Jul 31, 2009


Generally speaking it not a good idea to go back and buy a  sibling to a good horse you have had in your stable.  Remember that Mrs. Sullivan had 12 sons but only one John L.

But sometimes you just have to be right for the wrong season, in the words of Edward G. Robinson to Steve McQueen’s Cincinnati Kid in the great poker movie of the same name.

I struck paydirt when I spent $52,000 of Jerry Hollendorfer’s money to purchase Trickey Trevor who went on to win more than $700,000 as a Grade 2 performer.

A few years later his half-sister appeared in the March Sale at OBS (Ocala).  She turned in a sparkling work, was by the very good stallion Montbrook and bred by a trustworthy outfit in Mike Farrell’s Ocala Stud.

The price seemed right at $95,000 and we bought her.  Not long ago she won the Alameda Handicap at Pleasant and boosted her earnings past $180,000 and perhaps that sum again in breeding value.

On another occasion our flexible approach paid off handsomely.  Graeme Hall cost $200,000 at Keeneland September and proved himself by winning the Arkansas Derby and Jim Dandy at three.  The son of Dehere made seven figures at the races with Todd Pletcher and is standing with some success in Florida.

Graeme Hall was followed by a robust chestnut filly who was offered for sale at the Calder 2-year-old sale.  The filly was a daughter of Hennessy and her breezes at Calder made us determined to buy her.

We weren’t the only ones watching, of course, and went to $l,650,000 to secure the eventual Grade 1 winner  her for the Melnyk Stable who raced Graeme Hall, fighting off an equally determined Demi O’Byrne.

Demi accosted Pletcher and I after that bidding duel and said, only half kidding, that “you’ll not outbid me again”.  He was right but not without a heroic effort on our part.

We locked horns later that day over who would own Yonaguska.  Once again price reached the stratosphere whenever a combination of looks, speed and pedigree showed up in the sales ring.  We made a $1,950,000 bid on Yonaguska only to be topped by a $25,000 bid.  

Jul 27, 2009


Sharp Cat 
In Neon

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.


Sometimes common sense plus a little deductive reasoning  can be enough in making a satisfactory horse deal.

An acquaintance of mine landed a stakes filly just that way some years ago.  Spectacular Bid was terrorizing Flying Paster and all comers at Santa Anita in the winter of Bid’s 4-year-old career.

Buddy Delp trained Bid along with the rest of a string sent West from his Maryland home.  Dr. Ken Walters was a Vancouver dentist who dabbled with a few runners at Exhibition Park.

He had a hunch that Delp might not be too fussy about his other horses while he tended to the media circus surrounding the “best horse ever to look through a bridle”.

So he was ready to pounce when he spotted a filly by Silent Screen in the entries for a paltry $20,000 maiden claimer at Santa Anita.  The filly’s name was Happy Feet, out of a Northern Dancer mare named Danceful.  Danceful was out of a half-sister to the dam 

five-time Horse of the Year Kelso.  That’s a lot of pedigree muscle for twenty grand!

Happy Feet won that afternoon and became a stakes-winner in Canada later on and became a distinguished producer with15 foals and 14 of them raced and won.

Some years later Dr. Walters ran afoul of Canada’s tax department and had to sell his horses pronto to satisfy the authorities.  A package deal of five horses was on offer and I jumped on the first plane to look them over.  The price was right and I took all five, hoping to resell four and keep Happy Feet out of admiration for her ability and soundness.

I sold three horses in short order and made a reasonable profit.  The one remaining was a smallish filly by an unheralded sire named Brunswick.  I knew this one might be a tough sale because she had one pretty crooked leg to go along with her petite body.

But I got behind this filly, having observed her combative nature-a trait she inherited from Happy Feet- and a way of outrunning a paddock full of yearlings.

My sales pitch failed and we were packing up to bring the Brunswick filly back home when John Franks rang and asked if we had any RNAs he should consider.

I mentioned the Happy Feet filly and said that I would take $5,000 for her. He readily agreed on the deal and he sent her off to Woodbine-based trainer David Bell.  David is a patient trainer of the old school and he was fired more than once by Franks for being too slow bringing them to the races.

Not this time.  The filly named Screen Happy won $337,805 from 2 to 5.  I got a pat on the back from the boss.

I got one foal for myself out of Happy Feet, a robust colt by Skip Away that I named Chipper Skipper (get it?).  Trainer Bobby Barnett called from Churchill Downs one stormy fall day and said that we had a real shot to win in a maiden route race under the Twin Spires.

The late Luke Kruytbosch and I were friends from having worked televised races together in Western Canada.  I mentioned he horse to him and we each cashed when Chipper Skipper closed about 20 lengths to get up in the last stride at 20-to-1.  Luke's call of the race rivalled the way he would announce the Kentucky Derby.


Wednesday at Belmont trainer Tom Bush unveiled a first time starter named Screen Saviour a daughter of Screen Happy who won impressively.  I sat in the Keeneland Equestrian Room and pondered whether to bet at nearly 9-to-1.  Instead I stood pat.

Reverie can be expensive sometimes.

Happy Feet, may your tribe continue to increase!