Catching My Eye: Big Weekend for Dallas Stewart/Dream Team Racing and James Graham

December 6th, 2023

What a weekend for trainer Dallas Stewart and breeder/owner Dream Team Racing. Sure, Hoist the Gold won the Cigar Mile, earning a 106, his top Brisnet Speed figure to date, but how about the way his sister turned heads on Sunday at Fair Grounds? 

The three-year-old Mucho Macho Girl didn’t debut until this past March, but she put the truth of her pedigree on display, winning impressively by 1 1/2 lengths. Not returning to the track in the afternoon until October at Keeneland, she broke a step slow and hustled to stalk in the pocket, but never got the upper hand on the likes of Accede, Zeitlos, and Pumpkin Scone. 

Taking on first-level allowance three-year-old and up fillies and mares going six furlongs on Sunday, Mucho Macho Girl’s third start showed us two things. First, she’s fast. Second, she can go two turns. Maybe just get longer distances, like her brother Hoist the Gold, who Stewart says runs best going longer in one-turn configurations.

Breaking even with the crowd, Mucho Macho Girl sped to the front on her own accord while jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. steered her to the rail. From there, Rockets Sister applied pressure for as long as she could. Don’t dismiss that progressive four-year-old like the bettors did. How’s this for a little grapevine: Earlier in the week outside Fair Grounds casino, I ran into a friend of Rockets Sister’s trainer, Henry Guillory Jr., who told me that Guillory thought she would take another step forward in Sunday’s race. The daughter of Jafmil out of the Pulpit mare Pulpinit ran well but got cooked taking on the winner. (By the way, check out Pulpinit’s progeny’s stats sprinting: 168 - 34 - 34 - 17. Seven foals, all but one by Jafmil. All of them runners. Bravo Pulpinit.)

With the likes of Coexist and Girl Afraid in her rearview mirror, Mucho Macho Girl came out of the far turn and poured it on down the homestretch. BJ never had to ask her, only lifted the reins a couple of times to ensure she stayed engaged. Finishing 7 1/2 lengths ahead, she didn’t want to stop and galloped out into the horizon, reminding us that her daddy is Mucho Macho Man and distance shouldn’t be an issue.

Big congratulations to Dallas Stewart and Dream Team Racing. 

Likewise to James Graham.

On Sunday at Fair Grounds in Race 2, Graham joined the 3,000 career win club, piloting Vortex for trainer Keith Desormeaux. Coming into the meet, Graham was ten away. He wasted no time closing the gap, winning 10 races over nine cards, including stakes victories in the Claiming Crown Tiara and Iron Horse, as well as the John Valene and Joseph Peluso over opening weekend.

On Vortex, Graham wasted no time vying for the lead. But with Malibu Money on the inside and Mo Hawk Man on the outside, it was a dogfight early. A son of Exaggerator, Vortex had been sent long in two of his first three races and on turf in the other. Neither situation suited him and he finished no better than eighth. Facing $12,500 maiden claimers on Sunday, Vortex proved best. Coming out of the far turn with his head in front, soon his body, by the finish line he put 7 1/2 lengths on the field.

Talking with Graham afterward, he shared how emotional it was to accomplish 3,000 wins. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Graham came to the U.S. in 2002, just hoping he’d get a shot. When you think about blazing a path in any endeavor, but especially on foreign soil, you can’t help but respect and appreciate the fight one has to have within to wake up day in, day out, and make something out of nothing. Not that James spoke about it in this way. No, he humbly expressed again and again so much gratitude for everyone who believed in him and put him on a horse. But he let the emotions through, and I could tell he had not lost sight of how it felt to be starting out, young and hungry, confident and dreaming of what could be.

It’s beautiful to witness moments like this, and it’s special that he reached this milestone at Fair Grounds. In his first year riding, Graham came to Fair Grounds and quickly scored a victory aboard High Octave for trainer Ronny Werner. Since then, Graham has gone on to win four Fair Grounds riding titles, 1,340 races total. That puts him third in the track’s all-time ranking, behind Ronald Ardoin and Robby Albarado. Third at least since 1986, which is as far as I have been able to dig up records. Soapbox sidenote: Horse racing, we need to do better at keeping our histories intact.

Graham told me, “This is special for me doing it (at Fair Grounds). My career took off here. When I first got here in 2003 and started riding, this is the meet that got the ball rolling for me. Look at the guys I started riding with here. Gerard (Melancon), Robby (Albarado), Shane Sellars, E.J. Perrodin--I got educated here. I've got a couple more goals at this track that I want to accomplish, so I’m banging on the door and I'm young, fit, and healthy.”

From talking with Graham in the past, I know he has his sights set on being Fair Grounds' all-time leading rider. Godspeed, Jimmy Graham.