Tales from the Crib: Major Fed

Sep 03, 2020 Kellie Reilly/Brisnet.com

The hometown hope in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1), Major Fed is an Oldham County native like his veteran Louisville trainer, Greg Foley.

Unlike the other Kentucky-breds raised in the Bluegrass region around Lexington, Major Fed was born and raised near Goshen, just up the Ohio River from Louisville. Foley hails from the Sleepy Hollow Golf Course. Both have racing in their blood.

Foley’s late father, Dravo, was a jockey-turned-trainer who recorded 1,123 wins in a training career that spanned nearly a half-century. Greg and his sister Vickie grew up on the racetrack, learning their father’s horsemanship. Each took up the mantle by becoming trainers in their own right. Greg just passed the 1,400-win milestone, while Vickie’s garnered headlines with Grade 1 winner Hog Creek Hustle.
Although the Foley family hadn’t saddled a Derby runner until Major Fed, Dravo bred a horse who made it to the 1984 Run for the Roses – Taylor’s Special, 13th behind Swale. But that result does not reflect his class. Taylor’s Special captured such major races as the Blue Grass (G1) and Louisiana Derby (G2) and bankrolled more than $1 million.
Greg’s previous brush with the Derby came with Champali, the 2002 Iroquois (G3) winner who swept three straight stakes that winter at Turfway Park. After a third in the 2003 Lane’s End (G2) (the race now known as the Jeff Ruby Steaks [G3]), Champali’s distance limitations prompted connections not to try the Derby. He ended up finding his niche as a multiple Grade 3-winning sprinter.
Champali, named in honor of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, raced for the Lloyd Madison Farms partnership that alludes to its background in Madison, Wisconsin. The nom de course of Fred Schwartz, Jim Bakke, and Tim Sweeney, the stable is back on the Derby scene with another colt named for an all-time great athlete.
Major Fed, a tribute to tennis Grand Slam master Roger Federer, boasts a much stouter pedigree. By Hall of Famer Ghostzapper and out of the Smart Strike mare Bobby’s Babe, he comes from an international clan. His granddam, Irish import Sabeline, was a daughter of Caerleon (a champion son of Nijinsky II) and a *Vaguely Noble mare, from the extended family of dual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) star Treve.
The Lloyd Madison partners bought Bobby’s Babe for $50,000 at the 2005 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Also trained by Greg Foley, she scored in her career debut but didn’t win in her ensuing 10 starts.
Bobby’s Babe has been more rewarding as a broodmare, producing six winners from seven runners so far. Her daughter May Lily, by Broken Vow, landed a turf sprint stakes at Ellis Park last summer. Zapperini, Major Fed’s older full brother, offers more of a clue about his stamina. Unplaced in the 2016 Risen Star (G2) and Blue Grass, Zapperini later hit the board in four turf stakes including the 1 1/2-mile John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3).
As Zapperini showed early talent, Bobby’s Babe returned to his sire Ghostzapper. Major Fed was foaled on April 16, 2017, at Upson Downs Farm, where the Lloyd Madison homebreds are raised.

Upson Downs was established by Louisvillian Alex Rankin, chairman of the Sterling Thompson Company that’s been offering insurance since the year War Admiral won the Triple Crown (1937). Also the chairman of the board of Churchill Downs Inc., Rankin is a trustee of the James Graham Brown Foundation. The philanthropic institution, founded in 1954, has awarded approximately $600 million in grants (more than $13.3 million in 2019 alone) to make a positive impact throughout the Commonwealth.
Major Fed endeared himself to the Upson Downs team as a very playful youngster. Word from the farm is that he was always the one stirring up the other colts to play, chasing his field buddies and egging them on for a game of tag.
That ringleader quality carried over into his interaction with people as he learned the ropes. A strong and confident yearling, Major Fed wasn’t afraid to test the boundaries. But he was sensible about it, and respected his limits with a little guidance.
Like the rest of his family, Major Fed would be trained by Greg Foley. He started out with an eye-catching third in his Churchill Downs debut, then stamped himself as one to follow at Fair Grounds. Since his strong second in a division of the Risen Star, however, Major Fed hasn’t had the chance to put his best foot forward. From a slow start in the Louisiana Derby, to a wide trip in the Matt Winn (G3), and trouble in the Indiana Derby (G3), he’s endured frustrating losses.
Major Fed initially was under consideration for the Aug. 9 Ellis Park Derby, but Foley made the call to skip it. Trusting that he had sufficient points (38) to make the Kentucky Derby field, Foley preferred to go in fresh. His stable star is ratifying that decision by training sharply at Churchill and should present interesting betting odds to watch.
If Major Fed can put it all together on his home track, he’ll become an instant local hero, and a long-awaited culmination of Foley’s career going on 40 years. The third generation of Foleys is involved, with Greg’s sons Travis and Alex on the team, making the Derby journey a truly family affair.

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