Bobby Zen

What do you get when you breed a mare who is by a sire who never raced because he crashed through a fence to a stallion who also never made it to the races because he, too, tried to run headlong through a fence?

If you’re Cyndy McKee and her late husband, John McKee, of West Virginia’s Beau Ridge Farm, the answer is the 3-year-old filly Direct the Cat, who on July 4 won a seven-furlong, second-level open allowance at Charles Town by 15 1/4 lengths as the 1-to-10 favorite.

That was the sixth straight victory for this daughter of Redirect out of the state-bred stakes-winning Fiber Sonde mare Cat Thats Grey.

More impressive than the streak are Direct the Cat’s gaudy winning margins: The front-running gray has crushed her competition by 58 3/4 cumulative lengths dating back to her first wire-to-wire score in lifetime start number three last August.

Her prowess over Charles Town’s three-quarters-of-a-mile bullring, where she has raced six of eight times against fellow West Virginia-breds, has led to speculation about whether this filly might be able to handle tougher stakes assignments out of town.

It’s also caused Direct the Cat to be dubbed a “freak” in the best possible sense of that racetrack term of endearment.

In fact, Charles Town announcer Paul Espinosa, Jr. enthusiastically invoked that descriptor in his stretch call of Direct the Cat’s fireworks on Independence Day.

“I don’t take offense to people calling her that, but I don’t think she’s a freak,” Cyndy McKee told TDN over the weekend.

“She’s just my amazing girl,” she said, the admiration for her homebred filly coming across in McKee’s lilting Appalachian drawl.

Beyond Direct the Cat’s family propensity for crashing through fences, those hunting for pedigree clues to explain her dominance don’t have to look far to spot another offbeat aspect of her breeding: Her sire, Redirect, is a son of 2004 sprint champion Speightstown. Her maternal grandsire, Fiber Sonde, is a half-brother to Speightstown.

“I sat there [Thursday] night watching the race, and I’m like, ‘What is this filly doing?’” McKee said, reverence evident as she described Direct the Cat’s visually impressive turn of foot.

“And I know that [jockey] Reshawn [Latchman] is not sending her. He’s not trying to break any records. He’s not going to do anything to hurt her,” McKee said.

“I don’t know how good she is, I guess that’s the thing,” McKee said. “And it’s hard for me to make a–obviously, I want her to be a superstar. Obviously.

“But I still have to realize she’s done all of her winning at Charles Town,” McKee said. “Not knocking Charles Town. This is my home. I was raised here. My dad was track superintendent at Charles Town for years. I grew up at Charles Town. My husband and I have done well here. We built a farm here. We love it here.

“But still…” McKee’s voice trails off in thought, searching for the proper balance between letting dreams run wild and being a realist.

A Void at Beau Ridge

McKee admitted that operating Beau Ridge Farm has been challenging since John died at age 83 on Feb. 25, 2023. The 170-acre spread in the unincorporated community of Kearneysville, just five miles from Charles Town, is home to 80 horses spread across four stables, plus a foaling barn, a show ring, and a three-eighths mile training track. Both Redirect and Fiber Sonde stand there for modest $1,000 stud fees, as do three other stallions.

John, born in Kearneysville, served in the U.S. Navy for seven years. He flew two tours in Guam, and ended his Navy career as a recruiter. When he returned home, he raised Black Angus and Pinzgaur Cattle for over 50 years. Along the way he became a Thoroughbred trainer, starting in 1969 with a single horse. He and Cyndy became a couple in the 1970s, and Beau Ridge eventually grew to one of the largest racing and breeding operations in West Virginia.

“When John passed, believe it or not, there were almost 60 broodmares here,” McKee said. “I got it down to 39 and I recently made another cut. I’d like to get it down to somewhere around 20, 24 mares. I’ve got 20 yearlings here, four horses in training at the farm, and another 30 at Charles Town right now.

“John was a very strong personality. He was a man’s man,” McKee continued. “We were together 47 years, and John was 18 years older than me. I learned a lot from him, and there’s a lot of things I do take from him. One of John’s strong points was he could put a value on a horse pretty quick. I used to tease him and say he could put a value on a horse a lot quicker and a lot more accurately than me–but I’m the better caretaker. And you know what? We made a pretty good team that way.

“I have grooms and farm help, but basically, it’s me running the operation–breeder, owner, trainer,” McKee said.

“It has its moments. Sometimes I look like a genius, and sometimes I wonder what in the hell I’m doing this for–why I haven’t sold everything and I’m not lying on Folly Beach in South Carolina,” she added with a self-deprecating laugh.

The McKees bought Fiber Sonde for $8,000 at KEENOV in 2007, not knowing he would entrench himself at or near the top the West Virginia sire standings for the next 17 seasons.

“Fiber Sonde went through a fence as a young horse and screwed his legs up,” McKee recalled. “We could have tried to run him. But John said if he got beat at Charles Town, nobody would want to breed to him. So we bred him, and didn’t know that he was going to be that strong of a stallion.”

Twelve years later at the 2019 KEENOV sale, the McKees were looking to add another budget-friendly stallion to their roster, and were intrigued enough to bid $15,000 for the unraced Redirect because they liked the Seattle Slew influence on the female side of his pedigree.

“When the young lady at Keeneland told us that he had gone through a fence and broke his shoulder as a yearling, I knew that if we could afford him, that horse was coming home with us,” McKee said. “That was some kind of an omen–Fiber Sonde went through a fence, and Redirect went through a fence.”

Comparing the two, McKee said, “Fiber Sonde, he’s just the total package. He’s a wonderful horse to be around. He’s been so good to us. He’s very kind; a very, very nice horse. Redirect is totally different. He’s more playful; a tougher horse to deal with. Redirect can be a little bit stronger, more stallion-acting.”

The McKee’s Redirect–Cat Thats Grey foal arrived in 2021, offering no initial hint that she harbored freakish potential.

“Clovis Crane broke her in Pennsylvania,” McKee said. “He does an excellent job. He had four of them up there for us. When they got to the track, they were very well-mannered and did everything correctly. I thought Direct the Cat could run a little bit. But I had no idea she could run like that.”

Neither did anyone else. One year ago this past weekend, on July 6, Direct the Cat debuted at 8-1 odds and finished third, beaten seven lengths in a West Virginia-bred maiden allowance. Two weeks later she was second, beaten three lengths, at the same class and mutuel.

“Then she drew the one hole going 4 1/2 furlongs,” McKee recalled. “And I thought, ‘Man, she’s just going to get trapped down inside and this is going to be a disaster.’ Little did I know, when that gate opened, she grabbed that rail and was gone–and hasn’t been beat since.”

Direct the Cat won by 11 lengths, then followed that Aug. 10 coming-out party with a 6 3/4-length drubbing of state-bred juvenile fillies in a Sept. 22 stakes named in honor of Rachel’s Turn, the McKee’s 15-race-winning Charles Town-based filly they campaigned into a Meadowlands stakes victress in 1991.

“What clicked in her brain? I don’t know,” McKee said.

Direct the Cat closed out 2023 with two more routs, by 12 1/4 lengths and then 7 1/2 lengths, in two more West Virginia-bred stakes.

So far in 2024, Direct the Cat has won a pair of N2X open allowances at Charles Town.

“She’s a rather tall filly. She’s not skinny or thin, but she’s not a heavy filly either, so she’s not hard on herself,” McKee said. “She likes to train. She likes to get out. So when you get started in the morning, she wants to go. She can be at times a little testy if you’re doing something to her that she just doesn’t quite like. She’s big enough to give you a little bit of a problem about it, but she’s not a mean filly or anything like that.”

Here’s another quirk about Direct the Cat: She’s a music afficionado. Her tastes include 1970s Europop, specifically the band ABBA.

“Jokingly, when she was a 2-year-old, and went through a few different stages, I kind of nicknamed her the Dancing Queen. So I play that song, and she just bobs her head,” McKee said.

“We turn her radio off, we have major problems,” McKee confided.

So How Good is She?

Direct the Cat’s two wins at age three translate to Beyer Speed Figures of 88 and 89. Those are numbers that suggest she might be worthy of stepping up in class and venturing beyond Charles Town.

But McKee said Direct the Cat is going to stay local for the time being, with the July 27 $75,000 Sylvia Bishop S. for 3-year-old West Virginia-bred fillies at seven furlongs circled as a no-brainer in the condition book.

After that, McKee is not sure where her filly might end up.

“The [Aug. 23 GII] Charles Town Oaks would be on my radar, big-time, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get into that race because the conditions include eligibility based on graded stakes earnings,” McKee said. “So it’s kind of tricky there. We’ve looked at other places. I’ve had some calls. The racing secretary’s office at Parx called me [Friday] and talked to me about the [Sept. 21 GI] Cotillion [S.],” McKee said.

“I mean, it flattered me greatly to think that somebody would call and want her for a million-dollar Grade I race,” McKee said.

“But it’s hard for me to–I would just think that would be very ambitious to go from Charles Town to a Grade I race,” McKee said. “There’s got to be a next step up, a stepping stone somewhere. A step that far up might backfire in your face. But then, maybe it won’t. I don’t know. There have to be other options.”

So far, those other options haven’t included any firm offers to buy Direct the Cat.

Would McKee be interested in selling? She answered that question by relating a humorous anecdote from when John was alive, and wheeling and dealing was an everyday part of their horse business.

“My husband always used to joke he’d sell me if the price was right,” McKee said with a wistful chuckle. “He’d sell anything.”

Then, turning pensive, McKee added, “Me, I’m more to keep things.”

Asked if there was anything else about Direct the Cat that she wanted to add that didn’t get asked, McKee politely said no and thanked a reporter for taking the time to call.

Then she changed her mind.

“Just one more thing, and then I’ll quit running my mouth,” McKee said, taking a breath and choosing her words carefully.

“One thing I do get a little upset about is that John was 83 years old when he passed away. And he worked very hard. He was president of the West Virginia Thoroughbred Breeders Association for a long time. He was a major force in getting our state’s breeding program. And he was a very strong advocate for Charles Town and for Charles Town horsemen.”

McKee continued, keeping her voice level despite the tears she knows are coming.

“This was the best horse we ever raised. And he didn’t get to see her run. And that’s the only thing bad about this. But hopefully, he’s up there looking down, and he’s smiling.”

The post The Week in Review: Sure, She’s Earned ‘Freak’ Status, but Breeder Says Huge-Margin Charles Town Filly is ‘Just My Amazing Girl’ appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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