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 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.
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