Stuart Grant thought about the question, then tried to answer.
“The gameplan is I have 32 mares, they’re going to produce 24 or so foals a year. The idea is to sell a dozen and keep a dozen and hopefully the ones you sell support the ones you keep and you get them to the races at zero cost. That’s the business plan. It doesn’t always work, but . . .”
Bob Manfuso thought about the question, then tried to answer.
“We go to the sale and try to be realistic. We put a fair value on the horses and if they sell, they sell.”
Christian Hansen thought about the question, then tried to answer.
“We are commercial breeders. We do not retain a lot of horses. We race a little bit, mostly fillies we either buy or we bred to retain.”
In April, Grant, Manfuso and Hansen were in the unique positions of being directly responsible for some of the country’s most-talked-about 3-year-olds–all bred in the Mid-Atlantic–as attention turned to the biggest races in the division. The men were also in the unique position of no longer owning any of them.
Grant bred Kentucky Derby-G1 hopeful Mor Spirit in the name of his Elkstone Group equine operation in Pennsylvania, and sold him as a yearling. Manfuso bred the filly Cathryn Sophia in Maryland, and sold her as a yearling. Hansen, a partner in Blackstone Farm, bred Derby contender Tom’s Ready in Pennsylvania and–you guessed it–sold him as a yearling.
The three horses and a few others in the discussions along the Triple Crown Trail carry with them the hopes of their breeders, their current connections and–indirectly–the state Thoroughbred industries they represent.
“That filly gives you the platform to talk about land preservation, what the industry does for Maryland, a whole lot of things,” said Manfuso about Cathryn Sophia, born and raised at Chanceland Farm, the West Friendship farm Manfuso owns in partnership with trainer Katy Voss. “It’s nothing but great PR for the state. For the filly to be one of the top two or three in the country is really something.”
Cathryn Sophia, out of Manfuso’s mare Sheave, won her first four starts–going from a maiden race at Parx in late October to the Gin Talking Stakes at Laurel in December and on to the Forward Gal-G2 and Davona Dale-G2 at Gulfstream Park this year. She finished third (beaten about a half-length after challenging for the lead with a wide move around the final turn) in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland April 9. The Kentucky Oaks-G1 was still on the table–as was the Eight Belles-G2 going shorter. Regardless, she’s got a spot in the conversation about 3-year-old fillies not named Songbird.
The people at Chanceland are suitably proud of a horse they would remember even if she didn’t turn into a graded stakes winner.
“I wasn’t here when she foaled, but I remember coming in the next morning and she was lying on the ground and had her tongue sticking out the side of her mouth,” said A.J. Hesketh-Tutton, who runs the broodmare barn and helps raise the young horses. “We were so worried about her. We had the vet in that day to check her. We thought she was neurologic, she was a dummy, she was something.”
Actually, she was fine. She just had (or has) a long tongue. It lolled out of her mouth, flapped against her cheek when she ran and poked through her lips when she posed for photos. She acquired the nickname “Bossy” and not just for her sire, Street Boss.
“She was the queen and if she decided it wasn’t happening it wasn’t happening, period,” Hesketh-Tutton said. “Whether you liked it or not, she was one you had to plead with. There was no telling her anything, you had to ask her.”
Like pretty much all Chanceland yearlings, the bay filly went to the Maryland Horse Breeders Association yearling show (second in her class) and then to the training barn at home. There, she met barn manager Dana Mahla and exercise rider Ruben Abina.
“I remember starting to get on her,” said Abina. “Easy to ride. She was nice, like most of them. They’re not all easy but she was nice to ride. Since she started, she was good all the time.”
Again, like most Chanceland yearlings, Cathryn Sophia went in the auction ring. For her, it was Fasig-Tipton Midlantic at Timonium, Md. Chuck Zacney of Cash is King Stable went to $30,000 and the filly had a new owner.
Marylanders and others keep wondering what they missed.
Trainer Phil Schoenthal had her on his short list, Voss said, but took her off because of a lack of confidence in relatively new stallion Street Boss. Owner/breeder Larry Johnson told Voss the filly was in his price range.
“More than a couple of our friends will say ‘How come we didn’t buy her?’?” said Voss. “Street Boss was kind of new, it was too soon to know much. She’s not really crooked but as a baby she wasn’t 100 percent correct, and on her X-rays she had some old issues. They were healed, they didn’t mean anything, but that knocks a lot of people off of horses.”
Ultimately sent to trainer John Servis, Cathryn Sophia has been on an upward swing ever since. Back on the farm, her family continues to grow. Sheave delivered a Bullsbay filly this spring and has a Denman (Aus) yearling filly who is a good sales prospect. Plans called for a return date with Street Boss.
Where Tom got ready
Three-year-old colt Tom’s Ready does not sleep all the time, though trainer Dallas Stewart is fond of posting videos of the snoozing Derby contender on social media. And Tom’s Ready doesn’t seem to mind. The videos make Hansen smile, and bring back memories of an independent colt born at Blackstone Farm about 40 miles east of Harrisburg, Pa.
“He was very forward, very,” said Hansen. “You knew he was a colt, without being stupid. When they got weaned, he was always one of the dominant ones in the crop of about 15 or 20 colts.”
Blackstone took the son of More Than Ready and the Broad Brush mare Goodbye Stranger to Keeneland November as a weanling, but brought him home after he didn’t meet the reserve. The dark bay colt went to Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga yearling sale in August and he sold for $145,000 to Stewart’s client GMB Racing. In 2015, Tom’s Ready lost his first two starts at Saratoga and won a late-September maiden special at Churchill Downs.
He’s placed in three stakes (two graded) since, and will be a longshot to look for in the Derby thanks to Stewart’s runner-up finishes with Commanding Curve (38-1) in 2014 and Golden Soul (35-1) in 2013.
Tom’s Ready earned his spot in the Derby conversation with solid seconds in the LeComte-G3 in January and the Louisiana Derby-G2 in March.
Blackstone bought Goodbye Stranger (carrying Tom’s Ready) for $40,000 at Keeneland in January 2013. She’s since produced a Creative Cause filly, now 2, has a yearling filly by Lemon Drop Kid heading to Saratoga this summer, and this year foaled a Gemologist filly. The mare was booked back to More Than Ready.
Launched by the current ownership of Hansen, Douglas Black and Mark Weisman, Blackstone breeds for the sales market so does not feel left out of the hoopla. Besides, any success by Tom’s Ready only increases the value of his dam and sisters on the farm.
“It’s very rewarding to see something you foaled out go on to things like this,” he said. “We feel fortunate to be part of that. We are grateful for the connections and the way they care for him.”
Hansen also sees the success as a boon to Pennsylvania’s Thoroughbred industry, adding some big-picture flash to the more everyday racing at Penn National, Parx Racing and Presque Isle Downs.
“It’s good for the state to get that exposure, anything that goes out and runs on the national scene with a PA in parenthesis is good for all of us,” he said. “It’s an important thing for the state to see that we can deliver a product that can compete on the highest levels in the U.S.”
From Pennsylvania to California
Among the many claims of Marshall and Bettina Jenny’s Derry Meeting Farm are the births of stallion greats Danzig and Storm Cat, English champion Mrs. Penny, Grade 1 winner Yankee Affair and numerous Augustin Stable stakes horses.
There might be one more chapter to the story, which seemingly ended with the farm’s closure and sale in 2013. Mor Spirit, part of the last crop born on the farm that year, was headed to the Kentucky Derby after winning the Robert B. Lewis-G3 and placing in the San Felipe-G2 and Santa Anita Derby-G1 for multiple Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert. Bred by The Elkstone Group, Mor Spirit couldn’t catch runaway winner Exaggerator in the Santa Anita Derby, but was still among the top 3-year-olds in California and firmly on the Derby trail.
The son of Eskendereya and the Dixie Union mare Im a Dixie Girl won a Grade 1 as a 2-year-old and had been first or second in all seven starts through April. At first, it appears Grant (who also maintains a large racing stable) sold too soon or sold the wrong horse. Then again . . .
“I still have the mare, three weeks ago we put his full-brother on the ground and the mare is booked to go to American Pharoah,” Grant said. “So we’re excited.”
Grant bought the stakes-placed Im a Dixie Girl (in foal to Curlin) at Keeneland November in 2010. The Curlin colt sold for $150,000 as a yearling in 2012, and the next year an Eskendereya colt went for $125,000. Grant expected something similar with Mor Spirit at Fasig-Tipton July in 2014.
“We thought 150 to 200, he was getting a lot of interest” Grant said. “He is a spunky guy with a mind of his own and decided one morning to kick the wall. He didn’t show for days and we had to scratch him. I was so mad at him, we put him in [Fasig-Tipton Kentucky] October and there wasn’t anywhere near the interest.”
Mor Spirit sold to Ciaran Dunne of Wavertree Sables for $85,000 and five months later went for $650,000 as a 2-year-old at Fasig-Tipton’s sale in Florida. The buyers were Baffert client Bernie Schiappa and Michael Lund Petersen. Petersen, Mor Spirit’s owner, is a founder of the Pandora jewelry company and owns a farm in Butler, Md.–adding another regional wrinkle to the Derby fabric.
Grant might, briefly, lament one that got away but not for long. He knows the vagaries of raising animals to become athletes.
“It’s a humbling game, I sold him for 85, the guy who buys him sells him for 650 and that might not even look all that smart now,” said Grant. “Sometimes [the decision to sell] is driven by the market. You have some by stallions that are hot at that time, you like one for one reason or another. You try to make good decisions.”
Selling (or not selling) is only one piece of the puzzle.
“It’s really cool, really exciting to think we created an animal that’s going to run in the Derby,” he said. “On the other hand, you’re sort of playing God. The stallion has seven million sperm and the mare’s got a million eggs and you’re trying to say you can figure out which one of those is going to make a super horse. You can tilt the odds in your favor, but there’s a lot of luck involved.”
Grant recently bought a farm in Chesapeake City, Md., and hired former Derry Meeting employee Bobby Goodyear to manage it. Mor Spirit’s full-brother is a Maryland-bred and his half-sibling by a Triple Crown winner probably will be as well. The impact of such national achievement, Grant said, can’t be read immediately.
“I’m going to be somewhat reserved in that I think it’s helpful, but not earth-shattering if we have Mid-Atlantic-bred horses win major races,” he said. “We’ve had a bunch of good ones. Pennsylvania had Princess of Sylmar, win the Kentucky Oaks a few years ago. It happens. It feels good because we’re a relatively small community and we all root for each other. But it’s not earth-shattering, not yet. When we start having Maryland stallions actually generating major winners like that, that’s when it will be big.”
Grant hosts a Kentucky Derby party every year–except the two years he’s had a runner in the Oaks as an owner–and will do so again this year.
“I’m going to watch it from my home with 150 friends,” he said. “I’ve always said I will never go to the Derby without a horse that would take me. I’ve had two runners in the Oaks and that’s the only time we didn’t have the party. We are having our party this year, and we are going to be rooting for Mor Spirit.”
The Maryland Jockey Club’s Win and You’re In promotion for positions in the Black-Eyed Susan-G2 and Preakness-G1 added something extra to two stakes at Laurel Park April 9. Both automatic berths were ultimately decided in the stewards’ stand.
In the $100,000 Federico Tesio, Governor Malibu prevailed a nose over Awesome Speed, but was disqualified for interference in the stretch.
Bred in Kentucky, Awesome Speed spent the winter in Florida but trains in New Jersey for Alan Goldberg and Colts Neck Stable. The son of Awesome Again earned a spot in the Preakness field May 21.
In the $100,000 Weber City Miss, which carried a Black-Eyed Susan entry in addition to the prize money, the disqualification at least stayed in the barn. Trainer Mike Trombetta finished 1-2 on the track with In the Navy Now and A P Majetstic.
Following an inquiry and a jockey’s objection, the order was reversed. A P Majetstic picked up her second win in seven starts, and first score since breaking her maiden in her debut last September at Penn National.
The Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Majestic Warrior races for her breeders Triple Threat.