in four starts. 

Bullittone began his year on January 7 with a lackluster run in a mile claimer at Turf Paradise. He finished 7th of 8 with an ESF of 52. Chappell smartly cut him back to 6 1/2 furlongs in his next race where Bullittone showed much improvement. March 4 he fought for position coming from behind to finish 7th of 12 by 5 3/4 lenghts with an ESF of 75. From all appearances, Bullittone showed heart and the desire to run. 

The son of Valid Wager out of a Thunder Gulch mare, Day Dream, made 71 starts with six wins, nine seconds and fourteen third place finishes earning $89,093. An overall review might indicate it’s time for Bullittone to retire. We will wish him a safe and sound landing. 

Notable War Horses

There have been several successful historic older horses. Some might have retired a race or two earlier but they all were able to retire nonetheless. 

In the coming weeks we’ll take a look at a handful of these horses, some well known, some not so much. In the mean time we hope all owner and trainers listen to their charges to hear when they say “Hey, I’m done with racing.”

It was announced today, Green Gratto has been retired from racing……again.


Photo: Green Gratto (inside) held off Unified to win the 2017 G1 Carter Handicap. Credit: Joe Labozzetta/NYRA.

Contributing Authors

Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Maribeth Kalinich grew up in a family with a love for horses, a passion for Thoroughbred horse racing and a taste for playing the ponies....

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