Jul 3, 2008


Yearling sales get underway soon. Here’s a few tales that illustrate some hits and misses I have experienced in the auction ring.

My first venture to Keeneland came in l976 with $l0,000 in credit to buy a man a filly to race. I was still pretty new at this and tended to mark down pedigrees of horses that I knew and admired from the race track.

Bold Who had been a betting favorite of mine at Fair Grounds. He was a tough, impetuous horse who had plenty of speed and learned to carry it two turns. In short, he gave you all he had and won l8 races. Young Joey Dorignac trained Bold Who for his father who owned a giant grocery store in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie.

Late in the sale I discovered a half-sister to Bold Who. Physically, they could not have been more different-Bold Who was dark, almost black and loaded with muscle and bone-and his sis was a smallish sort who was feminine and light boned. She was by Grenfall, a son of Graustark and champion Primonetta. I knew enough about pedigrees by then to think there was enough blood to take a chance on.

I bid my $l0,000 but surrendered when another bidder went $ll,000. The successful buyer turned out to be Dr. Jack Woolsey, a veterinarian from Santa Rosa, CA. We met and became friends and I thought little of it until the filly, now named Grenzen, began burning up the track in California. She won numerous graded stakes, was second in the Kentucky Oaks and the Ashland and was sold for a huge figure to Walter Haefner’s Moyglare Stud. Grenzen’s first foal was $2 million earner Twilight Agenda. She and her daughters went on to produce one of the most abundant families in the stud book.

Naturally my client, when Grenzen began to run, said why didn’t I bid more. Now you tell me.

Every cloud has its silver lining. Dr. Woolsey later introduced me to Bob and Barbara Walter who hired me to help market their Vine Hill Ranch stock from time to time.
We sold a daughter of their home stallion Slewvescent for more than $l million and she won the Grade I Queen Elizabeth S. at Keeneland. Her name was Tout Charmant.

Fast forward two decades and you can tell that I had learned how to buy a good yearling for the right price.

A flamboyant fellow appeared on the scene and we contracted with him to purchase running and breeding stock at the highest levels. One day at Keeneland, after purchasing a number of horses the man was ready to go back to his hotel for Happy Hour. He’d had a few cocktails already and resisted my idea of buying one more horse, a filly by Thunder Gulch. This time I insisted and we stood in the back of the pavilion to bidTwit. We stood next to Mack Miller and Smiser West who bred the filly.

Evidently their reserve price was $l00,000 because that was our winning bid. Mr. West turned to Mr. Miller with a disconsolate look on his face. “Gee, I thought we’d get more than that, didn’t you,” said Mr. West to Mr. Miller who agreed.

“You mean you kept me here for another hour to buy a cheap horse”, my guy said. He had other advisors bending his ear and I began to suspect that our selections were being badmouthed.

Be that as it may, the filly began doing business as Tweedside and she went on to become a Grade I winner of some $600,000. Her 3-year-old colt by Storm Cat debuted on the weekend and finished second at Belmont as if he has a future. Name is Mosaic.

What tipped me off on this one, you may ask? Elementary, my dear reader. I had dealt with this family about l0 years earlier. A different client sent me to Kentucky to try to purchase a mare by Roberto. We had topped the inaugural Barretts Sale with a Roberto colt and he was looking to parlay.

I found him Twitchet who had out a couple of modest stakes-placed runners up till then.

She had another foal who had just picked up black type as a 4-year-old. The mare was empty and had a Forty Niner colt by her side. Hidaway Farm wanted $250,000 or maybe $300,000 for the package, I can’t recall. What I can recall is that Twitchet’s foals tended to be late developers and equally adept on dirt or turf.

For some reason my client decided to pass on Twitchet. Too bad. Her then 4-year-old was Evanescent who won three graded stakes as a 6-year-old and finished second in the Grade I Arlington Million. He earned almost $l million

The Forty Niner colt was stakes-winner Tactical Advantage. Now you can see why I wouldn’t let Tweedside get away. Persistence paid off.

A few years earlier I was part of a four man delegation to purchase well-bred fillies to race in Western Canada and eventually become broodmares there.

My was to analyze pedigrees and share racing knowledge gleaned from my experiences at US tracks since the others rarely left their British Columbia outpost.

I worked winters at Fair Grounds in those days and became enamored with a filly named Pink Platinum, a robust grey Quadrangle filly trained by Jere Smith. She raced for Archie Lofton on the New Orleans, Hot Springs, Louisville, Chicago circuit. Pink Platinum loved to race on the lead and was a wire-to-wire stakes winner. She won l8 races.

On my advice, we bought a half-sister to Pink Platinum for $30,000 which was our limit.
As was the case with Grenzen, the siblings in no way resembled each other. Our filly was from the first crop of speedster Torsion, a Never Bend horse standing at brand new Airdrie Stud. She was small and dark and looked fast. Named Never Wood, she won her first three starts, including three stakes. As a broodmare she producted Ohio Derby winner Private School who made $770,000.

If you love betting on races and know what you’re watching; if you love reading pedigrees and can making sense of the connective tissue in active families you can buy a good horse. Better yet, let me buy it for you.

Jun 30, 2008


Royal Ascot races last week evoked memories of our visit a decade ago. Chief among them was the smashing victory by Dubai Millenium in the G 1 Prince of Wales stakes.
The betting opened on the Darley at 4-6 early in the week but the herd mentality of many racegoers took a turn that was almost comical in its stupidity. By post time the wagering had taken a huge shift with the Aga Khan’s Sinndar moved into favoritism in the four horse field, with Dubai Millenium downgraded to 6-4 second choice.

The reason? Jerry Bailey had been named to ride Dubai Millenium and thousands of punters, swayed by the racing press, got the curious impression that presence of the American champion was somehow less than a good thing.

Bailey put the brilliant son of Seeking The Gold on an easy lead almost from the start and came home as if out for a canter in Hyde Park.

One sensed that he was in the presence of greatness in Dubai Millenium. His early demise was a heartbreaking loss for the Maktoum family.

Also memorable that week was our chat up with the Queen Mother who was celebrating her 99th birthday if I recall. A member of our party asked a Lady In Waiting if we could speak with the Queen Mother as she entered the walking ring. I was sure that security would round us up but, lo and behold, the Queen Mum tooled over in her golf cart and granted an audience that must have lasted l0 minutes. She chatted about her trips to Woodbine and touted us on the winner of the next race.

My English friends doubt the veracity of my tale but there were witnesses.

The trip ended on a more somber note. We had been cashing bets all week and there was no more room left in my pants pockets to put the Dubai Millenium loot. So I began to deposit pounds in the jacket of my morning suit.

That suit was returned to its Bond Street rental office at 7 a.m. on our way to Gatwick and a flight home. A champagne hangover led to fuzzy thinking and we were already at Gatwick when I noticed that some 2000 pounds was missing.

I called the rental company at once, explaining that I had left some of my profits in the jacket of the suit. “Backed some winners, did you,” he said, sounding like Col. Pickering to my Henry Higgins. “You’d be one of the few.”

Right then I knew I could kiss my bankroll goodbye. All the way home I felt like a “bloomin’ arse”.


They used to say in Las Vegas casinos that, if you wanted to gamble, they would send a cab to pick you up. If you wanted to play with a system, they would send a limo.

Breeding Thoroughbreds is the greatest gambling device played outdoors. Systems abound. Me, I’m sticking with trial and error, betting real money (including some of mine) and keenly following results on the racetrack. Diligence can point the way to intuition and common sense. All that and some luck can then help you succeed

We had a hand in shaping the pedigree of last week’s Tremont at Belmont, won by Dagnabit (Freud-Cool Ghoul, by Silver Ghost). A decade ago I purchased the G 1 winner Single Blade. We could hardly contain our glee at finding a top racemare with the best conformation you could desire for $50,000. Soon thereafter her son Comeonmom won the Remsen.

Comeonmom was by Jolie’s Halo so we thought that might be a place to start looking for her next mating. Silver Ghost was going well in those days and, as a son of Mr. Prospector and a Halo mare, he fit the bill on two counts. He stood for a $l5,000 fee which fit our price range. And he was a bit on the small side and figured to benefit from the leg and bone Single Blade brought to the mating in abundance.

The resultant Silver Ghost filly brought $l35,000 at Keeneland September. She was a modest racemare but Cool Ghoul showed immediate dividends when sent to Freud for her first mating. She foaled a New York-bred stakes placed horse and followed up with Dagnabit who was aided in the Tremont when odds-on Mr. Mistoffelles had a devil of a time at the break.

By now it should be obvious that Halo interacted well with this tribe. We bred Single Blade back to Southern Halo and she produced a powerful colt who took after the dam’s robust conformation. Unfortunately he also inherited Halo’s willful temperament which prevented him from fulfilling his potential. That’s the polite version. His handlers found him often dangerous to train with his obstreperous demeanor.

Freud also carries Halo through his illustrious daughter Glorious Song. You can imagine our distress at the results of sending Single Blade twice to Street Cry on a complimentary season open to G 1 winners. She foaled a beautiful colt who happened to be riddled with OCD lesions and yet to race. Single Blade died of colic while in foal to Street Cry.

Street Cry’s sire Machiavellian was bred on the same pattern as Silver Ghost (Mr. Prospector out of a mare by Halo). Oh, what might have been!

No genius was necessary to produce such results. But we like to think that keen observation of the facts at hand were enough to produce the desired results in this family.

A footnote on Single Blade: she produced ll consecutive January foals on one cover. Surely that’s a record.