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Stories about your favorite retired racehorses. For archived stories, click here.

After a lifetime with Thoroughbreds and a training career spanning more than 50 years, nothing much surprises Ann Merryman. 

Except for Grandiflora. 

Bred by her longtime client Richard Blue Jr., Grandiflora was foaled in Maryland April 7, 2011, a son of graded stakes winner Scipion and the With Approval mare With Flora. 

Merryman purchased the mare for Blue as a yearling with an eye toward a potential career as a broodmare. She sped up the process by losing all five starts in 2005. 

Her son Grandiflora went to the races as a 3-year-old in 2014 and raced for Blue and Merryman over the next four years – winning five times and placing in the 2016 Laurel Dash and Maryland Million Turf. A solid earner with a formidable personality, Grandiflora was a barn favorite throughout his career.

“He’s a wonderful, very talented horse,” Merryman said. “We all loved him. And as Michael, my son, said at one point, ‘He was a few noses away from $650,000.’ He just ran lights out from day one.”

The rain-soaked Preakness Day of 2018 threw his connections a curveball as a 5-furlong optional claimer was moved to the dirt and scratched down to five runners. Merryman thought about scratching, but left her horse in for the $25,000 tag. Grandiflora finished third and was claimed by trainer Claudio Gonzalez and owner Robert Bone.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’ve done what I’m supposed to do.’ He’s a homebred, he’d made over $300,000, I lost him for $25,000 at 7 years old. And he wasn’t my horse,” Merryman said. “I thought by this time in my life I wasn’t quite as emotional about losing horses, so I didn’t really think anything of it. 

Arriving at her Laurel Park barn the next day, she was floored by her reaction.

“When I drove through the gate at Laurel and realized I couldn’t go give him a carrot, I got a lump in my throat . . . at my age.”

Two starts later June 29, 2018, Gonzalez entered Grandiflora for $25,000. Merryman hoped to convince Blue to claim him. When the owner hesitated, she decided to drop the slip herself. 

“I thought, ‘I know this horse; I know damn well he can pay me back and then I can retire him.’ So it cost me $25,000 plus 6 percent (Maryland sales tax) to be able to give the horse a carrot again.”

With Blue back aboard as a partner, Grandiflora made 11 more starts, finishing second in the 2018 Ben’s Cat Stakes and third in that year’s Maryland Million Turf. For the record, he doubled Merryman’s reinvestment with $50,010 in purse earnings after the claim. His career ended with a fifth for a $16,000 tag at Laurel Aug. 10, 2019. The 8-year-old headed to Merryman’s Sparks, Md. farm with his 54-5-4-15 record and earnings of $357,334.

As she does with all her retirees, Merryman rode him herself at first.

“I just walked through the woods and would turn and jump, turn and jump. But I thought my God this horse is so talented,” she said. “When I realized what a superior jumper Grandi was going to be, I figured he didn’t need to rot out in my field for me to be lazy with.”

Former employee (and now jockey) Sara Hess asked Merryman one day if she could bring two young girls to the barn. Just 9 and 10 years old, the girls were taking lessons with Merryman’s cousin, Suzanne Stettinius. 

“I said OK, but I was thinking ‘Do I really want these kids at my farm?’ Then I walked in the barn and they were filling hay nets faster and more efficiently than anyone I had working for me.”

The girls were rewarded with a trail ride. Jaidyn Shore rode Grandiflora, and Merryman was immediately struck by the youngster’s natural ability. She suggested Stettinius take Grandiflora to her farm for Shore. Stettinius had her own history with Grandiflora. 

“I used to gallop Grandiflora when he was 2 or 3 and started coming in to Pimlico,” she said. “He was pretty much my least favorite horse to ride because he ran off with me every single morning so when Jaidyn did her first field master chase on him, I was thinking ‘Ohhhh, I hope she can hold him.”

Shore got on famously with the gelding from the get-go. Stettinius figured Grandiflora had grown up since her days galloping him, so she got on him at her farm one morning. And he took off with her again.

“I hunted him once. Jaidyn always hunted him in a Kimberwick [bit], and I said, ‘I can’t be caught dead in a Kimberwick,’ so I used a figure-8 and a twisted snaffle. After an hour and a half I said ‘OK, I’m going back in. I can’t take it anymore.’ We had jumped like 10 fences, and that was enough.”

Like Merryman and Stettinius, Erica Gaertner recognized the bond between Shore and Grandiflora. 

“Jaidyn was game as could be, fearless and obviously very talented. She never gets tense. Suzanne has done so much with her and her race riding, galloping and cross-country schooling,” Gaertner said. “I’ve done the ring stuff and show jumping and flatwork. So it’s definitely a team effort. Jaidyn and Grandiflora know each other very well. She’s gotten him down to a science, and they love each other.” 

Now a sophomore at Hereford High, Shore turns 16 this month. She’s at the Stettinius barn every day, and her list of accomplishments is impressive for a rider of any age. She and Grandiflora have done junior races, paper chases, foxhunts, show jumping and back-to-back appearances at the Pony Club National Championships and Real Rider Cup competition.

“My favorite thing with Grandi is foxhunting,” she said. “He doesn’t love flatwork, but I make him do it and he’s gotten much more flexible. I think it’s more that I don’t tell Grandi what to do, I ask him. He’s so kind jumping. I still make so many mistakes; I get really ahead of my horses. But he will take any spot and he will save me.”

Sounds like they save each other. They were part of the winning Green Spring Hounds Pony Club team at the nationals in Tryon, N.C. in 2022 and 2023. They also competed on the Racing Kids team at the 2022 and 2023 Real Rider Cup in Fair Hill, Md., winning the individual title in 2023. Shore hopes to participate in both competitions again this year.

“I like the Real Rider Cup because it’s really fun to see all the other ex-racehorses going out and the other kids in jockey silks,” she said. “And I really like the courses – they’re always fun, fast, tight and turn-y. I love that and so does Grandi.”

Gaertner loves to watch them go.

“Jaidyn is the only kid I know who could have done Pony Club Championships and won like this,” she said. “Not everyone can get on him and jump around a course. He has his own way, and they make it work.”

Trust her opinion. In November 2023, Gaertner led the junior field master’s chase at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup on Grandiflora in what became an exercise in organized chaos. 

“It seemed like a good idea at the time, although to be fair I had only been back riding from my knee surgery about a month,” Gaertner said. “We started off fine, and then I could feel Jaidyn, on one of Suzanne’s other horses, getting close to me. I thought I’d pick up the pace a little more and make it easier for the kids. Then we were flying through the stretch and Grandi was dragging me; I think my feet were on the dashboard.”

Headed down a hill with the field behind her, she thought she could get Grandiflora geared down on her way back up the slope. Hands numb by this point, she was able to slow down just as the horse behind her slammed on the brakes and catapulted rider Yomar Ortiz Jr. 

“The kids were all in a jumbled mess, but Yomar was fine,” Gaertner said. “It was so embarrassing.”

And served to reinforce the bond between the 13-year-old horse and his 16-year-old rider.

“Grandi’s getting Jaidyn through her teenage years, which we all know is not the best of times,” Merryman said. “She’s a stellar student and amazing person. I just think the whole group of them – Jaidyn, Suzanne, Erica – is such a Cinderella story.”

Shore passed the credit back to Merryman. 

“I don’t actually know what I would have done without Ann claiming him back,” Shore said. “He’s more than a horse. He’s my best friend.”

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