Jim Glavin, co-owner of Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint candidate Merit Man, wanted a stable name and colors that stood out. Being originally from Boston, Glavin loved the story of James Michael Curley's shutters with purple shamrocks.
"He was one of those curmudgeon types who fought the establishment," said Glavin. "He was mayor of Boston and governor of Massachusetts."
Curley's colorful career during the first half of the 20th century included once being reelected mayor while in prison. The Irish American at one point bought a house in the posh neighborhood of Boston's rich elite. Curley announced his arrival by outfitting the house in white shutters with purple shamrocks.
Purple shamrocks may also announce Merit Man's arrival in the Juvenile Sprint. Though the fillies Beholder and Kauai Katie may be getting deserved attention, Merit Man is unlikely to let the girls walk away with the race. He brings an undefeated record of two races that includes a 5 1/2-length trouncing of the competition in the Oct. 6 Tim Conway Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Glavin's Purple Shamrock Racing owns Merit Man in partnership with his friend Bruce Chandler and Bob McKee's Double Kee. Glavin and Chandler, who own other horses together, live in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., while McKee lives in Phoenix. Trainer Bob Hess put the partnership together upon the purchase of Merit Man for $75,000 at this year's Ocala Breeders' Sales Company spring 2-year-old sale.
"A friend of mine, Chris Brothers, found the colt at OBS," said Hess. "We loved him in the video. I told him to go to $100,000 if he needed to, but we were lucky to get him for $75,000. He's a great individual, with a great body and a great mind."
Merit Man tends to be a little lazy in his morning exercise.
"He's like a big kid in the mornings, looking around," said Hess. "But he's a lot more focused in the afternoon."
Hess unveiled Merit Man in a Sept. 2 maiden race at Del Mar, expecting him to run third or fourth over the Polytrack and then break his maiden when the circuit moved to Santa Anita. Instead, the son of With Distinction—Precise Strike, by Precise End, won the race by three-quarters of a length under jockey Patrick Valenzuela. When Merit Man came back at Santa Anita with such an emphatic victory in the Tim Conway over the same track and six-furlong distance as the Juvenile Sprint, Hess began to think about the Breeders' Cup.
"The Juvenile Sprint is a good race because it doesn't force trainers and owners to stretch out sprinters," Hess said. "It gives them an opportunity to do what's right for the horse. Merit Man would not be running in a Breeders' Cup race if it wasn't for the Juvenile Sprint."
Merit Man may eventually show Hess that he can go farther.
"From a mental standpoint, he'll do anything," said the trainer. "I think he'll go at least a mile. Time will tell."
Merit Man has won both of his races from a stalking position.
"He's well educated with dirt," said Hess. "He's well educated running inside and behind, so if he draws inside or with a lot of other speed, he can lay in third or fourth."
That could put Merit Man in the perfect spot to get those Purple Shamrock silks noticed in a big way come Nov. 2.