Under The Radar, Green Gratto

March 15, 2020

While fans are concentrating on the 3-year-old class competing for a slot in the Kentucky Derby, many other Thoroughbreds race every day under the radar. Quite a few are older horses. Occasionally one or two are names we are familiar with.

One such horse has recently popped back up on the radar. Green Gratto. It appears that he might be back in training. Now, before we all panic on social media, the 10-year-old gelding has not made a start and none is scheduled. His last workout was over two weeks ago. So take a deep breath. 

Green Gratto did moderately well in his three workouts at Tampa Bay Downs in February. Breezing four furlongs in 50.00 on February 8, he ranked 10/22. 11 days later he breezed four from the gate in 49.20 ranking 16/30. His workouts being well spaced and properly gauged, Green Gratto would next breeze five furlongs in 1:03.20 on February 29, ranking 8/12 against 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds.  

The Backstory 

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. 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 worked with Peter Kazamias of Kaz Hill Farm where Green Gratto was bred, helping to sell the farm’s yearlings. If Kazamias couldn’t find a buyer for any, he told 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.

The Grant Brothers stipulated Green Gratto not 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. Norman Wilson claimed that race training made him much more pleasant. He said 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.

While in training, Green Gratto’s story reached social media and exploded. As a result, officials determined that he could not race at Gulfstream Park or Gulfstream Park West, though other horses the same age are racing on tracks throughout the United States.

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.”

Green Gratto did not race in November 2019 and had no workouts until February 2020. 

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 3rd in the 2014 Diablo Stakes (Black Type), 4th 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 3rd 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 2nd 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 4th, winning three including the G3 Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct, his first graded stakes, and the Gravesend Stakes (Black Type). He would also finish 4th 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 3rd place finish in the six furlongs G3 Toboggan Stakes at Aqueduct and a 4th 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 Carmouche, 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 stallion 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. 

The Grant-conditioned gelding would run in eight more stakes in 2017, six graded, with mediocre results, a best finish of 4th. 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 2nd 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? 

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 2020, 21,037 Thoroughbreds 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 is Matroch whose record to date is a perfect two starts: 2-0-0 with an ESF of 106. Social Misfit follows 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? We’ll See

The lone 13-year-old to make a start in 2020 is Bullittone. 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 Bullittone in 2008 at the Arizona Thoroughbred Breeders Auction. 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 Paradise. 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 lengths 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. 

Photo of Green Gratto winning the Carter Handicap in 2017 courtesy of NYRA/Belmont Park. 

Contributing Authors

MariBeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Past the Wire

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....

View Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

One of the best articles on the state of emergency of our industry. Hits the nail on the head. If we want to save racing we must band together and actively work to save it. If we want the industry to die...we can continue with what we're doing.

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