Legacy of Honesty - By Harvey Liebeskind

(Originally published in the February 6, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)     

Whether they know it or appreciate it, there is not a sales agent today that has not been influenced by Lee Eaton.

Lee, who died in December, was the first to have consignment cards to keep up with who had viewed sale horses; he was the first to have professional showmen; the first to give clients a sale-prep calendar to maximize the process.

I first met Lee in 1970, when I attended a seminar in Lexington for prospective owners. Lee was among the speakers.

It had been a dream of mine to be a part of the industry. As a youth I subscribed to The Blood-Horse and The Thoroughbred Record and began learning about pedigrees by reading sale catalogs. After graduating from the undergraduate program and medical school at the University at Buffalo (the State University of New York), I did my psychiatry training at the University of Miami, where I began my practice.

With my career established I set about to become a Thoroughbred owner.

As I listened to Lee speak that day, what struck me most was his honesty, and 40 years later it is still the quality that springs to mind when I am asked to describe Lee.

My first investment was in a share in 1968 Santa Anita Derby winner Alley Fighter, with the presumption I would buy a mare to breed to the son of Rough’n Tumble, who had retired to stand at Shady Lane Farm near Reddick, Fla. I bought the mare, Fenway, for just that purpose.

After a few years I had some broodmares and broodmare prospects to be sold at auction and asked Lee to consign them for me. Lee had so many good people that worked for him, including John Williams, who would later become his partner when the agency changed its name to Eaton-Williams.

When I was in town for the first sale at which my horses sold, Lee invited me to breakfast at his house with him and his wife, Helen. I distinctly remember they served scrapple, something I had never tasted before.

Lee always had a smile on his face, and was 100% scrupulous. I made a lot of money in the business, and Lee made much more. I always knew that if Lee made “x” in the business, he could have made “10 times x” had he taken an edge. He preferred to be honest and make “x.”

As has been well-documented, there were two mares, Courtly Dee and Comely Nell, that really put Lee on the map.

Lee bought Courtly Dee following her racing career, in which the daughter of Never Bend won four races and earned $19,426. In the breeding shed Courtly Dee became one of the greatest producers of my lifetime. Her first seven foals were bred by Lee in partnership with his good friends Marvin Waldman and Sam Lyon (Red Bull Stable). They included three stakes winners, among them her first two foals, grade I winner Ali Oop (by Al Hattab) and three-time graded stakes winner Native Courier (by Exclusive Native).

Lee consigned Courtly Dee, in foal to Alydar, to the 1980 Keeneland November sale, where she was purchased for $900,000 by the British Bloodstock Agency for Helen Alexander, Helen Groves, and David Aykroyd. Of course, she was carrying champion filly Althea. Courtly Dee would produce four more stakes winners.

Courtly Dee is now the dam, granddam, and great-granddam of more stakes winners than I can count.

For himself and Red Bull, Lee bought Comely Nell (by Commodore M.) privately from Melvin Cinnamon, manager of Calumet Farm, which wasn’t going to race her because she was blind in one eye. He bought her because of her female family. She was a daughter of Kentucky Oaks winner Nellie L., her second dam was champion Nellie Flag, and her third was Nellie Morse, who won the Preakness in 1924.

Lee’s policy was if one of the first three foals doesn’t show stakes class, the mare should be sold. But he and his partners became sentimental about Comely Nell and kept her because of her blind eye. As with most things Lee was associated with, it sure worked out for the best. Her seventh foal, a colt by Irish Castle, sold as a yearling for $15,200, which Lee liked to point out was 10 times the stud fee. Named Bold Forbes, that colt won the 1976 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and was the champion 3-year-old male.

Lee’s legacy endures at every auction. But his legacy to me was his honesty. 

Dr. Harvey Liebeskind, who lives in Dayton, Ind., is now retired from medical practice and the Thoroughbred industry.

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