Stallion star Storm Cat's 30th birthday a celebration of togetherness

awincze@herald-leader.comFebruary 27, 2013 

Time has a way of affecting most everything for better or worse, whether it's mellowing a resolute attitude or wearing down the edge of exceptional physical ability.

Indeed, the dark bay stallion that let Jonathan Sheppard rub his forehead Wednesday is a much-changed creature from the colt who once had his Hall of Fame trainer's exercise riders running for the hills some three decades ago.

Even if his motions are slower and his famous temper now, well, tempered, the 30th birthday of Overbrook Farm's legendary stallion Storm Cat served to spotlight a constant over the years.

As was the case when he was a temperamental baby, the son of Storm Bird still inspires all kinds of special attention and affection from the husband and wife team he helped bring together.

On Feb. 27, 1983, the Secretariat mare Terlingua gave birth to a foal whose eventual influence on the breed and commercial marketplace has put him in the pantheon of game-changers in the Thoroughbred industry.

Before Storm Cat became the brilliant sire the sport knows him as, however, he was a Grade I-winning product of Sheppard's own renowned ability — endearing himself to his trainer with his heart and unique personality.

Though Sheppard's hallmark as a trainer has been his patience and skill with older horses, he and his wife, Cathy — who used to gallop Storm Cat — had a precocious dynamo on their hands in 1985, guiding Storm Cat to a victory in the Grade I Young America Stakes that October before falling a nose short of winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The bond the trio developed during that time has never wavered, as evidenced by the special visit the Sheppards paid Storm Cat on Wednesday in honor of his milestone birthday.

"He's been a big part of our lives," Jonathan Sheppard said. "Mr. (William T.) Young did give us a breeding right to him and I've always been very interested in breeding anyway. To be associated with a horse who became a legend in the breeding shed and made a difference on the breed is pretty neat.

"He had quite a bit of spirit (in training) and you needed a strong hand on him. But he had the will to win, the competitiveness to fight."

Storm Cat's strong will on the track was too much for some of Jonathan Sheppard's exercise riders because of his tendency to throw his head down and try to buck them off.

As was the case Wednesday afternoon as she wrapped her arms around him, Cathy Sheppard was able to command respect through love when her future husband tapped her to get on Storm Cat in the mornings.

"I fed him carrots all the time, I talked to him, I just loved him the moment I saw him," recalled Cathy, who was instrumental in convincing Overbrook Farm's late founder, William T. Young, to stand Storm Cat himself rather than selling him. "When he won the Young America, we knew he had it in him to be a good stallion. His heart was unbelievable."

Before he became a breeding-shed legend (he was retired in 2008), Storm Cat was already a star matchmaker.

"Storm Cat brought Jonathan and I together," Cathy said. "It's just crazy to think of what he's become."

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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