About 2,500 miles away from the site of their crowning achievements, Kentucky Derby winners Grindstone and Giacomo are still considered royalty at Oakhurst Equine Veterinary Services and Thoroughbred Farm in Newberg, Oregon.
Grindstone, pensioned since 2019, turns 29 in late January and Giacomo will be 20 in February.
“We are very, very fortunate and blessed to have two unique and special horses,” said Ben Root, operations manager for the facility founded in 1996 by his parents Dr. Jack and Margaret (“Cookie”) Root. “These stallions give us an opportunity to be ambassadors for Thoroughbred racing. We get calls a few times a month from people wanting to see them and we welcome them.”
The Derby stars have totally different personalities.
“Grindstone still thinks he is king of the world,” Root said. “He screams and yells and bangs on his stall door when a horse walks by. He loves attention. When he is led in or out of the barn, he announces his presence to the other stallions. He knows he’s special, he knows he’s cool.
“Giacomo is as tame and sweet as you could ever imagine. He might nip a little bit but you can get right up to him and even hold him to get a picture taken. We even have had older school children do that. Especially for non-horse people, Giacomo is an angel.”
Both have their quirks. Grindstone inexplicably removes his halter from his head almost daily. In perhaps a subtle show of dominance, Giacomo backs away if his halter is touched but willingly stands still for treats, pettings and photos. When turned loose in his paddock each morning, the son of Holy Bull performs his self-taught routine that includes pirouettes, bucks, rears and a few laps at a gallop.
Prior to pandemic restrictions, Oakhurst hosted Kentucky Derby parties for several hundred friends, family and clients and a “Breakfast with the Stallions” event where Giacomo was in a nearby pen so guests could get up close and personal.
The occasional admirers who visit the stallions include owners of their offspring for racing and non-racing activities.
“They just want to see the dad,” Root said.
Track announcer and publicist Jason Beem, a longtime friend of the Root family, has made frequent stops to mingle with Giacomo. Another notable devotee is a man who came during his layover at the Portland International Airport.
From Bluegrass to Pacific Northwest
Grindstone and Giacomo launched their breeding careers in the heart of Kentucky’s famed Bluegrass region prior to landing in their forever home. Grindstone, by Unbridled, was at owner-breeder W. T. Young’s Overbrook Farm before being purchased by the Roots in 2009. Giacomo campaigned for breeders Jerry and Ann Moss until Frank Stronach became a partner for his four-year-old season. He initially was on the stallion roster at Stronach’s Adena Springs before hopscotching to other states.
Grindstone was leased to Oakhurst when the Stronach conglomerate operated the now shuttered Portland Meadows with the goal of infusing enthusiasm into the area’s small Thoroughbred market.
Giacomo eventually was sold to the Roots with the understanding he would remain under their care regardless of his results as a stallion.
Both have had a measure of success as sires to augment their celebrity status. A current headliner is Milords Oathkeeper, a Root family-bred son of Giacomo and the Grindstone mare Milady Rocks. The gelding brought honor to his connections in winning the Josephine County Juvenile Stakes at Grants Pass Downs in November. With two wins in five starts, he has earned a meager $14,831, but the figure is irrelevant to the family. The Root clan has long participated with more profitable racers in Washington, California, and Arizona, but Milords Oathkeeper has an intangible value. Ben Root summarizes the significance of the victory in three words.
“Oregon is home,” he said.
To punctuate the point, Root said they have declined attractive purchase offers in favor of racing him as a three-year-old in 2022.
“The emotional attachment kind of throws financial reality out the window,” Root said. “My father walks by his horses every day and says ‘look what we have here.’ We treat them like kings. They have beautiful stallion halters with brass name plates. Their paddock fences are black because my father designed the farm to look like Kentucky. We never take any of this for granted.”
For more information on Oakhurst Equine Veterinary Services and Thoroughbred Farm, visit https://oakhurstequine.com/
The Oregon Horse Council is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit that works to strengthen, connect, and represent Oregon’s equine industry.