Legendary British trainer John Gosden was unable to solve a puzzle named Doswell. Neither Hall of Fame conditioner Shug McGaughey nor future Hall of Famer Chad Brown.
All observed talent, but also a bad actor with difficult feet. That is never a good combination.
Joseph Allen, the octogenarian breeder and owner of Doswell, eventually turned to trainer Barclay Tagg and his assistant, Robin Smullen. They offered a smaller operation that gave them time to give extra attention to, say, especially needy horses. They have a reputation for managing essentials, with the neutered 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide chief among them.
After going scoreless for three seasons before joining Tagg’s hands-on operation, Doswell finally took his first win in the summer of 2020 to start an ascent that makes him one of the contenders in the Grade 1, $1 Million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational on January 29 at Gulfstream Park.
“The way he’s been training lately and the way he’s been doing his last training,” Tagg said, “I wouldn’t trade him.”
Normally, Tagg chooses his words carefully and hides his excitement, because he understands how much can go wrong before and during a race. He can’t hide his enthusiasm in this case, appreciating how far Doswell has come under their care.
The 7-year-old ruined son of Giant’s Causeway responded beautifully to all of jockey Junior Alvarado’s needs as he rolled gate-to-wire in the Dec. 18 Fort Lauderdale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream for his first graded stakes score. He continued to impress by working seven furlongs on the grass at 1:22.95 at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Florida, on Jan. 16.
Doswell was a project Tagg eagerly undertook.
“There was nothing not to like about him, except that he was a bit of a staple,” he said. “Once we got that right, we could see some raw talent there and he just got better with his races.”
Tagg is the first to say that nothing would have been accomplished without Feast, who also had the quirky Funny Cide on hand.
“She has the heart of a lion, the judgment of Solomon, and the patience of Job,” Tagg said.
Doswell would do a nervous jig to and from the track every morning when he trained. Leave it to the rest of the crowd to walk normally. When he galloped, he intended to lug out and pull Feast all the way. In a fairly short time, the two solved it.
“If a horse can have a favorite person, I’m his favorite person because he doesn’t canter as well for someone else as he canter for me,” Smullen said. “Not many people come up to him except me, unless they’re windy.”
Entering the starting gate used to be Doswell’s worst nightmare – and so was his attendant’s.
“He was really bad at the gate,” Smullen recalled. “He tried to lie down. He did lie down a few times, down to the ground.”
The New York gate crew, fearing for Smullen’s safety, yelled at her to get out, fearing a sudden action from Doswell that could be catastrophic.
“I’m not going off,” she yelled back. “Pick him up!”
They made nine visits to the starting gate to allay Doswell’s fears.
“Now, he’s absolutely loved the gate and he’s standing there perfectly,” said Feast with satisfaction.
After nearly doing a somersault in the paddock, the gelding overcame the unenviable rail position when he made a winning first start at the front of his new stable on August 8, 2020. The effort was encouraging, but far from perfect. Jockey Jose Ortiz reported that the horse tried to drag the full mile and a sixteenth. With a new stretch, a more controlled Doswell produced a second straight win, this one in benefit business Oct. 2 at Belmont Park.
He finished second at Fort Lauderdale in his first attempt to conclude his 5-year campaign. He bypassed last year’s Pegasus Turf and ran third in the WL McKnight (G3) at Gulfstream.
Doswell’s limited body of work suggests one thing: he can be formidable against most companies on his best day. He has hit the board in 11 of 12 lifetime starts with three wins and five tries in second with a $314,621 profit.
The antics haven’t completely gone away and probably never will be.
“He certainly tries to stand up for himself and it can probably be taken that he is very bad, but I don’t think so,” said Smullen. “He’s worried. He wants to do his job. He likes to do his job. But other people may not see it that way. I think he was just really misunderstood.”
Doswell still tends to get washed out on the post parade. There’s no telling how he would react to a large crowd that is often boisterous on Pegasus World Cup Day, which has quenched its thirst many times in the South Florida sun.
Allen appreciates how far his project has come, saying of Tagg and Smullen, “They did a great job with him. They spent a lot of time with him and got it done.”
Sometimes getting there is a victory in itself.