If the Justify colt Blackstone Farm sold for $1.1 million in August earns any Pennsylvania breeders’ bonuses, things didn’t go according to plan. But that’s OK.
“He might get some if he wins the Pennsylvania Derby, but no, he isn’t one who is going to earn us many breeder bonuses,” said Blackstone’s Christian Black the day after the chestnut colt – raised at the farm in Pine Grove, Pa. – clocked in as the second-highest horse sold on Opening Night at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select yearling sale Aug. 8. The Blackstone colt, consigned by Warrendale Sales, was part of a big sale for yearlings bred in the region as two Virginia-breds, six Pennsylvania-breds and three Maryland-breds drew $3,770,000 in bids and went to some of the biggest names in Thoroughbred racing.
The returns were a tribute to breeders and developers, and the states they call home.
“We’re kind of a little bit away from everybody, kind of isolated,” said Black. “We are true believers that you can raise a horse in Pennsylvania as good as you can anywhere else. You have to compensate for things we do not have. We don’t have the bluegrass, so we have to compensate for that with our feeding program and we think we are doing a good job.”
And then some. Blackstone sold four others at the sale via Taylor Made Sales – each going for $170,000 or more while another Blackstone-bred (though sold as a weanling) went for $400,000.
The returns were part of a banner Saratoga sale for Fasig-Tipton, which sold 143 yearlings for $66,955,000 or an average of $468,217. The Blackstone colt was one of 14 to sell for $1 million or more over the two-day sale at the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Aug. 8-9.
Ireland’s Coolmore team bought the Justify colt, Hip 78, via agent Michael Wallace, and outran several others to land the half-brother to Malvern Rose Stakes winner Ledecka and two other winners. Blackstone bought dam Slews Golden Rule, a daughter of Langfuhr from a Live Oak Stud family which includes Grade 1 winner Win Win Win and Grade 3 winner Unbridled Humor plus Maryland-bred Grade 1 winner Ops Smile among others, for $80,000 in 2014. Ledecka sold for $120,000 at Saratoga in 2017. Blackstone won three races with her 2018 gelded son Cool Comedian (by Distorted Humor), while an Into Mischief filly born in 2019 and eventually sold in France, now named Sondos, is a winner in Saudi Arabia. Slews Golden Rule died foaling in 2022, and will be missed.
“She left us with a nice legacy,” said Blackstone’s Doug Black. “He was a little bit of a standout from the beginning and you could always tell he was a little special. We’ll miss him too, but I look at it like he’s just graduated high school and he’s off to college and we hope he does well at college. Basically, we wish the best for every horse we sell. We hope they turn into runners and winners at whatever level.”
The Blacks are not related, but teamed up in 2010 and have become a leading Pennsylvania breeder by pairing quality broodmares with some of the biggest stallion names in the country and heading to the sales market. The Justify colt was one of 35 or so born on the farm – about 30 miles east of Harrisburg – in 2021. Like anyone else, Blackstone keeps the foals together as long as possible. They live outside, walk and run and buck and play on rolling hills, and eventually head to the sales or – depending on the horse – join the racing stable.
Blackstone is set up as a breed-to-sell farm, however. When the Blacks teamed up, the business model was to create a quality broodmare band on the 350-acre farm and reap the benefits of the state’s breeding program.
“In 2010, Christian and I got together,” said Doug Black. “We saw eye to eye on the vision of what we thought the farm could become and we put together a little program and plan. It’s taken awhile, but it seems to be working.”
The steps began with a trip to Keeneland November in 2010. Black bought two pregnant mares – River Brat ($10,000) and Somethingtobelieve ($24,000). Combined, they produced four foals to race, all sold by Blackstone, including a $157,000 Unbridled’s Song—River Brat yearling in 2015. It’s been onward and upward since with horses such as Grade 2 winner and millionaire Tom’s Ready, $706,370-earner Bronx Beauty, Pennsylvania-bred champion The Critical Way, Grade 3 winner Dark Nile and plenty of others.
Call the Justify colt, the highest price ever paid for a Blackstone-bred, part of the progression.
“I know we all say that about our horses but it’s true,” said Christian Black. “We never brought a yearling up here or to any sale that at that stage was as special as he is. He looks like his dad, whatever that might mean to people. He’s a very strong horse, but he’s light on his feet and has a very good walk. He’s correct and he obviously jumped through all the hoops we have to jump through now in the sales environment. People that have shown they are willing to pay a million dollars for a horse were all lining up on him. We were hopeful, but you never expect it.”
Foaled in late February, he spent 13 months at Blackstone – part of the herd, but then again not part of the herd.
“We believe in raising horses outside so he was on the same program as everything else on the farm, and eventually they get too playful and it becomes something else, where soundness or injury issues are something you worry about,” said Christian Black. “Then we split them up. He was one who had to go by himself, not for anything else other than he was very dominant out there.”
Warrendale’s Hunter Simms goes to the farm every year, sees all the foals and tries to identify sales prospects. The Justify colt made the list, and headed to Kentucky for final sales prep in early April.
“I loved him, every time, and I really wanted the horse to sell on behalf of them,” said Simms. “They breed to the top, they raise a good horse.”
This one handled the sales prep in Ken-tucky, and took it all one step further in Saratoga – a demanding sale on a horse with a crowded barn area, numerous buyers, a compressed schedule, lots of scrutiny and two nights of sales amidst what is essentially the most lively bar scene in Saratoga.
None of it mattered to Hip 78, who showed more than 200 times over the course of four days.
“He had such a presence about him,” said Simms. “He would come out and show every time the exact same way. He never got tired, he put his head down, he would stand like a picture. You could lead him around like a puppy dog. His demeanor and his mind were great. The sales can be a very stressful environment for horses. You’re taking them away from their friends, you’re shipping up here for 14 hours on a van. They’re in a new spot, you’re showing them on end for four days consistently. For a horse to come in, settle in and show himself as well as he did is remarkable.”
Blackstone wasn’t the only regional breeder to find Saratoga success. Marylander Matt Dorman’s Determined Stud sold a $600,000 Maryland-bred Candy Ride (Arg) filly. Foaled at Sycamore Hall Farm in Chesapeake City, the filly is the first out of the Tapit mare Ygritte, whose dam Irish Mission won Grade 3 stakes, was Grade 1-placed, earned $1,357,073 and was twice a champion in Canada. Others in the family include Canadian stars French Beret and Mythical Mission. Dorman bought Ygritte, carrying the Saratoga filly, for $300,000 in 2020.
The chestnut helped consignor Scott Mallory through his first Saratoga sale, while showcasing some of the early fruits of Dorman’s foray into breeding at this level. Dorman owns a barn at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, and races regularly in the region with trainer Phil Schoenthal, though changed his plans to build a farm from scratch in Maryland in favor of a Kentucky base. Some mares will still foal in Maryland, however, and the success of Ygritte’s yearling can only bolster that angle.
“I don’t think the breeding program matters that much at a sale like that, where it does at some other sales,” said Mallory. “You have to have a good horse. That crop was all Maryland and we foaled about half there this year. Matt likes to race on the East Coast and he’s a big supporter of the Maryland program.”
Mallory paid credit to the filly for shining through in a stressful environment.
“She had the pedigree, but she had the walk too and even when she started slowing down, getting a little tired, she had a big walk on her and that sells them,” he said. “It’s not quite like the first couple books at Keeneland [September] where you’re showing 60 or 70 times in one day, but it’s a grind on horses – the longevity of it, and the heat up there. You have to have them fit for the sale and keep them hydrated and on electrolytes and those kinds of things.”
The filly came full circle as she was purchased by agent Patrick Lawley-Wakelin for Marylander Robert “Shel” Evans. In 2010 they paid $375,000 for Irish Mission as a yearling at Saratoga. Bred by Sam-Son Farm, she won seven races, finished second in the Queen’s Plate, placed in a Grade 1 and earned $1,357,073. Evans bred Ygritte, who won just once before sending her to Candy Ride in 2020.
“Mr. Evans was coming up to Saratoga and I said we should look at her,” Lawley-Wakelin said. “It was his mating, he’d worked on that pedigree, worked on that mating, so he was intrigued by that and decided we should take another look. He has a great eye and he just said the filly is exceptional.”
Like Mallory, the buyers were impressed with the filly’s attitude about the Saratoga atmosphere.
“I always like to watch these horses go into that big walking ring in the back because you know it’s just jammed with people all over the place,” Lawley-Wakelin said. “She walked right in, walked around and never turned a hair. We loved her walk and we loved her mind.”
The filly shipped from Saratoga to Evans’ Courtland Farm in Easton, Md., (60 or so miles south of her birthplace) where she’ll stay through September.
Virginian Larry Johnson sold a Maryland-bred Munnings filly for $280,000 through Paramount Sales, but had to admit to “mixed emotions” as the dark bay is part of a deep family of homebreds. Johnson bought her fourth dam Ran’s Chick for $2,400 in 1978. Looking back with what he knows about racing/breeding now, Johnson regularly says, “Anybody who would buy her would be crazy and anybody that would breed her would be even crazier.” He did both, but the daughter of The Big Boss rewarded him with more than four decades of winners.
The Saratoga filly is out of What Time It Is, a stakes-placed winner of six races and $221,070 whose six foals to race have all won and include stakes winner Never Enough Time and 2022 multiple stakes-placed Mr Jefferson. By Partner’s Hero, What Time It Is was one of seven winners for Star Kell including $680,170-earner Strike the Moon. The family fans out to include Grade 3 winner and sire Street Magician, stakes winner Turn to T. J., stakes winner Oldies But Goodies, Grade 3 stakes-placed Hopeful Princess and plenty of others.
Heavily Mid-Atlantic, the family wouldn’t necessarily carry a yearling at Sara--toga but the Munnings filly built a following by herself.
“The people who looked at her in February thought she’d do well at Sara-toga,” said Johnson. “I wasn’t as convinced because Saratoga can be so boutiquish.”
Prepped on Johnson’s farm in Virginia by Jonathan Smart and the staff, with some further input from consignor Andrew Motion, the filly met the Kentucky-based Paramount squad in Saratoga and fit in.
“She’s not a big, robust horse where you go ‘Oh my God’ when you see her, but she has a really athletic walk,” said Johnson. “We did all the prep on the farm – I didn’t do anything, but everyone else did. She went from our farm to the Saratoga barn. That makes you proud.”
Agent Frankie Brothers bought two regional-breds for Starlight Racing, going to $200,000 for a Pennsylvania-bred (Black-stone) Arrogate filly from Taylor Made and giving $90,000 for a Maryland-bred (Country Life Farm) Bolt d’Oro colt from Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services.
Both fit Brothers’ model of buying athletes, regardless of pedigree or state of origin.
“Many, many years ago it seemed like you had to be from one particular place or a few places, but not so much anymore,” Brothers said. “You can raise a good horse anywhere if you do it right.”
Brothers – who won the 1991 Preakness Stakes-G1 with Virginia-bred Hansel – does his homework when it comes to breeders, however.
“It never bothers me where they came from as long as I think it’s a good farm and they were raised right,” he said. “Country Life Farm, those people are terrific and they’ve been doing this a long time. They can raise a good horse. Both horses were nice strong horses that were presented well. It just happened to be where they were from.”
The regional programs offer a potential bonus to Starlight, which races all over the country.
“The fact that they were Maryland-bred or Pennsylvania-bred was an added attraction,” he said. “It’s a good option to have. Maybe if they don’t quite turn out to be as good as you think, they can race year-round in those states and do pretty well too.”
SARATOGA NOTES: Virginia’s Audley Farm sold two Virginia-bred yearlings at Saratoga via consignor Brook-dale Farm. An Uncle Mo filly out of Coming Attraction went for $180,000 to Haymarket Farm while a Munnings filly out of Filia brought $200,000. The Uncle Mo filly, whose female family traces directly back to the Phipps Stable’s Hall of Famer Personal Ensign and boasts such runners as her third dam, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies-G1 winner My Flag, champion Storm Flag Flying, Parading and others, got a boost when her half-sister Jane Mast won at Saratoga July 23. Audley bought Coming Attraction, a daughter of Tapit, for $575,000 in 2017 and has sold three yearlings for $570,000 . . . Two Maryland-breds out of Curlin mares failed to sell for big prices. An Uncle Mo filly out of stakes winner Curlin’s Fox, bred by The Elkstone Group LLC, was a buy back at $485,000, and Determined Stud’s colt by City of Light out of Style and Grace was a $310,000 RNA. . . Maryland’s Northview Stallion Station sold a Mendelssohn filly, bred in Kentucky and purchased for $280,000 as a weanling, for $425,000 to trainer Kenny McPeek as agent for Walking L Thoroughbreds. It was the Chesapeake City farm’s first trip to Saratoga with a consignment since 2006. A Maryland-bred Mendelssohn colt consigned by Northview did not sell, as a $145,000 RNA, but would be aimed for another sale this fall.