Picture Terry Greer in his office, dreaming up matchups between thoroughbreds. An old movie reel would help.
“His office was a little crazy to see,” said son Brandon, 43, trainer of Town Cruise, the surprise winner of the $1-million Woodbine Mile on Sept. 18, the kind of win that scattered the pigeons. In fact, Town Cruise is one of the few horses Greer trains. He’s chief of a humble little two-horse stable. How is this possible?
“I still have to remind myself that this happened,” Brandon said. “I’m sure everybody dreams of it, but you look back at what you’re dreaming and you think: ‘Well, that’s silly,’ and you just come back to reality and get back to work.”
Town Cruise was created from Terry’s thoughtful probing into thoroughbred bloodlines. What worked. What didn’t. What spawned a superior thoroughbred. Apparently, he’s figured it out. On a Kraft Dinner budget no less.
“It’s like in those dramas where an investigator is trying to hunt down a serial killer,” Brandon recalled. “He had newspaper articles on the wall and documents about the floor around his chair. He is absolutely a student of [breeding] and I’m not myself. I try to keep up with him, but I don’t. I don’t know if there is anybody better.”
They say this is the sport of kings. But by office, Brandon means the Greers’ living room.
The Greers have never owned a farm. “We’ve always been kind of nomadic,” Brandon said. “His dedication to breeding was far before I was involved. He’s been big on this since he was about 20.”
Brandon’s father (and grandfather Reg) had been doing the show horse circuit from the 1960s, guiding jumpers to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Brandon would tag along when he was five. And he loved it. He went every year until he was 15, about the time that his father got out of the show horse business.
Terry Greer was always interested in thoroughbreds. He’d take the kid, Brandon, with him to Woodbine and they would bet as much as $10 total throughout the day. They would watch the Breeders’ Cup and the Woodbine Mile and races like that on television together. They would watch all of the sport’s drama on a 14-inch black and white television that they had upstairs because reception was just better up there. (We’re not talking cable here out in the country.) Besides, Terry felt that he could see the race better in black and white. More contrast.
When Brandon was little, his father managed a breeding operation in Mansfield, Ont., (near Barrie) where the owners bred horses to sell in the U.S. market. That served to fuel the fire. Eventually, Brandon and Terry bought their first broodmare, a grey mare, for $860. The $60 was for the crib strap that she wore. The Greers promptly threw it in the garbage.
Less than a year later, they got another broodmare, and then they had two. And they started breeding them.
Most fortuitously, they bought Candy Cruise out of the yearling sales in Toronto. Her sire was Candy Ride, an Argentine-bred winner of the $1-million Pacific Classic. Candy Ride has emerged as a top sire, with 2018 U.S. Horse of the Year Gun Runner his most notable offspring. Candy Ride’s yearlings can now fetch $1-million in the U.S. sales ring.
But at the time, the Greers paid $4,500 for Candy Cruise. “We very much liked her and Candy Ride was a new horse, [as a sire] and dad was just on fire about this new stallion. We found this one, picked her up, nice-looking filly, average size.”
Success doesn’t come in a straight line. They were told afterwards that Candy Cruise had been ill before the sale and the illness had stunted her growth. “That was strange, because she seemed average,” Brandon said.
Once under the Greers’ care, Candy Cruise started growing and didn’t stop for a long time. Now, she’s a very tall mare. And she generally has large foals. The Greers hadn’t intended on buying a big horse. “We don’t necessarily like tall horses,” Brandon said. “It just kind of went that way.”
They bought her with the intent to race her, but most importantly, as a broodmare prospect.
As a racehorse, Candy Cruise didn’t make it easy for the little outfit. She had an overwhelming personality that she has passed on to her foals. “She was, frankly speaking, for me, just too hot,” Brandon said. “She had speed and was fast, but I never really knew which direction that speed would go.”
They didn’t get many races out of her. Brandon puts that down to his own inexperience as a trainer. (He started his first horse in 2004). “We kind of regretted that later on,” he said, now knowing that Candy Rides tend to get better with age and maturity. “If I was better, I think I could have found out how to make races better for her.”
She passes maturity and eventual good sense onto her foals, too. And they are glad they kept her. “We still very much like her and her foals.,” he said.
In 2014, they bred Candy Cruise to Ontario stallion Town Prize, whose main claim to fame had been his speed, and a win in the Woodstock Stakes at Woodbine. He had won that race by 5 ½ lengths in 1:08.22, which was only 6/100ths off the track record held at the time by Essence Hit Man. In only five starts, he also finished third in the Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park and was third in the Colin Stakes at Woodbine.
He stood at stud for a time at William Sorokolit Sr.’s farm, but only sired a handful of horses. He probably has only about 20 foals of racing age, but he has a high percentage of success: with seven wins from 10 starters. He is a son of Breeders Cup Sprint winner Speightstown.
So the Greers conjured up the mating of Town Cruise with a $4,500 mare and a stallion that stands for $3,500 a live foal. (Next year, to keep the momentum going, Ascot Stud, who stands him now, say they will charge $2,500, even though he has now sired a Woodbine Mile winner.) Who would guess that such humble beginnings would create a winner of $1-million race?
There are plenty of Greer friends and neighbours who can say they witnessed the birth of Town Cruise. More than a dozen of them had told the Greers they wanted to see a mare foal. But it’s not always that easy to pinpoint a night when this will happen. “They’ll give you some indication,” Brandon said. “But they might drag you on for a few days.”
However, Candy Cruise decided to incubate Town Cruise longer than most. The gestation period for a thoroughbred mare is about 11 months. But Candy Cruise carried her foal for an extra month. “We were getting a little concerned,” Brandon said. Finally, at the 12-month mark, they consulted a veterinarian who said the mare was ready for birth, and so was the foal. They induced the birth, so the crowd of well- wishers had a specific time to gather. And marvel, as they should.
“Everybody just piled in,” Brandon said. “This mare is not a nervous type, but you want to be quiet when the mare is foaling, just to reduce stress. We gave our strict instructions to be quiet. Just let the mare do her thing.”
Her thing was to foal a Woodbine Mile winner.
Because of this, after his birth, the Greers wanted to name him “Talk of the Town,” but eventually, they found out the name was taken. So they just kept it simple: they combined the first name of the sire with the last name of the dam. Brandon still finds himself referring to Town Cruise as “Talk” around the barn. It might confuse a few people.
The real Talk of the Town was a Kentucky-bred son of Cape Town, foaled in 2008. He didn’t race until he was five years old, but won his first race, and only raced twice after that in claimers, banking $12,350.
Town Cruise, a 6-year-old gelding, is a horse that Brandon has been around since the horse’s birth. “I’ve spent more time with this horse than any individual person,” he said. “And so he’s just ‘Talk” to me.
“I have to stop calling him ‘Talk.’”
Town Cruise was a reasonably playful foal, never crazy. “Very nice to be around,” Brandon said. He still has a photo of Town Cruise when he was only three weeks old on his computer. “I just love the picture,” he said. “It’s just him. He’s got that same look on his face and that same high-headed presentation that is just who he is. And he gets that from his mom. When it was time to start training him, he was very nice to train, to break in.”
At the same time, he was scary, too. He was quite big at three years old. The Greers not only did not race him at two, they did not break him to ride until he was three. “We want to give them time to grow,” Brandon said. “I think I’ve run two 2-year-olds in my entire life. And I don’t regret that. Just let them grow and become themselves a little more.”
But he was big and Terry was getting older. Town Cruise was one of the last horses that Terry broke.
“It’s a long way up there,” Brandon said. “I can imagine when you are up on his back, it’s a long way down, and as dad would say: He doesn’t bounce like he used to.”
In fact, many years ago, Terry was seriously crushed when a horse flipped over backwards on him. Terry probably shouldn’t have, but he got up right away. However, he spent a long time in trauma centres recovering from the damage done to his body. He did manage to get back up on horses, but the accident left its mark. A few years later, doctors discovered that the impact of the 1,000-pound animal blew out a valve in his heart.
He’s still trying to overcome that injury. His energy often flags. Unfortunately, while there is a new surgery that might help now, it’s been postponed because of COVID. He’s still waiting by the phone. It was a major effort for Terry, now 73, to get to Woodbine to witness his creation win the Woodbine Mile. But it was worth it.
Although Town Cruise is a six-year old, he’s been raced sparingly, only 14 times in four years. Last year, at five, during Woodbine’s COVID-shortened season, he made only three starts, his best finish a third for $10,605 in earnings. In his first year of racing in 2018, at three, he won his only start. At four he won two of six races.
Before the Woodbine Mile, he had started only three times this season, winning two allowance races, which created a bit of chatter, and gave him lots of confidence. That buoyed Brandon to take his first step into a stakes race, the King Edward Stakes on Aug. 15. He led all the way, but was defeated by Olympic Runner in the final strides. That was a surprise, too.
“Yes, I could race him more, but we typically don’t do that,” Brandon said. “I kind of like giving them more time. This is from dad as well. This are not just my thoughts. Most of my thoughts come from my dad. He’s the one that I learned from as a kid.’’
Brandon said they much prefer to give horses a break between starts. A real break. “Stringing together races is stressful,” he said. “We always like making each race its own performance. We bring them up to the race, let them have it, then come down again, relax, before we start building up again for the next.”
If there is anything wrong, there is time to heal. “And time heals those things better than I ever could,” Brandon said. “Give them a break and wait for them to start wanting to go again. They are happier doing it and a happier horse is so much easier to work with.”
There aren’t many who follow that regimen. Brandon admits that not only does it lend itself to having only a few starts in a season, but they’ve probably forfeited a lot of purse money, too. “It’s cost us a lot over the years,” he said. “I don’t regret it.”
How do they survive? “We just try to spend not much on ourselves,” Brandon said. “Every year, it’s been: Can we get enough to go to the next year? It’s just all about putting it back in this and trying to get to the next year without being put in a situation where we have to run a horse and they have to win. That’s too much pressure for the horse and that’s how we hurt them.”
The Greer practice has worked so well with Town Cruise. Candy Cruise was very nervous, with high energy, and so was her foal. The Greers made it their main mission to deal with that personality set over the years: “getting him to have security in us so he knows we are not going to violate him, that the jockey is not going to violate him,” Brandon said. “Showing him everything. Showing him as much as we can.”
And once he learns something, it’s set in his mind, and is no longer a problem. Over the years, he has become more comfortable about everything. “The last couple of years, you can see him enjoying the order and the procedure of things,” Brandon said. “He’s a fun horse to work with.”
Brandon always gives Town Cruise a couple of days off after a race. The horse knows the number of days he gets to chill back in the barn. “But when I get to the point when I normally bring the saddle to him, to start to gallop, that’s the day that he starts to pick his head up.
“And if he sees me bringing the saddle to some other horse that isn’t him, the noise that comes out of that stall…..”
Town Cruise speaks. And Brandon understands him perfectly. “It’s as if Town Cruise is saying ‘I am the one you are supposed to be tacking up and sending out. Let’s go.’”
“I swear, this horse helps me put the saddle on,” Brandon said. “And the bridle and everything. It’s so incredible to have a horse that just enjoys it. He knows everything. He just seems to know what it’s about.”
So the Greers have a philosophy that they try to do as much as they can for the horses. And the horses have kept them going. “Every year, it’s sometimes it’s been just enough, sometimes more than enough to keep going,” Brandon said. “The count this year, I don’t know how I can describe that. It is so far beyond enough that I don’t have a word for it.
“It always seems that when a cheque comes in, there’s a bill coming in too. So this is a big cheque [$720,00 with Ontario breeders’ awards added on]. At the back of my brain, I’m going: ‘Oh god, what’s the bill going to look like?”
Town Cruise had two stablemates, although one of them, Sharp’s River, also a son of Town Prize, has been retired from racing. “He’s done well and he looks great, but he’s come up with an ankle issue,” Brandon said. “It’s not terrible, but I’m afraid if I were to run him again, I’d make it an issue for him. He’s off the track, happy and sound, and happy to do whatever. He’s just five years old. I don’t want to carry him off the track in pieces.”
The other is a 3-year-old called Extra Quiet. Brandon figures he might get a start out of him this year, but will wait to see “what he tells me to do. “We’ll try to see what we can do for him.”
Brandon had never started a horse in a Grade 1 race like the Woodbine Mile before. He knew that a lot of things had to happen just a certain way to succeed. But by the half-mile mark, he checked off a lot of them on the list.
“When I saw the half time, and saw him come out from behind the hedge, and saw his stride and how integrated he was from top to bottom, and [jockey Daisuke Fukumoto] was on top of him, that was a big check mark for me,” Brandon said. “They had to be in synch with each other. And they were.
“Daisuke was fantastic there. He’s 23 years old and for a young guy like that to be so cool on a horse, and that horse needs to know that the rider on him isn’t going to violate him…When I saw them at the half mile mark and they were doing just what they needed to do, I thought: ‘That’s great.
“We’re going to get our race out and it would be wonderful if we got a fifth out of it.”
Town Cruise, setting all the pace, was being chased by two longshots, while the favourites raced at the back of the 10-horse field. Candy Cruise’s son stretched his lead to two lengths by the half, and nobody could get closer.
“When they got to the top of the stretch, everybody was doing as I was expecting they would do,” Brandon said. “They were stacking up behind, and I was just hoping at the time – I had seen the same thing in so many turf races – they make their move all at once, nine horses trying to fit into the same three lanes. It ends up that fisticuffs happen behind.”
And that’s what did happen. So many horses with traffic trouble. So many losing a lane, Some bumped. “I think Raging Bull got shut down pretty good,” Brandon said. “Everybody had to do a lot of corrections and swerving to find a place to make their run. And all that energy that they were spending to make that run was energy that they weren’t spending on trying to chase us down.
“I was expecting at least everybody was going to swallow us up. But at that point the horse was able to float away and float on top of them. Just in that gorgeous way that I’ve seen him do before. A that point at the sixteenth pole, I couldn’t even see the other horses. My eyes were just on Town, how smoothly he was going.
“I really don’t have anything in my life that can compare to that,” he said.
Town Prize won by 2 ½ lengths in 1:35.14. Olympic Runner had set the track record for a mile on the turf in his previous start, when he won in 1:31.73. He finished eighth, losing his path at the 1/16th pole.
Favoured Set Piece, winner of the Wise Dan Stakes at Churchill Downs, finished seventh.
Town Cruise was in tough. He was a 23 to 1 longshot, although in the final blink, he dropped to 8 to 1. So Brandon Greer, owner of the horse, walked to the winner’s circle while other celebrated, wealthy owners such as Live Oak Plantation, Peter Brand, John Oxley, Juddmonte Farms and Gary Barber could only watch.
After the race, many people on the backstretch stopped by the Greer barn, “absolutely thrilled,” he said. “That was nice. Everybody was just so kind. Everybody was coming by to say congratulations, can I feed him a carrot?”
Town Cruise knew he had done well, too. “There is no living with him now,” Brandon said. “I cannot tell him a single thing to do because he learns things, and he learns the order and the procedure of things. If I do something wrong, he will let me know. Do it his way. He just seems to be on autopilot now. He knows that we need to do this, then this. If I try to tell him something else, it will be “No. I won the race. I know what I’m doing.
“And the problem is, he’s usually right. It’s difficult to work with that.”
But it’s also fun, Brandon said, “because he knows that he has done really really well. It suits him well. He likes how things are right now. And he seemed to come out of that race as well as any other race he has come out of. Which is a problem.”
In winning the Woodbine Mile, Town Cruise earned an expense paid and fees paid trip to the $2-million Breeders Cup Mile at Del Mar Racetrack near San Diego, Ca. on Nov. 6. In other words, the Breeders Cup folks would pay $10,000 to fly him down to California. And pay the entry fees. One problem: Town Cruise was never nominated. Nor was his sire. Neither had such lofty aspirations. A supplemental fee would cost $100,000 U.S.
In the winner’s circle, Terry said they would not go. The horse has never raced anywhere else but Woodbine. Everything would be different at Del Mar. There would be travel. It would be too much for the horse.
Brandon and his stable have never raced in the United States. He has raced only one horse as far away as Fort Erie. Ever. The horse has never seen another track. “If we were to go, there would have to be a lot of things happen in between,” Brandon said. “I would have to learn a lot of stuff. And figure out exactly how everything goes because this is going to be weird for this horse. He’s going to be looking for security in how we do this. When he looks, I’m going to need to know exactly what to tell him. I don’t know if I can do that. “
So Town Cruise was supposed to bypass the Overskate Stakes at Woodbine in October. He was supposed to go home to the farm near Barrie, having done quite enough this year, thank you. In one fell swoop, he had won $720,000, while in his four-year career before that, he had won $225,926. But he is still at Woodbine.
“The horse is looking at me again [and saying]: ‘What are we doing now, boss?’ Brandon said.
“I was hoping he would say: ‘Let’s go home for the winter.’ He’s not saying that. He’s wanting to know when the next race is. That’s very uncomfortable for me at the moment.”
He hoped that Town Cruise would make the decision for him. He hoped Town Cruise would go in the other direction.
“So I do have to seriously have a look at the Breeders Cup Mile,” he said. “I do have to. It’s not likely. it’s very unlikely that we will go anywhere near that race.
“But it’s possible. He’s not making it easy.”
It’s an interesting problem to have.