SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- She's a small-framed filly but stocky, with a twisted sort of whitish blaze and the muscles of a quarter horse sprinter. She wasn't supposed to win against open company, and she wasn't supposed to beat the boys. But she did.
Franny Freud was retired on Thursday, three days before she was scheduled to start in the $250,000 Test Stakes at Saratoga Race Course as the 5-2 favorite on the morning line. Freakishly fast and devilishly good, she had been the New York Thoroughbred Breeding program's latest pin-up girl before a ligament injury cut short her career. Franny Freud scored the first Grade 1 win for a local stallion whose stud fee is just $6,500.
The 3-year-old filly went around the Oklahoma oval for a routine gallop Thursday morning, but when she came back to the barn a small amount of filling was discovered on the outside of her left front ankle. An ultrasound detected the injury, which could be dangerous and is difficult to cure.
"It's kind of shocking," trainer John Terranova said, "But I'm glad we caught it before we could have developed into something worse."
The bad news is that the 3-year-old filly's complete ability will not be realized, as she ends two years on the track with an 8-2-0 record from 11 starts. But the good news is that she retired safely, the injury was detected soon enough to guarantee her a healthy future as a member of breeder Anthony Grey's broodmare band. And her connections will always remember her remarkable story -- a study in improbabilities, made even more compelling by the fact that when her career ended, she was rising toward the top of her division.
Franny Freud was born in New York, as are all of the horses belonging to Anthony Grey. A 52-year-old native of Long Island, he went to high school with the son of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Stephen DiMauro and got hooked on the horses. He even spent the summer of '75 hotwalking horses at Saratoga for eventual Hall of Fame trainer John Veitch and was in good company; three years later Veitch conditioned Alydar through his legendary Triple Crown rivalry with Affirmed.
"I wanted to be a veterinarian and I got wait-listed for Cornell, but I didn't want to be a biology major and not get into vet school because what are you going to do with that?" Grey said. "So I went into finance instead."
He moved to Florida, near Orlando, in 1981 and has lived there ever since. But when Grey got into the racing game as a business in 2002 it was due to the strength of his native state's breeding program.
New York's Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund distributes more than $52 million per year in the form of incentives, breeder awards, stallion awards, owner awards, and purse money for New York-bred horses. This fund, established in 1973, is a public benefit corporation of New York financed from within the racing industry through a percentage of the total pari-mutuel wagers on thoroughbred racing in the state and the Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) monies from Finger Lakes Race Track. Financially, the program presents alluring rewards, and that was what drew the business-minded Grey to build his string of broodmares there. He breeds about 20 horses per year, sells some, and tries to keep the best.
Up until 2007, "the best" was Wishful Tomcat, winner of Aqueduct's Grade 3 Discovery Handicap in 2008 and a multiple New York-bred stakes winner at the NYRA tracks. Many of Grey's other runners were part of the "B" team, grinding it out at Finger Lakes. None had ever won a Grade 1.
All that changed when Franny Freud was born. Her sire Freud was a full brother to leading North American sire Giant's Causeway, both sons of Storm Cat out of the Grade 2-winning Mariah's Storm. Grey had purchased an interest in the stallion and carefully planned the cross with a D'Accord mare named Frankly Fran. D'Accord's sire was none other than the great Secretariat. It was a match made in heaven.
Becky Thomas owns Sequel Bloodstock, with a New York Stallion division where Freud stands and a training facility in Ocala, Fla. Franny Freud was born at the New York farm, and from the time she was a foal, she earned her connections' respect.
"Becky takes notes all along, like, 'OK, three months old, looks good,' or 'get rid of,'" Grey explained.
Thomas joked that there are lots of "get rid of" horses, those destined for auctions like the upcoming Fasig-Tipton New York-bred preferred yearling sale on Aug. 7-8 in Saratoga. But Franny Freud rated highly enough to earn a trip to the Florida farm, where young runners adapt in a program designed to prep them for the racetrack. There, a funny mixup played what wound up being a positive role in the filly's development.
"She came in with another horse's neck strap on, so I trained her as if she were a horse that had a light pedigree that was going to the OBS April sale," Thomas recalled. "When Tony had the horse identifier come to tattoo all of his horses for the racetrack and we were missing one, we realized she wasn't who I thought she was. I had her ready to be a three-eighths of a mile worker at the April sales."
When the mix-up was discovered, both Grey and Thomas were initially disappointed. Thomas had to track down her other filly, who was in training at another farm far behind the more advanced sales-prep regimen. And Grey thought Franny Freud would just wind up running at Finger Lakes, and said as much when Thomas told him what had happened.
"I said, 'Oh, no, you have to send this one to the city,'" Thomas recalled.
The rest, they say, is history.
Trainer John Terranova didn't mind the mixup.
"She was ready to go early, no wonder she was so fit," he said.
Franny broke her maiden first time out on May 21, 2009, flying past the boys to win by seven lengths. Her connections knew she was a talented filly, but they weren't keen on taking on Hot Dixie Chick, a Steve Asmussen trainee who was rattling off blazing victories for Grace Stables, owned by Barbara Banke, the wife of influential owner Jess Jackson.
"We knew our filly had talent but she needed time to develop a little bit before taking on something like that," Terranova said. "We wanted to do the right thing for her at the right time because we knew she was good and she needed to develop the right way."
So Franny went to Canada, where she ran second in the June 28 My Dear Stakes after getting swung four-wide in the stretch of the five-furlong event. Stretching out to six furlongs on Aug. 15, she took the Ontario Debutante Stakes. And she finally did get her Finger Lakes start in -- rolling to a 3 ½-length victory in the Lady Finger Stakes there on Sept. 7.
"Taking the trip up to Canada for the Debutante was a good idea," Terranova said. "After she won that, I knew, man, this filly can really run."
Grey had sold half interest in the filly to his friend Stephen Yarbrough after the maiden win, and when Franny ran second in the My Dear, top owner Paul Pompa purchased 60 percent from the two. Newly inspired by her solid wins, the connections entered the filly in the Oct. 10 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park. It was a Grade 1, 1-mile event won by Devil May Care. Franny finished fifth.
"At the time it wasn't the right move, but she came back fine, thankfully," Terranova said.
He put her back into New York-bred company, sprinting six furlongs on a muddy track, and she won the New York Stallion Series Fifth Avenue Stakes by five.
When Terranova shipped Franny Freud to California to run in the Santa Ynez Stakes this January, he sent her to the barn of Bob Baffert. Terranova's wife, Tonya, is a former assistant to the Hall of Fame trainer, and the horsemen often care for each other's out-of-town runners with Baffert being based on the West Coast and Terranova holding down his operations in the East.
Baffert, both a buyer and purveyor of the finest thoroughbreds in the industry, could have any kind of runner from any kind of bloodline. The horses he trains are from sires who easily command $150,000 stud fees, and their individual prices at auction have topped $1 million on more than one occasion. So it stood to reason that when Franny Freud's bloodlines were mentioned, the trainer with three Kentucky Derby victories and multiple Eclipse Awards turned up his nose just a little.
"At first he was like, 'Eh, Freud, New York-bred, eh,'" Terranova said. "But we knew she was really good. She's as good as Indian Blessing, she's that kind."
Indian Blessing, trained by Baffert, was the champion 2-year-old filly of 2007 and the champion female sprinter of 2008.
"The more he trained her, he knew she was good," Terranova said. "And he was working her against all of his Derby horses. I remember him telling me the only one that could keep up with her was Lookin At Lucky."
On May 15, Lookin At Lucky gave Baffert his fourth Preakness score. On Aug. 1, he won the $1 million Haskell Invitational.
Franny Freud did not win the Santa Ynez at Santa Anita. Carrying nine pounds more than the victress, Amen Hallelujah, she missed by three-quarters of a length. That, however, was her final loss. In the seven remaining months of her career, she turned in four equally impressive victories -- on Keeneland's Polytrack in the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes on April 7, on the dirt in the New York Stallion Park Avenue Stakes at Belmont on May 2, on the turf against the boys by six lengths in Belmont's New York Stallion Stakes on May 26, and back on the dirt in the Grade 1 Proiress Stakes at Belmont on July 4.
"She's a Grade 1-caliber filly, and we were able to prove that," Terranova said. "The good ones like her don't come around very often."
Before Franny Freud broke her maiden, Grey had given away her dam. The mare had lost a foal at birth and still had milk to offer, so she became a nursemare for an orphaned foal. But about a year later, seeing Franny Freud's potential, Grey bought her back. Frankly Fran is in foal to Freud again, and a few years down the road, if all goes well, Franny Freud's full sister or brother could be competing on the same level.
"We knew we had something special," Grey said.
Even Pompa, who found his greatest success with the Kentucky-bred Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown in 2008, was blown away by the success of the New York-bred program in this instance.
"I think now we've shown him the light, that if you have a nice New York-bred you can make some really good money," Grey said. "And who knows? You could get a kind like her."
Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist, whose coverage of the thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets, including The Blood-Horse magazine, the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) and NTRA.com. She lives in Lexington, Ky.