Teresa Genaro is a high school English teacher and freelance turf writer whose work has appeared in a variety of turf publications. A former and erstwhile resident of Saratoga Springs, she lives in Brooklyn and writes about New York racing at Brooklyn Backstretch.
Last month, two-time champion Open Mind was elected to racing’s Hall of Fame, joining Safety Kept and Sky Beauty as this year’s equine inductees. A New Jersey-bred with a Maryland sire, Open Mind first made her racing mark in the mid-Atlantic, but it was in New York that she became a star.
Speaking in the Belmont Café last Saturday morning, Kiaran McLaughlin reminisced about training the daughter of Deputy Minister and 1989 Triple Tiara winner. He was working for D. Wayne Lukas in 1988, managing the trainer’s stable at Monmouth Park, when he got a call from Lukas’s New York assistant, Randy Bradshaw. “He called me and said, ‘I have a really nice Jersey-bred filly up here. She should probably go to you.”
“OK, great,” is how McLaughlin remembered his response.
Open Mind “didn’t train like a superstar,” said McLaughlin, but she won her first start by five lengths in a New Jersey-bred maiden special weight. Impressed by the victory, he entered her next in a New Jersey-bred stakes race, which she won by a neck, defeating a filly named Ms. Gold Pole.
Deputy Minister stood in Maryland, making Open Mind eligible for the Maryland Million, so she was pointed next to the Lassie at Laurel.
“At that time,” McLaughlin remembered, “there wasn’t simulcasting. I stayed at Monmouth to run in a big race, and I sent a foreman to saddle Open Mind.”
McLaughlin called that foreman to learn that Ms. Gold Pole had turned the tables on his filly, winning the Lassie by four and a half lengths. Open Mind was second.
“What was so neat, though,” McLaughlin said this week, “is that Ms. Gold Pole was first, Open Mind was second…and a filly called Safely Kept was third.
“And now two of them are going in the Hall of Fame, and they came out of a Maryland-sired two-year-old race.”
Open Mind came home to New Jersey after that race, to prepare for a fall campaign that would include a nose loss in the Frizette at Belmont and victories in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Demoiselle. In six starts at two, Open Mind had four wins and two seconds. She would be named champion two-year-old filly.
“When we won the Breeders’ Cup,” said McLaughlin, “we all got rings, like Super Bowl rings. And Wayne put ‘McLaughlin’ on Open Mind’s ring. I still have it. It was nice of Wayne to do that.”
Open Mind’s victory in the Juvenile Fillies marked the start of a 10-race winning streak, all of them stakes races, all but one graded. And four of those wins came in New York, as Open Mind became the third horse to win the Triple Tiara and the Alabama.
Though the Acorn is now run on Belmont day, a complement to the featured race for three-year-old colts, in 1989 it was run on May 27, two weeks before the Belmont. Open Mind won that first leg of the Triple Tiara so decisively that, according to Steven Crist in the New York Times, her connections mulled running her back against the boys in the Belmont Stakes.
“It's hard to say whether or not we'll run,'' said Jeff Lukas in the Times. ''It was not in our original plans. It's just something in the back of our minds. Absolutely, today will influence our decision. She's just an incredible filly.”
Hindsight being flawless, the Lukas camp obviously made the right decision, given Easy Goer’s dominance in the Belmont that year and the place in history that Open Mind secured with her campaign.
Crist called her Alabama “the race of the meeting” at Saratoga, and she won eight straight Grade 1 races to close out her sophomore campaign (in one, the Coaching Club American Oaks, she was put up through disqualification after finishing second by a nose), en route to being voted champion for the second consecutive year.
Twelve years later, McLaughlin puts Open Mind in some pretty impressive company, comparing her to another champion he trained. “She just came and would get there and win. Many years later, Invasor would do the same thing. I’d say, ‘She’s going to get there. She would just get there.
“She didn’t win every race, but it always felt like she was going to get there.”