By Lynne Snierson
The Boston Marathon bombings last April were rated by many news organizations as the top story of 2013, and now the New England connections of two 3-year-old colts named in tribute to the victims are hoping they will be the ones making headlines this spring.
Wicked Strong, who carries the colors of Centennial Farms headquartered in Beverly, Mass., is already turning heads and it is hoped that Boston Strong, owned by Sovereign Stable in Manchester, N.H. will follow suit soon.
"Wicked Strong is in Florida with Jimmy Jerkens and he's been training fabulously. He's awesome," said Centennial President Donald Little Jr. "That's a perfect name for him."
Originally, the son of Hard Spun out of the Charismatic mare Moyne Abby, a $375,000 purchase out of the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale, was called Moyne Spun. But the Boston tragedy changed that.
"About a week or 10 days after the bombings, I just woke up and it came to me that he should be renamed Boston Strong," Little said. "I looked it up, but it was taken by somebody."
That was Sovereign Stable president Matt Gatsas, who just one week before the bombings on April 15, had signed the ticket on a New York-bred 2-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile .
"I bought him at Keeneland on a Monday night and usually would have named him right away but I forgot about it because we had rescheduled a family vacation to the Bahamas and were booked for a 6 a.m. flight on Tuesday morning," Gatsas said. "We were scheduled to come back the following Tuesday and then the bombings happened."
Three people were killed and another 260 were maimed, dismembered, or otherwise injured near the race's finish line in the marathon bombing. That is the same spot where Gatsas and his friends would cheer on the runners every year while he attended Babson College from 1995-99.
"I must have walked that (Boylston) street a million times before. I know that area really well and have stood in the area where the bombs exploded," he recalled. "When we flew back into Boston, the story was all over the news. While unpacking I was watching TV and they were all talking about the slogan 'boston strong.' I thought how great it would be to name the horse that. So I logged on to The Jockey Club website, never thinking the name would be available, but it was."
For the $100 fee, Sovereign's colt had his name. Shortly thereafter, Centennial's colt got his moniker.
"On the second night after the bombings, my wife, Holly, was at the (Boston) Bruins game with (Bruins and Delaware North Companies principal) Charlie Jacobs and his wife, Kim, and was telling them the story. Kim said to call the horse 'wicked strong' because everybody will know what that means. Holly texted me with the idea and that was how our horse got his name," Little explained.
In New England, 'wicked' has long been used as the operative adverb. It precedes any and all adjectives and is considered the perfect modifier. Wicked good, wicked bad, wicked cool, wicked tough, and even wicked strong are part of the vernacular.
Now 'boston strong' is as well, and the term remains a rallying cry for those residing in the City of Boston and across the six states in the region.
"It's really neat how his name has caught on all over. The partners have really taken to him," said Gatsas. "He's a New York-bred, which is kind of funny given the sports rivalry between Boston and New York."
Boston Strong spent all summer in the Saratoga barn of John Terranova but was sidelined by a fever and then was working toward his first start in New York before suffering another setback with a leg injury in December. He has recovered and is currently back with his trainer, who will gallop him and resume breezing when he's ready.
Wicked Strong, who has a first, second and third in three 2013 starts, worked a mile Jan. 11 in 1:40.05 at Palm Meadows Training Center in preparation for the Jan. 25 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
"He was closing and was beaten only a half-length behind Honor Code and Cairo Prince in the Remsen (gr. II) in his last start," said Little. "A couple of more strides and his nose is in front. We're getting Javier Castellano to ride for the first time and he's already earned two points for inclusion in the Kentucky Derby (Presented by Yum! Brands, gr. I). His Wynn future odds have dropped from 200-1 to 40-1 so there's excitement about him."
Some may think Centennial Farms and Sovereign Stable, which both syndicate racing partnerships, intended to capitalize on the marathon tragedy. They would be grossly mistaken.
All 12 of the partners in Wicked Strong agreed to send 1% of the colt's earnings, already $1,500, to the One Fund, which was established to benefit the victims most affected by the bombings. The partners in Boston Strong made an initial contribution of $1,000 and will donate 5% of any future earnings to the One Fund.
Even Suffolk Downs, which raised $25,000 for the One Fund, chipped in by sending specially designed Boston Strong apparel featuring a Suffolk Downs logo adapted in honor of the Boston Marathon to Gatsas.
"The outpouring of support that we saw throughout New England following the tragic events of April 15 was truly remarkable and everyone found their own unique way of expressing it," said Suffolk Downs chief operating officer Chip Tuttle, who completed the Marathon shortly before the tragedy struck. "As longtime respected members of the New England racing community, it certainly comes as no surprise that both the Gatsas and the Littles have made their own tributes by naming these horses as they did and we wish them the best of luck on the track."
Gatsas thinks Boston Strong, who is out of the Danehill Dancer (IRE) mare Truly Enchanting and is a half brother to Infinite Magic, winner of the 2013 American Derby (gr. IIIT), will develop into a good grass horse. Wicked Strong is being kept on the dirt and at this stage is a Triple Crown contender.
"If he gets to the Kentucky Derby, we'll try to invite one or two of the people who are victims of the bombings to come along with us," said Little. "But we want to only go if we're one of the contenders. We don't have Derby fever here and he's not going to run unless he's legitimate."
Gatsas said that he hasn't connected directly with any of the victims either, but would welcome the opportunity should the colt progress as expected.
"He's got potential and hopefully, he'll be a good one and can run a little bit. Can you imagine Boston Strong and Wicked Strong running in the same race somewhere?" Gatsas said. "That would be really neat, and it would be ironic, too."