Region’s mares fuel industry as foaling season ramps up
The chestnut filly’s face looks like somebody splashed a three-inch paintbrush from forehead to muzzle. She has three white socks and four white feet, and catches eyes without trying. She’s three days old, the only foal on a farm expecting eight more. She wears a tiny leather halter, a green and gray blanket the size of a tablecloth. Her curved, fuzzy ears don’t miss a sound.
“Awww,” comes out of any mouth within speaking distance. “What a cutie. She’s so sweet. Look at that. How precious.”
That the filly is by American Pharoah gets lost in all that cuteness, but such is the quality of the fledgling broodmare band at Greg and Caroline Bentley’s Runnymede Farm in Pennsylvania. The Chester County operation, 6 miles and a veritable ocean of land from the once-booming Lukens Steel plant in Coatesville, owns 14 mares. In addition to the 2015 Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year, the mares carry foals by Kitten’s Joy, More Than Ready, Mendelssohn, Malibu Moon, Munnings, Frosted and the like. When they foal, they’ll visit Constitution, Speightstown, Into Mischief, Runhappy, Omaha Beach, Gun Runner and so on.
“They’re going against the grain,” said Joe Cassidy, who manages Runnymede’s racing and breeding as part of a staff of 20, of the Bentleys. “People are downsizing, not breeding as many mares, not bringing in these kinds of mares. They’re building.”
The Bentleys, who bought their first mares in 2017, aren’t really alone. Raising Thoroughbreds seems to be perpetually against the grain. It’s not an endeavor for the weak or impatient. Yet despite the usual ups and downs of the Thoroughbred industry, regional breeders were waiting on foals, making decisions about matings and planning for the future. Foals born in 2020 will race in two or three years, if everything goes right. Those matings people are considering? Well those foals won’t race until at least 2023.
That chestnut filly at Runnymede, born in early February, was one of a few thousand to come in the Mid-Atlantic this winter and spring. Like always, the foals and their breeders depend on perhaps the industry’s most noble participants – broodmares.
Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred visited a few, sometimes (but not often enough) literally, to get a feel for what it’s like out there. In short, it’s great. The mares are good, they’re fat and dirty and some are overdue and stressing their people but they’re great.
And this is Part 1. See the April edition for a second round.
Resurgent in Virginia
Morgan’s Ford Farm dove into its 41st year with plenty of momentum, and looked forward to 11 foals – some sooner than others.
“We would like to have one tonight,” said Wayne Chatfield-Taylor, who owns and runs the place with his wife Susie, in early February. “Maybe last night.”
Three maiden mares took plenty of attention, and would be near the top of any visitor’s list at Morgan’s Ford. Double Maryland Million winner Crabcakes retired to the farm in 2019, and had settled into her new role with ease while awaiting a date with Ghostzapper. The 6-year-old also got reacquainted with her dam, Aunt Elaine. Both were bred by and raced for Binnie Houghton, who left the mares to Morgan’s Ford when she died in 2017.
“I wouldn’t say Crabcakes is at the top of the pecking order, but her mother is and they’re in charge of the maiden mares,” said Chatfield-Taylor. “And there are seven of them.”
The 17-year-old Aunt Elaine didn’t get in foal in 2019, but was headed to Madefromlucky or perhaps Crabcakes’ sire Great Notion this year. A yearling colt by Great Notion (so a full-brother to Crabcakes) sold for $120,000 at Timonium last fall. Another maiden, Virginia-bred stakes winner River Gal, was booked to Ghostzapper along with Crabcakes.
Morgan’s Ford mares were represented by seven stakes horses and three six-figure auction graduates in 2019, and Chatfield-Taylor credited the land with much of the success.
“This is a great place to raise any animals and certainly for us it’s racehorses,” he said. “The land puts very good bone on the horses. It takes the animal, the care, the space – the space is important. Horses can run until they get tired here, and in most cases, they still come when they’re called.”
The lineup also includes Street Interest, whose now 3-year-old daughter Bella Aurora closed 2019 with a win in Laurel Park’s Gin Talking Stakes for Country Life Farm and trainer Mike Trombetta. Street Interest won once on the racetrack, also for Trombetta, but has outdone herself in the breeding shed with winner Blacktop Legend (who twice topped $200,000 in the sales ring) and a $230,000 Keeneland November pricetag on her now yearling colt by Nyquist.
Street Interest was expecting a Sharp Azteca foal this month, and was booked back to Nyquist. The Morgan’s Ford broodmare list twists and turns in various directions, all the while focused on quality female families and deep roots including recent acquisition Smart Believer. Morgan’s Ford bred her dam I Believe in You, sold her as a yearling in 1999, and watched her become a Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old. But whatever female family I Believe in You had at Morgan’s Ford faded away. Years later, the line gets another chance. Smart Believer is open this year, but will be bred to Include.
At Keeneland November in 2014, Morgan’s Ford spent $110,000 to buy winless New York-bred, Japan-raced mare Un Blessed. The daughter of Mineshaft hails from a rich and rare female family including her dam Grade 1 winner Plenty of Grace (a daughter of Roberto), granddam Wings of Grace and a slew of others bred by the Galbreath family’s Darby Dan Farm. The list of quality relatives includes champion Soaring Softly, Grade 1-placed Recepta, Grade 2 winner Manitoulin and others.
Un Blessed’s second foal Chess Chief (by Into Mischief) placed in the Grade 3 West Virginia and Oklahoma derbies last year. Her third (by Ghostzapper) sold for $430,000 at Keeneland September. She was expecting a full-sibling to that colt and was booked to Kitten’s Joy.
“We’re proud of the farm,” Chatfield-Taylor said. “You’re only as good as your next horse, but it is nice to see. It was a very good year for the mares, and they opened new doors for us. We felt they were capable of doing it. They’re in the band because we think they’re good quality.”
Sagamore Farm sold Breeders’ Cup winner Shared Account and her yearling filly by Speightstown in 2018, then watched that yearling filly become Breeders’ Cup winner and Maryland-bred Horse of the Year Sharing.
That doesn’t mean the Maryland farm has given up on the family.
Riley’s Choice, a half-sister to Sharing, was due to deliver a foal by Blame in late February and was already booked to Omaha Beach. Riley’s Choice (by Distorted Humor) won four times, including a win in the 2018 All Brandy Stakes, and earned $172,838 on the racetrack for Sagamore before joining the broodmare band last year.
“We’re really excited because of what’s happened with the family,” said Sagamore’s Hunter Rankin. “She had speed and was a very talented filly who never really realized all her talent on the track. She had some tough luck here and there. She had the ability and I think she’ll be a really good broodmare.”
Another resident of the historic Sagamore broodmare barn, Grade 2 winner Daring Dancer, delivered a Blame filly in January. Daring Dancer’s other foals include a $600,000 yearling sales graduate, the unraced 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt Create Fearlessly (who was working on the turf in Florida) and a 2-year-old Kitten’s Joy colt training in Florida for Sagamore.
“She’s a beautiful mare, and had a ton of talent,” said Rankin. “She would tie up quite a bit and was kind of nervous as a racehorse but she’s a great broodmare.”
Two Foals, Always
Four years ago, Maryland breeder Poppet Pitts produced future Preakness Stakes-G1 starter Alwaysmining from her “small-time” operation and aims for more success with his dam What Will Be this year. The 17-year-old mare is in foal to Klimt, but not due until May. So far, the waiting is bothering the breeder more than the mare.
“She doesn’t foal until late because she was in foal and lost it so we got a month behind,” Pitts said. “We’re hoping to go back to Practical Joke, but if she’s late we’ll just have to skip a year. Pretty soon I’ll start to really worry.” What Will Be and her foal, whenever it arrives, will have company from Rey Lake and a foal by Tapiture. Due in late April, she is the dam of dual winner Romanoff who was headed to 3-year-old stakes company this year. At 18, Rey Lake may not be bred this year, but Pitts is prepared with Bill’s Presence. Barren for 2020, she was headed to Mo Town.
“I have to have two foals, I can’t stand one foal,” said Pitts, who credits neighbor Vivian Rall with the delivery work come foaling season. “They can play with each other and have such fun together. When you wean them, it’s easier if there are two, they go to Kentucky together to be sold – it just makes a lot of sense.”
Fairytale Ending, Beginning
The Cinderella story of Avani Force came to a sad ending when the mare died of colic in 2019. In 2011, she was essentially unwanted after reaching the $5,000 claiming level as a racehorse. Penn Ridge Farm’s Mike Jester acquired the mare and bred her to his stallion Monba and got two-time winner Aggreysive before selling Avani Force to Beasie Patterson and Vicki Schowe.
The partners bred their mare to Friesan Fire. A 2013 mating produced $6,000 yearling Friesani (who won twice). A 2015 pairing resulted in Call Paul, a $20,000 yearling whose race record includes six wins and $573,720. Avani Force’s foal of 2017, Pink Caddy, sold for $40,000 as a yearling and also turned into a stakes winner. Patterson and Schowe sold a Bullsbay yearling of 2019 for $55,000.
Colic claimed Avani Force, but that doesn’t mean the story ends – the breeders are raising an Uncle Lino yearling colt on Patterson’s farm in Delaware and bought Avani Force’s half-sister That’s Exciting late last year.
“It was very disappointing to lose Avani,” said Duncan Patterson, Beasie’s husband and longtime member of the Delaware Racing Commission. “But we bought her half-sister and sent her to (daughter) Jenn to train and we plan to breed her to Raceday this year. She won for us in January and has run 49 times in her life. She’s pretty tough, so hopefully she can pass that on to her foals.”
Mother of champions
Chanceland Farm broodmare Tanca was not invited to the annual Renaissance Awards honoring the top horses and horsemen in Maryland, but maybe she should have been.
The 18-year-old produced 2019 Maryland-bred champions Las Setas (3-year-old filly) and Cordmaker (older male). Not bad for a horse whose 10-start racing career ended with nine consecutive losses.
Her seven foals to race are all winners, and also include stakes winner Corvus. “As a racehorse, she was a little uptight,” said Katy Voss, who trained the mare [and her dam Waltz] for co-breeder and owner Bob Manfuso. “Sweet, but a little fussy.”
Voss and Manfuso singled out Tanca’s ability to transfer something beyond her personality to her foals. Manfuso calls it “wanna be,” and speaks of it often when it comes to finding success as a breeder.
“I try to tell new guys in the game, you want to breed correct and balanced and all that kind of stuff, but the one thing that’s tough is we haven’t figured out how to measure the wanna-be factor,” he said. “Tanca throws competitive horses that want to race.”
And that’s the name of the game.
Tanca has been sent to several regional stallions, with the occasional foray to Kentucky to visit Curlin (Cordmaker) and Street Sense (a yearling colt of 2020 Voss said could be headed to Saratoga), and was expecting a Madefromlucky foal this month. Her next partner had yet to be determined, though Voss likes to support the home team when she can.
“There are a lot of nice young stallion prospects in Maryland and we’ve made a point of breeding our nice mares to them,” she said. “The shortcoming of the Maryland program for a long time was we didn’t have enough good stallions. These guys all went out, stuck their necks out and brought in some nice horses. I worry that there aren’t enough mares to support them all. We’re trying to support those horses.”
With cornerstone stallions Bourbon Courage and Imagining sending their first foals to the races, 2019 was always going to be a big year for Maryland’s Anchor and Hope Farm.
Then came a fire, which burned the farm’s main barn to the ground while somehow sparing every horse on the place. Imagining emerged with burns on his back and has the scars to show for it, but he and the rest of the place have simply gone back to work siring winners, building a new barn, recruiting clients, raising young horses and now – finally – foaling mares again.
“We were really excited with what was happening,” said Grace Merryman, who manages the farm with her husband Louis. “The Bourbon Courages came out swinging in April and it was such a boost. And after the fire, I can’t tell you what it’s meant to us morale-wise to see Bourbon Courage and Imagining have such good years [eight and five winners respectively]. We’re a small operation and for two stallions we bought and syndicated and worked with for five years, to have them come out and do as well as they did is indescribable.”
Anchor and Hope has the rare pleasure of seeing sire, dam and foal all within a few yards of each other and that’s the case with a few of the more notable residents. Five-time stakes winner Jazzy Idea, whose foals include a Bourbon Courage 3-year-old gelding and an Imagining 2-year-old filly, delivered a Bourbon Courage colt in February. Jazzy Idea’s dam Jazz Band was due to another farm stallion Holy Boss and Second Line (a full-sister to Jazzy Idea) was carrying a foal by Anchor and Hope’s Long River. All three mares have produced winners, though they’re not necessarily alike.
“Jazzy Band and Jazzy Idea are very similar in personalities and looks and how they comport themselves,” said Merryman. “Second Line, she’s not like her mother or her sister. We can’t quite call her the redheaded stepchild because she’s a full-sister, but she has her own ways. Her Bourbon Courage 2-year-old [Two Shots] won first time out in December which gave her a boost. She’s earned her spot.”
Stakes winner Raging Whiskey’s dam Fullerene lost her foal of 2019 after a difficult delivery, but recovered in time to get in foal to Long River.
“We can’t believe we didn’t lose her last year too,” said Merryman, who expects about 60 foals to be born this year. “She looks wonderful and she’s happy now though. She’ll go back to Bourbon Courage if she foals early enough.”
Greg and Caroline Bentley’s first racehorse was 1995 hurdle winner Stop and Listen, who spurred an interest and led to major steeplechase winner Clearance Code, timber stakes horses Rainbows for Luck and Bryan Station and others you’ve probably never heard of but ultimately resulted in the owning of Arlington Million-G1 winner Hardest Core, Preakness Stakes-G1 starter Alwaysmining and a now quality group of broodmares in Pennsylvania.
The breeding program started in 2017, and continues to grow. Fourteen mares fill the list, with nine foals set to be born this year after nine in 2019 and five in 2018. The squad includes no slouches.
Spectacular Sky, dam of that American Pharoah filly at the start of this article, won six races (three stakes) and placed in a Grade 2 before becoming a broodmare. She joined the Runnymede team for $150,000 at Keeneland January in 2018, and produced a Will Take Charge colt that year. He’s prepping at the farm. Her Union Rags colt of 2017, Went West, won his debut at Parx last fall and finished second in a small stakes at Gulfstream Park for Gary and Mary West and trainer Jason Servis.
Spectacular Sky did not get in foal for 2019, but was bred to American Pharoah and – obviously – produced a nice filly. The 12-year-old mare will go to Omaha Beach this year, if she stops mooching Thin Mints from broodmare manager Jim Bergen long enough to get on the van.
“She loves them,” said Bergen, who spent 17 years with Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard’s racing operation but previously worked with mares and foals in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Zealand.
“I think people think I was born at Sheppard’s,” said Bergen, who also paid credit to former Derry Meeting Farm employee Calvin Smith with a major assist in the broodmare barn. “I did a lot of this before though and when the opportunity arose I came and talked to Joe and it was a great opportunity. It still is.”
Velvet Mood comes out of the Runnymede racing stable (where she won three times including a small stakes at Woodbine), and carries her first foal by More Than Ready. The daughter of Lonhro (Aus) was overdue in early February, and was closely watching her pals getting to know their foals.
“I think she’d take that Pharoah baby in a minute,” Cassidy said with a laugh as Velvet Mood fidgeted at the gate. “She’s amazing, a lovely mare. I love her. She’s big and strong, was very fast and could really run and her family has really taken off.”
In 2019, Velvet Mood’s half-sister Point of Honor won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes-G2 and placed in two Grade 1 stakes. Another half-sister, Wicked Whisper, won the Frizette-G1.
Another half-sister (by Union Rags) sold for $1 million as a yearling. Despite that boost, Velvet Mood is not for sale. She’ll have her More Than Ready foal and head to Into Mischief this year.
“We got a nice offer for her and Greg said, ‘Why would I sell her? Isn’t that the exact mare you’d like to buy for me,’ ” said Cassidy. “He’s right. There’s a point you sell, but this is still new. We’re building. She could be a cornerstone.”
The bulk of Runnymede’s mares are in Pennsylvania and will foal there, though the regional options matter. Several yearlings were at CandyLand Farm to get Delaware-certified, three mares who missed last year were being bred in Kentucky before coming home and Cassidy was still undecided on several mares who could go to Maryland stallions and potentially have foals in that state (joining stable star Alwaysmining as Maryland-breds). “We’re getting to know the mares and what kind of horses they can produce so we’ll think about putting them in some other states as we learn more,” Cassidy said. “We’re not going to rush in. Let’s see what we’ve got.”
Smiling Causeway exemplifies the Audley Farm Thoroughbred program. A $400,000 weanling purchase at Keeneland November 2014, the daughter of Giant’s Causeway was the first buy for Audley’s equine manager Jamie McDiarmid. Raised at the Virginia farm, she was unraced at 2 and given plenty of time to mature.
“But once she found her feet,” McDiarmid said, “she could fly. And she was very good to us.”
The chestnut filly won the 2018 Turf Amazon Stakes at Parx Racing and was beaten a nose in the Royal North-G2 at Woodbine that summer. She finished with five wins and $300,860 from 16 starts. “She got beaten by literally the smallest distance I’ve ever seen,” McDiarmid said of the Royal North. “We were in front before the line and just after, so we were very unlucky. But she was spoiled rotten by myself, Arnaud and the farm. And she deserved every bit of it.”
McDiarmid described Smiling Causeway as “totally cool, very, very sweet and she fits into the group well.” Bred as a maiden in 2019 to Uncle Mo, she was due to foal at the end of February. She’ll ship to Kentucky for a date with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah next.
If Smiling Causeway is Audley’s outgoing young redhead, Fairytale Ending (Ire) is the slightly older, wiser, standoffish brunette. Characterized by McDiarmid as “a proper broodmare,” the unraced 8-year-old dark bay has a power-packed family behind her.
Audley’s only Galileo (Ire) mare is out of Airwave (GB), also the dam of the Storm Cat mare Meow (Ire) who produced European champions Churchill (Ire) and Clemmie (Ire), both by Galileo. A multiple Grade 1-winning earner of $1,847,877, Churchill stands at Coolmore Stud in Ireland.
“It’s a very, very active family at the moment, and since we bought into the mare the pedigree really seems to have taken off,” McDiarmid said. “She likes to just do her thing – she’s not one to be played with, not a kid’s pony. But she’s very sweet when you get to know her and she has a nice temperament. But if she doesn’t want to be caught, she definitely will not be caught.”
Audley purchased Fairytale Ending in foal to Invincible Spirit (Ire) for $575,000 at Keeneland November 2015. That colt – Fir Bolg, sold for $240,000 at Keeneland September 2017 to Japanese interests. Her 3-year-old Distorted Humor filly, Urban Fairytale, sold for $250,000 as a yearling in 2018 and finished second at Keeneland last October.
“Distorted Humor is a very good cross with Galileo,” McDiarmid said. “She had a lovely Lemon Drop Kid in 2019; a really nice, leggy, good-looking filly. We bred her back to Hard Spun for this year and I’m hopeful this will be a nice foal. She’s going to Omaha Beach, which is awesome.” – Maggie Kimmitt