The pride that breeders feel for the foals they raise and nurture escalate with every hurdle they clear in their young lives. To see the foals grow into classy, strong, sound, correct, and healthy individuals is a gift in itself and brings great feelings of satisfaction. To see buyers at the sale show interest in them and bid big bucks to get them brings feelings of hope and dreams of the future.
Those hopes and dreams then become a powerful dose of reality when your “baby” comes out running and soon embarks on the greatest journey of all – the road to the Kentucky Derby.
Carrie and Craig Brogden of Machmer Hall Farm near Paris, Ky. have had that feeling before. They have bred or raised a number of top-class horses over the past few years, including two recent homebreds on the Derby trail – Vyjack, winner of last year’s Gotham and Jerome, and Vinceremos, winner of this year’s Sam F. Davis Stakes.
But if you can imagine those parental feelings of pride a breeder gets watching their foals develop into tough, finely chiseled athletes, try to take it one step farther and imagine how they feel when one of those foals narrowly escapes death days after being born, becomes a sought after yearling, and eventually matures into one of the leading Kentucky Derby contenders.
When the Brogdens’ Harlan’s Holiday colt, out of Unbridled’s Song’s daughter Intensify, who they bred in partnership with Haymarket Farm, was two days old, Carrie Brogden went in to see him, but as she walked in the stall, their veterinarian came rushing past her. It was obvious that something was dreadfully wrong.
There was the foal lying in a heap in the straw taking extremely labored, heaving breaths, as one would suffering an asthmatic attack. Carrie could only ask, “What the hell is going on?”
“There was a stunned silence and Craig finally said, “We think he has had a reaction to the plasma.,” Carrie recalled. “He had gotten plasma because his IgG (the antibody isotype Immunoglobulin G) was a little less than ideal and this was precautionary only.
“He had an anaphylactic reaction, which caused fluid to surround his lungs. The vet immediately ran back into the stall and administered what I found out was Lasix and solu-delta cortex (steroids). We thank God there was an oxygen tank in the barn and I ran to the office and grabbed it, turning it on full blast and putting the tube up his nose.
I scratched and thumped his forehead, trying to get some endorphins released to stimulate him. It was silent for literally what seemed hours but was just a few minutes I am sure. It was touch and go for a while. Craig and I have thought about that moment in the foaling barn many times since watching him at the sale and in his races.”
Finally, the foal started to come around, his breath slowed and steadied, and he made a full recovery.
“He hasn’t looked back since that day,” Carrie said.
The colt, named Intense Holiday, would go on to hit the board in the grade II Remsen, Nashua, and Holy Bull Stakes, and finish a respectable fifth in the grade I Champagne Stakes for Starlight Racing. He finally put it all together with a dramatic stretch-running nose victory in the grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.
“If the vet had not had the proper stimulants and we did not happen to have oxygen at the foaling barn, there would have been no celebration for us after the Risen Star,” Carrie said. “It was a rare but potentially fatal reaction and one I hope to never witness again. We did lose a beautiful Malibu Moon yearling filly with the same reaction that year, triggerd by antibiotics so I do know the other side.”
As Intense Holiday grew into an impressive-looking foal, he began to command the attention of Machmer Hall broodmare manager Luis Coronado.
“Luis has been telling me he is our Derby horse since he was two months old,” Craig Brogden said. “It’s unreal!”
Coronado added, “The way he walked in the field, the way he moved, and the way he ran across his paddock, he was different from anyone else. I told Craig and Carrie, ‘I know this horse is going to make it to the Derby.’ He was a special horse; very strong. Whenever you took him outside you could feel the power in him. You could see and feel the difference between him and the rest of the horses. He had so much energy.”
Carrie and Craig began preparing their young horses for the Keeneland September yearling sale and received a boost of confidence when former trainer Frank Brothers, who is the bloodstock agent for Starlight Racing, came to the farm to inspect the yearlings.
“When Frankie came to our farm for the Keeneland inspections, he told me that the yearling out of Intensify was our best horse he saw at the farm,” Carrie said. “It’s funny that he ended up putting his money where his mouth was and buying him.”
Brothers was so impressed with the colt he purchased him for $380,000.
“I looked at 40 or 50 yearlings on the farm and he was far and away the best one there,” Brothers said. “And Harlan’s Holiday is a solid sire and you get a bang for your buck with him. He had the pedigree and he looked like he’d keep running. I really didn’t think he’d bring quite that much, but when two people want a horse, that’s a consignor’s delight. He was very immature and a bit handier as a yearling, but he’s gotten tall and long and you don’t have to worry about him getting the distance. In his earlier races, you could tell he was still learning and now he looks to be on the upswing, while some of the others are on the downswing. You just hope with his style he keeps out of trouble and gets a good trip.”
For the Brogdens, the sale meant a great deal, not only because of the price he sold for, but because they knew how close he had come to dying. And now here he was being fought over at the sale.
“When Starlight bought him, it was a huge sale for us,” Carrie said. “He was a co- homebred and I was so proud. I cried like a baby. Jack Wolf (co-owner of Starlight Racing) and his wife were there signing the ticket and they totally embraced me with congrats when they saw that I was so overcome. I will never forget that day. They were so kind and so warm and I was so thrilled that our colt went into such good hands.”
And so, as the Kentucky Derby becomes more and more a reality, Carrie and Craig can only wait for the first Saturday in May. And as they look back to that near-disastrous day, it is reassuring to know that regardless of how far the distances stretch out, the last thing Intense Holiday will need is oxygen.