Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: A Tradition Deep In Sports Cars And Racehorses

by | 02.09.2017 | 12:04pm
Isabelle de Tomaso (2nd from right in green) with her sister Hope Haskell Jones and trainer Graham Motion after the Holy Bull
Isabelle de Tomaso (2nd from right in green) with her sister Hope Haskell Jones and trainer Graham Motion after the Holy Bull

Horsepower has always fascinated Isabelle de Tomaso, whose New Jersey homebred colt, Irish War Cry, pulled off a wire-to-wire upset of 2-year-old champion Classic Empire in last Saturday's Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

A daughter of Amory L. Haskell – founding president of Monmouth Park and the namesake for the Jersey Shore track's signature race for 3-year-olds – young Isabelle rode horses while growing up on the family's colonial estate, Woodland Farm, near Red Bank, N.J.

Amory Haskell was an executive with General Motors, and it may have been this connection that led Isabelle to a different type of horsepower: auto racing.

She began to travel the world in the early 1950s and became a pioneering female driver, competing in British MGs and Maseratis against some of the sport's best in races like the 12 Hours of Sebring.

In 1956, while visiting the Maserati factory in Modena, Italy, she met Alejandro de Tomaso, a driver on the international circuit who'd left his native Argentina the previous year because of the authoritarian policies of Juan Peron. They became driving partners and married a year later. The couple settled in Italy in 1959, retired from driving, and formed De Tomaso Automobili, building exotic sports cars that were fancied by celebrities like Elvis Presley, who owned a De Tomaso Pantera (legend has it he shot the car in anger once when it didn't start).


Two of the sports cars manufactured by De Tomaso – the Longchamp and Deauville – were named for French racecourses. Isabelle continued to have an interest in horse racing, and that only increased after the death of her husband in 2003.

Isabelle de Tomaso races in Italy, where she spends much of the year, but keeps a handful of mares in Ireland and currently has five mares in the United States. She foals her mares in New Jersey, though the Woodland Farm is no longer in the family, having been sold following Amory Haskell's death in 1968.

Irish War Cry, a son of Curlin out of the Polish Numbers mare Irish Sovereign, is her most successful American runner to date. Irish Strait, a 5-year-old half brother to Irish War Cry by English Channel, could complete a graded stakes double for de Tomaso and trainer Graham Motion if he manages to win Saturday's Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs. Irish Strait has patiently worked his way through allowance conditions, winning four of 13 starts. The Tampa Bay will be his first try in a graded stakes.

De Tomaso competed as a racecar driver in the 1950s

De Tomaso competed as a racecar driver in the 1950s

De Tomaso planned the mating of Irish War Cry, saying she chose two-time Horse of the Year Curlin because “he was sound” and raced as an older horse, winning four group/grade 1 races, including the Dubai World Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Curlin won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park as a 3-year-old in 2007 but finished fourth as the Classic favorite the following year on a synthetic surface at Santa Anita. “I could afford him then,” she added, a reference to the $25,000 stud fee she paid for Curlin in 2014 when Irish War Cry became a member of the son of Smart Strike's fifth crop of just 36 foals. Curlin now stands for $150,000 live foal.

Irish Sovereign will be bred this year to Exaggerator, a son of Curlin who entered stud in 2017 at WinStar Farm, de Tomaso said. Exaggerator's three Grade 1 victories included the Haskell at Monmouth Park, the race named for her father.

Now unbeaten in three career starts, Irish War won his first two races at Laurel, coming from well off the pace to win a six-furlong maiden contest Nov. 11, then dueled on the lead for seven furlongs to win the Maryland Stakes by a nose Dec. 31.

The colt raced without Lasix in those two starts, but Motion said Irish War Cry bled slightly in his first breeze in Florida in January and the trainer had him treated with the diuretic prior to the Holy Bull. “There's no reason to take any chances,” Motion said.

De Tomaso prefers to race her horses without the drug. “I know what Lasix does because (doctors) give it to me,” the octogenarian said.

As S.H. Fernando wrote in an article about de Tomaso last month, stylish sports cars aren't de Tomaso's only connection to Italy. She bred the first three dams of Irish War Cry in New Jersey after acquiring fourth dam, Tabebuia, in Europe. The daughter of Tambourine traces directly to Duccia Di Buoninsegna, a foundation mare in Italian horseman Federico Tesio's legendary breeding operation.

Proving that, in the Thoroughbred world, good horses can come from anywhere, whether it's Italy or New Jersey.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly said Isabelle de Tomaso met her husband Alejandro de Tomaso in Argentina. Additionally, Curlin's Breeders' Cup Classic win at Monmouth Park came at the conclusion of his 3-year-old campaign.

  • Tromper

    Fascinating history here, Ray Paulick! Best thanks!

  • Terri Z

    Thanks Ray, what a terrific story about owner/breeder Isabelle De Tomaso. I don’t think there has been a woman owner/breeder, with a top rated 3 year old stallion, on the Triple Crown Trail since Mrs. Whitney.
    And how wonderful would it be for a son of Curlin to win the Kentucky Derby? Irish War Cry so much resembles his sire that he could almost pass for his twin.

    • Memories of Puchi

      Barbara Banke and Isabelle De Tomaso – That would be a powerful partnership. Girl Power to the max degree.

  • LongTimeEconomist

    If he wins the Derby, he would be the third Jersey-bred to do so. Can you name the other two?

    • David Juffet

      Regret is one.

      • LongTimeEconomist

        You’re halfway there.

        • David Juffet

          Cavalcade. Had to look that one up!

          • LongTimeEconomist

            If you looked it up, you only get half credit. (:

          • Memories of Puchi

            At Mr. Juffet was honest about it. I think you should amend that to 3/4 credit!

  • Isabelle Ellis

    Isabelle Haskell met Alejandro de Tomaso while she was paying a bill at the Maserati factory in Modena, Italy.

    • RayPaulick

      Isabelle-Thank you for the correction and I apologize for the error. I’ve altered the section to note that Alejandro had left Argentina in 1956 because of Juan Peron.

    • susan heller

      Over the years I had the pleasure of knowing Blanche Haskell who sold me my apartment 1005 in the Channel tower in Monmouth Beach NJ and when I became a mutual clerk at Monmouth Park I ran into Blanche before the Haskell race (run than in August) and I congratulated her for what she and her late husband did for racing especially in NJ.

      • Terri Z

        Wouldn’t it be wonderful for racing in New Jersey if love for Irish War Cry would have the same effect on racing there as Smarty Jones has had in Pennsylvania.

        • David Juffet

          Sure would be great.

  • I’m very happy for Isabella De Tomaso a truly horsewoman and support her opinion of NO medication on racing day

  • katwalk

    Correction: Curlin won the BCC at Monmouth as a 3 year old. He was 4th in his BCC career finale on the synthetic at Santa Anita.

    • RayPaulick

      Right you are. Thank you.

  • lastromantibune

    Great story ..there are 2 top writers of the turf now a days….. Ray Paulick & Steve Haskin ….and you both do the sport proud

    • Wayne

      Let’s not forget Natalie

  • Imim Tnua

    This was very interesting! Monmouth is my home track; I love it a little more now knowing this history. Best of luck to Isabelle and her horses.

  • horsepower

    Great Story – My DERBY PICK now for sure……..Thanks Ray

  • MA

    What an interesting life she’s led.

  • Will Styles

    Really nice story Ray, great job. On a side not boy these polish number mares through some runners.

  • Keith Leo O’Brien

    Wonderful to see an old racing family back in the game with a nice horse! Mr Haskell was a true racing man! He hosted a steeplechase meet on his Red Bank farm for decades!

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