Itsa Great Day: A Midlantic Sensation

Itsa Great Day – 1958 (Apr. 30) dkb. c. by Quick Reward – Irish Rebel by Alaking
Owner/Breeder: W. Logan (W. L.) Grier, Jr.
Trainer: Jimmy (J. J.) Rowan

Record: (10) 6-2-0 / $77,178
1st: Caesar Rodney S. (DEL), Christiana S. (NTR-5.5f,DEL), Seashore S. (6f,AC), Flower Bowl Purse (NTR-5f,DEL)
2nd: World’s Playground S. (7f,AC), Garden State Trial-Div. II (1 1/16 mi.,AC)

NTR at Pimlico (5/20/1960): 5f in :59
NTR at Delaware Park (6/3/1960): 5f in :57.80 in the Flower Bowl Purse
NTR at Delaware Park (7/4/1960): 5.5f in 1:04 1/5 in the Christiana S.

Owned and bred by Milford, DE lumber dealer W. Logan Grier, Jr., Itsa Great Day was the fifth foal out of the Alaking mare Irish Rebel. In two years of racing (1949-1950), Irish Rebel would win three races in thirteen starts and $2,200. Grier would purchase a half-interest in the mare from J. L. McKinnay for $750 in September 1954.

When McKinnay would drop out of ownership of the mare, Grier would assume sole ownership of her Quick Reward foals, a filly foaled in 1957 and a colt foaled in 1958. The filly was named Lindra; however, Grier had struggled with a name for the colt when one night he heard the song “It’s a Great Day for the Irish” on the radio.

MARCH 1960
While Irish Rebel would not begin her race career until the age of four, and Lindra would be unraced due to a knee chip, Itsa Great Day would not only race, but race early – debuting in a 4.5 furlong 2-year-old maiden claiming race at Bowie on March 25. Up for a $7,500 tag, he would win in a final time of :55.

Itsa Great Day maiden results (NYT 1960.03.26)

MAY 1960
After “hurting himself behind” in his debut, Itsa Great Day’s next start would be delayed until a five furlong claiming race at Pimlico on May 20. Up for a $12,000 tag, Itsa Great Day would win by 3 ½ lengths in a final time of :59 – a new track record.

Itsa Great Day - PIM chart (WP 1960.05.21)

JUNE 1960
After two races in the claiming ranks, Itsa Great Day would move up to allowance competition in his third start, the Flower Bowl Purse (5f) at Delaware Park on June 3. He would win the race in a final time of :57.80 – besting the track record set by Beaugay fifteen years prior.

Moving on to the stakes ranks off of the allowance effort, the speedy colt would make his stakes debut a winning one, capturing the Caesar Rodney Stakes at Delaware on June 11.

Trainer Jimmy Rowan on Itsa Great Day’s running style: “…he can’t be rushed and he never has come through on the inside. He wants to settle in stride before he begins to do any real running. If you rush him early, you upset him. And he always circles the field.” – Walter Haight (The Washington Post, 10/10/1960)

JULY 1960
With four wins in four starts, two track records, and now a stakes win to his name, rumors began to swirl that Itsa Great Day would soon be sold.

“Could be that Bally Ache, the Preakness winner, will have a new stablemate in the unbeaten 2-year-old Itsa Great Day – possibly before the colt goes postward in Monday’s $20,000 Christiana Stakes.

Kentuckian Joseph L. Arnold, who heads the syndicate which paid $1,250,000 for Bally Ache a few days before he won the second jewel of the Triple Crown, made this disclosure at Delaware Park where he has some horses in charge of trainer Doug Davis, Jr.

Arnold, whose next stop was Monmouth Park, to inspect Bally Ache had this to say regarding Itsa Great Day who has set two track records in four starts: “So far, I have been unable to get Mr. Grier (W. Logan Grier, Jr., owner and breeder of the juvenile) to put a price on the colt and I think he’s sincere when he says this horse is not for sale. But I’m going to take a long look at the colt and hope.”

Asked what price he believed Itsa Great Day would bring, Arnold said, “I think he’s worth $150,000 and perhaps considerably more. You know, a top 2-year-old can earn a lot of purse money between now and the end of the year.” – Walter Haight (The Washington Post, 07/04/1960)

Itsa Great Day - Christiana headline (NYT 1960.07.05)

In the Christiana Stakes (5.5f) at Delaware Park on July 4, Itsa Great Day (carrying 125 lbs.) would win by a half-length in a track record setting time of 1:04 1/5, lowering the previous record held jointly by Northern Star and Pavot by 1/5 of a second. Carry Back would finish second. “Today he electrified the packed house of 29,000 fans when he appeared hopelessly beaten at the top of the homestretch and still scored by a half length.” (The Washington Post, 07/08/1960)

Itsa Great Day Christiana (NYT 1960.07.05)

“At Delaware Park, W. Logan Grier, Jr., owner of the sensational Itsa Great Day, reveals he has the unbeaten, record-breaking 2-year-old insured for $50,000 but that the policy will be increased soon…” – Walter Haight (The Washington Post, 07/07/1960)

Following Itsa Great Day’s win in the Christiana S., Arnold reportedly offered Grier up to $250,000 for the colt. Grier responded that the colt is a “member of the family” and there would be no sale.

“The unbeaten four-for-four colt guns for his first hundred grander in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park in a field that promises to number the cream of the 1960 juvenile crop. And the race should bring out the wisdom, or lack of such, that caused W. Logan Grier, Jr., his Milford, Del., breeder-owner, to turn down a fabulous offer made by Turfland, Inc., who had acquired Bally Ache a few weeks earlier. Grier said, “Itsa Great Day is a member of the family.” He meant it, and the deal was off.” – Walter Haight (The Washington Post, 08/03/1960)

AUGUST 1960
Itsa Great Day’s first venture to Monmouth Park would result in his first loss. Entered in the Sapling Stakes (6f) on August 6, he would finish ninth behind winner Hail to Reason, who would set a new stakes record of 1:10 2/5. He’s a Pistol would finish second, with Carry Back third. Following the race, it was reported that Itsa Great Day had run a fever for several days prior to the Sapling, and the illness may have taken his strength.

Itsa Great Day - Sapling chart (NYT 1960.08.07)

Following his disappointing performance in the Sapling, Itsa Great Day would return to winning ways in the Seashore Stakes (6f) at Atlantic City on August 31, where he was piloted for the first time by Bill Hartack. Hartack had become quite a fan of the colt and would be aboard in every race for the rest of the colt’s career.

SEPTEMBER 1960
Following his win in the Seashore, Itsa Great Day would finish a troubled second to Hail to Reason in the World’s Playground Stakes (7f) at Atlantic City on September 10. Chart notes read: “Itsa Great Day was stopped leaving the backstretch and again midway of the turn while racing along the inside, then moved outside to close with a rush in a splendid showing.”

Winning by 4 ½ lengths, Hail to Reason would set a new stakes record, completing the distance in 1:22 3/5. With a purse of $135,065, the 1960 World’s Playground was the richest race ever run at Atlantic City to that point.

Itsa Great Day - Worlds Playground chart (NYT 1960.09.11)

OCTOBER 1960
Itsa Great Day would then finish second by a nose to Intensive in the second division of the Garden State Trial (1 1/16 mi.) at Atlantic City on October 22. Also in the field was Carry Back, who would run unplaced. Despite having three losses in his past four starts (albeit one by a nose), confidence remained high in the colt.

“Bill Hartack seldom makes saddle commitments far in advance. However, should Itsa Great Day win next Saturday’s Garden State, he probably will swing onto the colt for the big winter events and next spring’s Triple Crown.” – Walter Haight (The Washington Post, 10/23/1960)

A week later on October 29, Itsa Great Day make his final start of 1960 in the Garden State Stakes (1 1/16 mi.), where breaking from the outside, he would finish fourteenth after taking a mud bath in the muddy Atlantic City going. Carry Back would win, with Ambiopoise and Guadalcanal taking the place and show. With a purse of $289,970, the 1960 running of the Garden State was at the time the richest horse race in the world.

Itsa Great Day - Garden State S. results (CDT 1960.10.30)

Itsa Great Day EFH (NYT 1961.01.12)

1960 Experimental Free Handicap: Top 13 horses

WINTER/SPRING 1961
The Experimental Free Handicap for 2-year-olds of 1960 was released in January 1961, with the now-retired Hail to Reason named the 126 lb. highweight. Itsa Great Day was assigned 118 lbs.

While Itsa Great Day was intended to contest the Triple Crown series, and was nominated for all three legs, he would “clip a cartilage in his left foreleg” while in training at Laurel Park in early April and pull up sore, necessitating a rest. He would be pinfired and blistered, and while every attempt was made to put the colt back in training, Itsa Great Day would never make it back to the races.

IN RETIREMENT
In the breeding shed, Itsa Great Day would sire 115 foals in 21 crops (total earnings of $1,599,512). He would sire four stakes horses: Itsa Bitter Day, Day of Freedom, Spring Once More, and Hell or Heaven, with his top earner being Swimmin’ Hole ($109,657).

Itsa Bitter Day (1977 ch. f. o/o Bitteredith)
Record: (34) 4-9-5 / $81,595 in four years of racing (1979-1982)
1980: 1st Virginia Belle S. (BOW); 2nd Free State S. (BOW)

Day of Freedom (1966 b. c. o/o Marcia Freed)
Record: (46) 6-9-10 / $17,318 (1968-1971)
1969: 2nd Miles Park H. (MP)

Spring Once More (1981 b. c. o/o Flowers in May)
Record: (33) 5-6-5 / $39,635 in three years of racing (1983-1985)
1983: 2nd Find S. (R,TIM)

Hell or Heaven (1975 b. c. o/o Black Angel)
Record: (36) 13-8-6 / $81,789 in four years of racing (1977-1982)
1978: 3rd Chocolatetown H.-Div. I (T,PEN)

Swimmin’ Hole (1965 dkb/br. c. o/o Garnish)
Record: (120) 24-21-21 / $109,657 in six years of racing (1967-1972)

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