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Anne M. Eberhardt

Humphrey Could Score a Classic Double

G. Watts Humphrey Jr. seeks his second Belmont win as a breeder with son of Curlin.

G. Watts Humphrey Jr.'s influence on Thoroughbred breeding could bring the California Chrome  Triple Crown party to an abrupt end June 7 at Belmont Park. It wouldn't the first time the Kentucky-based horseman bred the winner of the "Test of the Champion."

Humphrey, the breeder of Preakness Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Ride On Curlin , is also the co-breeder of the gallant gelding Crème Fraiche, who relished the 12-furlongs at Belmont Park more than most. Bred with Humphrey's aunt, Pamela Firman, Crème Fraiche won the 1985 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) for Brushwood Stables and was trained by Woody Stephens. The win was the fourth of Stephens' five consecutive Belmont winners. Crème Fraiche also won the 12-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) over "Big Sandy" twice, in 1986-87.

A win on Saturday would axe California Chrome's bid for the Triple Crown but give Humphrey a classic double. However, Humphrey won't be on hand to see it; he'll be watching from his Shawnee Farm near Harrodsburg, Ky.

Ride On Curlin, owned by Daniel Dougherty and trained by Billy Gowan, was bred by Humphrey and his mother, Louise. Louise died in 2012 at 93. The spunky colt is by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin  out of Magical Ride, by Storm Cat. Keeping the fillies and selling the colts is the Shawnee Farm mantra, and the colt was sold in the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale for $25,000.

"There was nothing magical to the breeding; we thought a lot of Curlin and we had and loved the female family," said farm manager Pete Cline. "With this one we didn't get the horse we really wanted. He was small and crooked, that is why he only brought $25,000. At the time, the price was OK."

Those at the farm were looking for more from the family and for good reason.

Seeking to improve their broodmare band in the late 1990s, the Humphreys went shopping at Keeneland. Looking for fillies by good sires they hoped would become good broodmare sires, they hit upon a yearling filly for $425,000 by Seeking the Gold bred by the late John C. Mabee. Named Victory Ride, she gave the Humphreys a sweet ride, missing by a neck in the 2001 Acorn Stakes (gr. I) and winning Saratoga's Test Stakes (gr. I), and Keeneland's Madison Stakes (now a grade I).

The first foal by Victory Ride (there is a grade III race at Saratoga named in her honor) was Magical Ride (by Storm Cat), the dam of the Belmont contender. While not as accomplished as her mother, she did run third in the Adirondack Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) before joining the broodmare band at Shawnee.

"She was one fast filly," Humphrey said of Magical Ride. "She earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure and she had a lot of speed. We were looking for an outcross for her. We're not much for having too much line breeding up front in a pedigree."

Her first foal was by Mineshaft  and then she was sent in back-to-back years to two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. G. Watts Humphrey, who uses only Cline and trainer Rusty Arnold in his breeding decisions, will often double up on matings. Ride On Curlin was the second foal of the mating of Magical Ride to Curlin.

"His personality on the farm is the same as he's displaying on the racetrackhe was a tough customer," remembered Cline.

Ride On Curlin has been a tough customer with a 2-3-4 slate from 11 starts and $714,687 in earnings. During California Chrome's current six-race win streak Ride On Curlin has gotten the closest to him at the finish than anyone, finishing 1 1/2 lengths behind him in the Preakness.

He'll be chasing California Chrome again on Saturday with a Triple Crown on the line. What a ride.