Jul 25, 2009


A major league baseball general manager named Frank Lane used to say that the best trade is often the one that you don’t make.

That motto certainly applied to the chain of events which led to the purchase of champion sprinter Speightstown. I was buying yearlings at the 1999 Keeneland July Sale on behalf of Canadian newcomer Eugene Melnyk. He liked his advisers to name a horse each day that he “must have”. I nominated a colt by Gone West out of a champion mare in Canada named Silken Cat (Hip 185).

Melnyk rang up from his home in Barbados with instructions to bid on Hip 167, a Gone West filly out of stakes-winner Miraloma. She was not especially striking physically but the filly figured to draw some action with a star-studded family that included sprint champions Gold Beauty and Dayjur. Worth maybe a million, I figured.

Spirited bidding quickly drove the price up on 167 and I broke out in a sweat when Melynk said make it $2.7 million. Thank heavens a bid rang out at $2.8. “What do we do now?”asked the voice on the phone.”

“Get out of Dodge is what we do now,” I countered. “You have a horse coming in about a half-hour who really is worth $2 million. Forget about this one.”

Speightstown strolled in a few minutes later and was the cynosure of all eyes. Bidding was fierce once again and we managed to acquire the horse for $2 million. I have no doubt that we would not have had the green light for two multi-millionaire yearlings nearly back-to-back.

The Miraloma filly became an expensive dud who never raced while Speightstown’s value was north of $l0 million after his brilliant Breeders’ Cup Sprint cinched a championship for him, not to mention some $1.2 in purses.

Dividends continue to flow from Speightstown’s first crop which last week included four stakes-winners, including a Gr I in France, a Gr 2 in New York and two more in the US.
They run very fast, that’s a given, but they are winning in top company at a mile, on turf, on dirt, poly, you name it.

That’s how a professional bloodstock agent serves his client.

As for Frank Lane, I have still not forgiven him 50 years after he traded Rocky Colavito from the Cleveland Indians to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn


The exploits of trainer Wesley Ward at Royal Ascot sparked still another trip down memory lane. Two decades earlier my good friend Pat Collins had sent a Canadian filly named Zadracarta to try her luck in the Group I Prix de L’abbaye which is contested on the Arc card at Longchamp.

It took some doing but Pat eventually convinced owner Steve Stavro to mix it up with the Paris swells. 

I had a lot of confidence in Pat so I fished out a Canadian double sawbuck and asked him to put it on the nose. News did not travel quite so quickly in those days so it took 48 hours to discover that Zadracarta had led every step of the way until the last stride of the five furlong sprint. AT 66-TO-1!!

Pat was one of those unique characters that populate the world’s racing grounds and keep them lively. He left his native Ireland an orphan and arrived in Toronto with the literal shirt off his back. He was soon hired as an exercise rider but turns out he was stretching the truth a bit about that.

Next stop was the racing office and he somehow rose to the top job there in record time. A short stint as a bloodstock agent began just when a major recession slowed trade to a halt.

Pat was not the type to give up easily. He became a trainer and hooked up with Toronto grocery baron Stavro. Stavro was no dullard himself. He migrated to Canada from his native Macedonia and became the classic entrepreneur success, graduating from selling fruit on the street to ownership of the biggest food store chain in Ontario.

He was obsessed with Alexander The Great, a fellow Macedonian, and named many of his horses with a Macedonian theme. Zadracarta was an ancient Persian city conquered by Alexander.

Bold Ruckus sired Zadracarta and was dam sire of Ward’s Jealous Again who captured the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes. Florida breeder Harold Plumley acquired Zadracarta from the Stavro estate. Coincidentally, he also bred Jealous Again from another Bold Ruckus mare named Chi Sa.

The first time I attended the Toronto yearling sale I was trying to buy one by Bold Ruckus. The first dozen or so I looked at were all back at the knee, a point which I raised with the consignor who also stood the stallion.

“You wouldn’t want one that wasn’t,” said he. From that moment on I relaxed and bought a number of very successful runners and broodmares from the tribe of Bold Ruckus.

My friendship with Pat dated back into the late l970s when he phoned me in Vancouver from Toronto just to tell me how much he liked a column I had written in Daily Racing Form. I had never heard of the guy but I made it a point to look him up in 1985 when I was hired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to work the Rothman’s International (Gr. 1) at Woodbine, won by Southjet for Dogwood Stable and trainer Angel Penna Sr.

He was a boon companion until the tragic auto accident which claimed Pat’s life while he was in winter quarters at Payson Park in Florida almost 20 years ago.


California business man buys a Thoroughbred farm and two years later proposes to invest $70 million more in another venture in downtown Lexington. Once again this demonstrates the diverse ways in which horses drive our Kentucky economy.

Will potential investors be so ready to include Kentucky in their plans if the horse business is perceived to be in decline?

As for Sen. Williams, he responded with a proposal so inane, so empty handed, so empty headed that he will soon be the object of ridicule, not fear. His bloated sense of himself has become intolerable in a time of crisis for the entire state of Kentucky, not just the horse industry.

A Thoroughbred figures to outrun a stubborn mule every time. The groundswell seems to have shifted in our favor but there’s still a mountain to climb. Let’s be ready when we are called on for further action.


In Neon

Sharp Cat

Sharp Cat was in the news again the other day when her 3-year-old son Extra Sharp won by many lengths in his second start at Monmouth.

That unlocked another bank of memories regarding Broodmare of the Year In Neon, who was the dam of Sharp Cat, who won l5 races, seven of them Grade 1 events.

It is a twice told tale by now how I came to successfully lobby John Franks to purchase In Neon who was carrying the Storm Cat filly in utero.  There are other angles to the purchase and subsequent dispersal of Sharp Cat that have not been revealed.

The saga began way back in the 1960s when a claimer named Palsy Walsy was fast becoming my favorite horse.  It was a wet summer and the caddy yard was filled with ambitious lads with time on their hands hoping to “catch a loop” when the Sunnybrook Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia eventually dried out enough to play.

In the meantime, some of the older fellows studied the racing entries for Atlantic City Racecourse. Palsy Walsy caught my eye because he loved the mud and won repeatedly.  My racing bankroll began to surpass what the caddy yard could produce.

Fast forward a decade or so and I am a budding racetracker plying my trade in “Beautiful British Columbia” as the license plates would have it.  Exhibition Park was a long way from Atlantic City but there was no finer city than Vancouver and there was not a lot of competition among bloodstock agents. I was pretty much it, largely due to some national exposure commenting on CBC-TV shows coast-to-coast.

A sportsman named Pat Ballentine asked for my assistance in securing a 3-year-old colt to run in stakes at Ex Park, now known as Hastings Park.  He had been approached to buy a prospect named Captain’s Party and my job was to analyze his Woodbine form and pedigree.

And what do you know? Captain’s Party is none other than a son of Palsy Walsy.  Talk about your “no brainers”! Palsy Walsy and mud in a town with 40 inches of rain a year.

Sign me up.

Captain’s Party did his job and won a number of stakes for Ballentine.

Palsy Walsy was doing her job, too. She produced a good California stakes-winner in Shamara and she, in turn,  produced In Neon.

A few years later another Vancouver owner named Peter Redekop sent me to the May 2-year-old sale at Barretts in Pomona, CA with instructions to “buy the fastest in the sale.”

The fastest horse is easy to spot.  He’s another son of In Neon, by Al Nasr.  He works brilliantly but there’s a catch...he has a club foot.  I report that fact and the potential buyer asks “what’s a club foot”?

I tell him what I know, that it’s not a big deal if managed properly.  My man is gunshy and decides to pass.

The consignor is Lev Fanning who touts his brother Jerry on the horse who goes on to win $807,000 named Star Recruit.

I moved to Kentucky in 1993 and go to the November Keeneland Sale to check out In Neon once again.  I do not have a buyer because I think she is going to bring half a million and don’t try to hustle up a buyer. 

In Neon leaves the ring unsold with a last price of $l60,000.  Quickly I seek out Californian Meryl Ann Tanz and ask what is her bottom dollar.

“Two hundred thousand and not a penny less,” she avers.  Agents hover about trying to make a deal while I head straight to the telephone exchange and ring up Franks.

He demands to know why I expect him to pay $200,000 when the market has rejected the mare at under $l60,000.

“ I know this family,” I tell him.  “This has already produced a major stakes-winner by a failed sire.  What if you get a good looking Storm Cat foal.  This mare would then be worth a fortune.”

“OK, go buy her,” he said.

What I did not tell him is that In Neon is perhaps the ugliest mare I have ever seen.

That’s why no one would bid high on her in the ring.  I was quite likely the only person in that Keeneland sale ring who had been closely involved in the evolution of a successful family for thirty years.

The Storm Cat filly arrives and I am full of anticipation as I venture out to see her in her first week of life.  Not too bad, I think. Plenty of leg and length, well muscled.  But her right knee is rotated out pretty good.  She’ll need time.

The following summer Franks decides to cull back hundreds of his horses.  In general, we tried to cut from the bottom and keep the better stock.

We have a meeting in his Shreveport office with the Fasig-Tipton staff. They want to sell the Storm Cat filly and I am adamant that he keep her to race.  He tells us that he can enter the filly and keep her if she doesn’t sell well.

Come dispersal day and another meeting is held with the auctioneers to set reserves. I suggest a reserve of $l50,000: Franks lowers it to $125,000.  I am disappointed but the worse was yet to come.

I am on the auction stand reading the pedigrees.  Sharp Cat is in the ring and the bidding is sluggish.  The phone rings.  From a back office Franks asks if the $82,000 bid is live money.

“Yes sir, it is,” I tell him. “ Mr. and Mrs. Rogers made the bid from the right side of the ring”.

“I’m in a selling mood”, he says.  “Sell her”’.

The rest, as they say, is history.

At a post-sale meeting the mood is flat.  Franks asked how I thought we made out.

“Not too bad,” I said.  “But I’m afraid that you will one day wish you had not sold the In Neon filly.”

The Rogers turned $82K into $400,000 when they sold her at Saragota to Rick Porter.

Porter sold her as a 2-year-old for $900,000.  Thoroughbred Corporation won $2 million at the races.  Darley bought her for millions more.