One of the great storylines of this year’s Derby trail is the ongoing love affair between horsewoman Tami Bobo and her “pet” Take Charge Indy, upset winner of the Florida Derby.
The affection Bobo has for the son of A.P. Indy can be heard in her voice, which one minute is alive with a youthful exuberance when reminiscing about her days with the colt at her farm in Ocala and the next minute quavers with emotion as she attempts to describe what it was like watching him win the Florida Derby. Trying to put those emotions into words brought her to tears.
Take Charge Indy’s story began at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale, when he stepped into the ring as part of the consignment of Eaton Sales, who bred the colt.
The colt’s pedigree spelled money, being by A.P. Indy, out of multiple grade I winner Take Charge Lady, a two-time winner of the Spinster Stakes and earner of more than $2.4 million.
But it was feared the colt was not going to bring anything near what he was worth due to a couple of minor physical issues.
“He was a great big, strong-bodied, athletic colt,” said Eaton Sales’ Reiley McDonald. “He just had some minor conformational flaws that put people off, and when you’re at a small selected sale as are the first couple of days at Keeneland, a lot of buyers will walk right past a horse if they see any flaws. I think a lot of buyers just marked him off their list. He was a little upright in his pasterns and his knees were a little bit close, and he had a very short step behind. A lot of buyers like to see a big loopy overstep, and he didn’t overstep at all, so I think it put some people off.”
McDonald knew he was going to have trouble selling the colt for his true value, so he wasn’t exactly shocked when he failed to meet his reserve at $80,000. He now had to find a willing buyer who would overlook the colt’s flaws and approached Bobo and Carl Bowling, partners in the fledgling company Secure Investments.
Bobo had just come over to Thoroughbreds from Quarter-Horse show horses that year, teaming up with Bowling, a longtime Thoroughbred horseman, purchasing yearlings and then pinhooking them as 2-year-olds.
“I approached Tami and Carl in the back walking ring and told them I have a horse who fell through the cracks and needs to be bought,” McDonald recalled. “They went down to see him and fell in love with him and we did the deal right there at the sale.”
Said Bobo, “Carl and I were looking at horses when Reiley came up to us and said, ‘I have one that I think you guys would like, and I don’t understand why I don’t have much action on him. You should probably come look at him. I immediately fell in love with the colt. He was long in his pasterns and straight in the front and kind of a gangly colt. But I felt the imperfections he had were the type he could grow through. All in all, as far him not being 100 percent, in my opinion no horse has perfect conformation. You find the imperfections and if you can live with them, a lot of horses overcome a lot of things. I come from a Quarter-Horse show horse background and I’ve been in the horse business my entire life; I was raised around horses. The first year I actually trained and broke Thoroughbreds on my own was in 2010, which was my year with Indy.
“I’m very Quarter-Horse minded when it comes to working with young horses. We break our horses out in the field and we gallop them out in the field. Our horses are never kept in stalls when we first get them. We break them and leave them out and let them develop. A lot of that played a big role in Indy being able to develop the way he needed to. The way he was made, if you kept him in a stall and just galloped him and broke him that way I don’t think Indy would be where he is today.”
For Bobo, it was love at first sight. Their relationship at the farm went beyond the typical rapport between trainer and horse and beyond the normal breaking procedure. She and the colt became inseparable, and she knew it was going to be difficult parting with him and finding a worthy owner.
“From the first day I saw him, everyone will tell you I fell in love with him,” Bobo said. “Carl asked me who was my favorite, and I told him it was Indy, from day one. I said this is the kind of horse if you stay out of his way he’s just going to get better. A great horse is a great horse and all a trainer can do is keep them sound and keep them going and give them the best shot you can. You just need to maintain them and keep them happy. Because we’re not a large volume facility we do small numbers and high quality and try to cater to the high end of the industry. We try to sell boutique style horses.
“Indy was my barnyard pet. I would get on him in the afternoons and take him to the track and ride him with a just a halter and a lead rope. He just loved to train and I would gallop him two miles every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just because that’s what he mentally needed. I didn’t overtrain him and I didn’t undertrain him; I just let him tell me what we needed to do and how far we needed to go.”
As time went on, Bobo and Indy grew closer to each other.
“Eventually, he learned how to say ‘yes’ for his carrots and he learned how to say ‘no,’” Bobo said. “And he knew his name. Even to this day, and (trainer) Pat Byrne can tell you, I can walk into his shedrow and call out ‘Indy,’ and he’ll nicker to me; he knows who I am. He’s just very attentive to me, and I think it’s because of the amount of time I spent with him. When we went out in the afternoons, it was as if he were being trail-ridden, riding bareback with just a halter and lead rope. There was no bucking, lunging, or leaping. I think those fundamentals we teach stay with them and teach them to be strong and confident and not be afraid.
“I’ve learned a great deal from Carl. I’ve been blessed in the short time I’ve been in the Thoroughbred business, and I owe so much to the unsung heroes, Enrique Martinez and Everton Miles, who both helped break Indy. And Enrique was his regular rider. Carl and I buy yearlings and pinhook them as 2-year-olds, and if it wasn’t for Carl being there for me and answering all my questions I wouldn’t be where I am today in the Thoroughbred business.”
Finally, it was time for the 2-year-old sale, but by then, Bobo had become too attached to the colt.
“I was so in love with Indy I didn’t want to sell him,” she said. “We wanted to keep him and run him ourselves. Pat Byrne, being a longtime friend and customer of Carl’s, called and wanted to come and look at some horses. He came to the barn with Chuck Sandford and they saw how heartfelt I was when it came to Indy and the strong feelings I had for him. I told them it was going to take a special person to own a part of this horse, and that Carl and I weren’t going to sell this horse at a sale; we’re just going to sell a portion of him. Chuck came to the barn and absolutely fell head over heels for him. From a buyer’s perspective I think he was already in love with the pedigree, but when Chuck saw how personable he was and the tricks he would do in the barn, and how he’d just stand there when you opened his stall door, he fell in love with him, just as I did. He saw how attentive he was to me and the faces he’d make when you scratched him. I think Chuck just felt a connection to Indy, and, as an owner, there was a comforting feeling having a horse with such a pedigree that he could walk up to and pet. So I really think Indy sold himself to Chuck. Carl and I both knew at that moment this was who we needed to sell Indy too, because he would impact Chuck and (his wife) Maribeth’s lives as greatly as he did ours.
“We only sold 50 percent and kept the other half in order to stay involved with Indy. We’ve since made other deals and arrangements and just recently sold our last portion of Indy, so Chuck and Maribeth now own all of him. This is what we do. We cater to a specialty market and only sell select horses. We follow their careers, and hopefully, if they end up in the right hands, we always remain a part of their lives.”
Bobo regrets that she was unable to make it to Gulfstream for the Florida Derby, but there is nothing that will keep her from attending the Kentucky Derby. Watching the Florida Derby on TV was enough of an emotional experience to last her a lifetime.
“I get very emotional watching Indy run and staying so connected to him, and it takes your breath away to see a horse do what he did (in the Florida Derby) who is so special to me and who I believed in from day one,” she said. “He gave me 110 percent every time we breezed him or galloped him. When he’s right his tail goes straight out behind him. I can always tell looking at his tail when he’s 100 percent on and when he’s not. That tail goes out behind him and he’s absolutely effortless, just as he was in the Florida Derby. He’s just amazing; he truly is. I have a 21-year-old daughter, and you love your kids, but that horse just owns a part of me.”