The following article originally appeared in the 1/29/00 edition of The Blood-Horse magazine. To see this article in its original format, download the PDF.
By Dan Liebman
The only real decision being made is whether to choose a chicken or steak sandwich, but the weekly luncheon and bull session are critical to the success of one of the world's leading Thoroughbred breeding farms.
At the head of the table - his choice was chicken, by the way - is 81-year-old W.T. Young (who turns 82 on Feb. 15), the master of Overbrook Farm and one of racing's most recognizable owners. Around the table are key advisers and members of Young's management team.
These are the men whose collective input leads to the decisions ranging from which mares get bred to 1999 leading sire Storm Cat to which foals get sold or sent to trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Make no mistake about it - the team concept is very much an integral part of how Overbrook Farm operates. But also make no mistake about this - W.T. Young is captain of the team. A highly successful businessman, Young appreciates - no, make that encourages - a free flow of ideas. A bad idea is better than no idea. But after weighing all the input, being that it is his money on the line, Young makes the final decisions. He doesn't overrule very often, but he also doesn't rubber stamp. Instead, by surrounding himself with a skilled management team, Young believes the right decision is usually made before he is consulted.
As lunch continues on this late November Tuesday, Young asks why his homebred Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Cat Thief is getting no serious support for Horse of the Year. "Because he won only two races," someone replies. "Both grade ones," the owner says. "Two races isn't enough," comes the answer.
Other topics during the casual and informal gathering include who will be the new president of Keeneland (Nick Nicholson gets the job two weeks later), the stock market, a filly who might require surgery, a pressing need to hire a new stallion manager (Wes Lanter is soon hired), slot machines at racetracks, the close race between Storm Cat and Cherokee Run for leading juvenile sire (which Storm Cat wins), the local hockey team, and whether a couple of the owner's colts might not be better served by becoming geldings.
While the conversation continues, Young takes a folded-up piece of paper from his pocket. On it are the names and race records of every Overbrook horse currently in training. While he checks how many geldings are on the list (very few), the farm manager makes an interesting observation: "Did you know, if on January first, when our 2-year-olds turn three, if we gelded every colt who hadn't started, we would still have every stallion in our stallion barn?"
Many highly successful businessmen and women in Central Kentucky find themselves drawn to the Thoroughbred industry. Young is a good example.
Having made his mark in peanut butter, trucking, soft drinks, and warehousing, he purchased 110 acres from Lucas Combs in 1972. He has been buying parcels of adjacent land ever since, estimating it has taken 30 property transfers to make up the now 2,400 acres of Overbrook. Actually, there are two farms - 1,700 contiguous acres on Delong and Armstrong Mill Roads, and 700 acres on Shelby Lane, a half-mile away, purchased two years ago.
When Young bought the initial acreage, "The only use for land in this area" was horses, he said. He knew that would not always be the case. "I bought the closest farm next to Lexington and that was deliberate."
The Shelby Lane land was purchased with the thought in mind that some day, the main Overbrook property might become too valuable not to develop. "Maybe not in Mr. Young's lifetime, or even in his childrens', but somewhere down the road," said Bob Warren, who serves as general manager of Overbrook and financial adviser to Young.
In fact, today, just across the back fence from Overbrook, sits Hartland subdivision.
In the late '70s, Young decided it was time to put horses on Overbrook. He jokes now, "Every bloodstock agent was hustling" him, but he turned for early advice to someone who was both a friend and a horseman, John Bell. He also credits Bill Lockridge, Vic Heerman, and veterinarian Bob Copelan with helping him make early decisions which turned out well. It was Lockridge, at the time co-owner of Ashford Stud with Robert Hefner, who selected three racemares coming off the track to be purchased in partnership by Young and Ashford - Three Troikas, Cinegita, and Terlingua - and bred to the Ashford stallion Storm Bird. Three Troikas (by Lyphard), though an Arc (Fr-I) winner and French Horse of the Year, had little success as a broodmare, producing only one group III stakes winner from seven foals. But with Cinegita and Terlingua (both graded stakes winners by Secretariat), Young hit the jackpot.
Cinegita produced two stakes winners and is the granddam of Overbrook champion Flanders and great granddam of 1999 grade I winner Surfside, while Terlingua is the dam of Storm Cat, the type of stallion every farm owner dreams about.
Young gives all the credit for Storm Cat to Lockridge, Copelan, and trainer Jonathan Sheppard. "It really has to be considered pure luck," Young began. "First of all, Bill Lockridge is responsible for the mating that produced Storm Cat. He talked me into buying Terlingua. Ashford owned half and I owned half. I later bought them out when they got in financial trouble.
"Storm Cat was entered in the (1984 Keeneland summer yearling) sale, but Keeneland asked us to take him out and sell him instead in September because he tested positive (for equine viral arteritis). I couldn't understand that, so I decided to race him.
"In the Breeders' Cup (Juvenile, gr. I) at Aqueduct, he had it won, but Chris (McCarron) didn't see the other horse (Tasso) way on the outside, and he just got beat (a nose). In fact, Durkin called him the winner," Young said of the race caller.
Even a loss in a million-dollar race, Young said, proved to be lucky. He had been offered $8 million for Storm Cat before the Juvenile, but "because he lost, his value was less, and I kept him."
Storm Cat's current value is difficult to determine, because Overbrook breeds as many as 15 of its own mares, for which, obviously, no stud fee is paid, and because some breeding rights were sold last year to Coolmore (see sidebar, page 748). At $300,000 live foal, Storm Cat has the highest stud fee of any stallion standing in 2000. If every stud fee is paid at that figure, and 75 live foals are produced from the 90-100 mares he covers this year, Storm Cat would generate income of $22.5 million.
Ric Waldman, syndicate manager of the Overbrook stallions, prefers to look at the Overbrook mares bred to Storm Cat in a slightly different light. "Because we're turning down mares (to Storm Cat to breed our own), we are in effect paying $300,000," he said.
Though regally bred, as a foal Storm Cat was nothing to write home about. Copelan remembers seeing him for the first time as a weanling when he arrived from Marshall Jenney's Derry Meeting Farm in Pennsylvania. "He was just another weanling, a little fat, sort of pot-bellied," Copelan said. Over time, however, Copelan said Storm Cat "began to take on some of the characteristics that made him noticeable."
Storm Cat "never would have raced as a 2-year-old had it not been for Copelan," Young said, but the veterinarian dismisses that, instead saying the horse "just had some ailments" that required treatment. Copelan gives the credit to Sheppard, a member of the Racing Hall of Fame who is better known for being the all-time winningest steeplechase trainer.
"Mr. Young and I went to Delaware Park to see him (before he made his first start)," Copelan recalled. "The metamorphosis was unbelievable...I was very enthusiastic about his chances of being a successful racehorse. Jonathan (Sheppard) had just done a wonderful job with him."
Storm Cat lost his first start at Saratoga by a head, but came back 10 days later and broke his maiden by a neck. He then won an allowance at Meadowlands before getting his first black type when finishing second in the World Appeal Stakes. In Meadowlands' Young America Stakes, Storm Cat sat just off the pace, then in a grueling stretch drive, outlasted Danzig Connection and Mogambo (nose, neck) to become a grade I winner.
Besides that day at Delaware Park, Copelan's other remembrance of Storm Cat as a 2-year-old was at Sheppard's Pennsylvania farm. "Mr. Young and I went up for his last breeze (before the Juvenile). Jonathan took us out in this paddock, which was undulating, very hilly. We couldn't see any horses at all. All of a sudden, we hear horses. Here comes Storm Cat, with another horse, breezing uphill. We took one look at him and you could see, here was pure power coming up that hill."
Even then, Copelan said, he saw the traits in Storm Cat that helped make him such a successful stallion. "He always had a great disposition. He has that big eye and a great looking head. He had a presence that set him apart. He had a will to win, and I think that is a heritable characteristic."
Young thought so much of the work Copelan and Sheppard did with Storm Cat that each was given a lifetime breeding right to the horse.
PIECES OF THE PUZZLE
Having started his broodmare band, Young next began buying shares in top proven stallions, both to support his mares and as an investment. He bought two shares each in Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector, and one apiece in such horses as Nijinsky II, Blushing Groom, and Secretariat.
At the same time, Young began the process of assembling a team to advise him and run his expanding Overbrook operation. Stressing he "is not a horseman," Young says his major contributions to the success of Overbrook have been the physical development of the farm and the team of people he put together.
The first man asked for his opinions on horses and farm development was Copelan, who had already been practicing equine veterinary medicine for more than 25 years when the two men met. "He has been a friend since day one," Young said.
"Back then, it was just the two of us," Copelan said. "We looked at mares together, planned the matings...it was just us."
Copelan, now in his 47th year of practice, spends at least two days a week at Overbrook, and also monitors the physical well-being of the Overbrook runners at the racetrack.
A little known fact about Copelan is that before he graduated from Ohio State's veterinary school in 1953, he worked as an exercise rider for Calumet Farm from 1949-1951. It was Copelan who broke 1952 Kentucky Derby winner Hill Gail. Copelan recommended to Young the hiring of Jim Cannon - who had both farm and racetrack experience - as farm manager, having roomed with Cannon's father at Ohio State. Cannon took the job the week following the Keeneland July yearling sale in 1985. The same week, CPA John Lovern began his new job as controller at Overbrook.
When Cannon arrived, there were 20 mares and 25 employees on the farm. Today those numbers both are near 100. Throughout his first breeding season, Cannon accompanied every mare to the breeding shed because Young wanted him to observe how other farms were doing things. That's why, Cannon said, "our breeding shed is modeled after Claiborne (Farm) and our receiving barn is like Three Chimneys (Farm)."
One thing Cannon likes to do as farm manager is note which male foal is weaned first each year. That group, he said, has included Carson City, Grindstone, Boston Harbor, and Cape Town.
In the mid-1980s, friend Alex Campbell suggested Young have an appraisal done of his bloodstock holdings. Waldman was hired to do the job in 1986. Four years later, Waldman moved his office to Overbrook to manage the stallion books and become more of a full-time consultant. Today, Young said, "I don't buy or sell anything without Ric's input."
Waldman also manages the Windfields Farm stallions in Kentucky, Deputy Minister and Silver Deputy, which stand at Fred Seitz' Brookdale Farm near Versailles, Ky. That means he oversees the general sire leaders the past three years and one-two finishers the last two years (Deputy Minister in '97; Deputy Minister/Storm Cat in '98; and Storm Cat/Silver Deputy in '99).
When Waldman arrived, it was expected Grand Canyon would be the big name in the stallion barn. A top 2-year-old of 1989, Grand Canyon was euthanized because of complications from laminitis, leaving Storm Cat, who was struggling to get mares his first few seasons. There are 10 stallions at Overbrook in 2000, most of them homebreds and six of which have yet to have a runner. All but one are owned 100% by Young (David Reynolds owns 50% of Tabasco Cat).
In 1979, Young met Bob Warren, a former accounting professor who was the state budget director, then Secretary of Finance under Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. Young was serving as Secretary of the Cabinet ("I was a dollar a year guy, and I think they still owe me the dollar," Young jokes).
Highly impressed by Warren, Young hired him as a vice president of W.T. Young Inc., to manage his financial holdings. "The state is loaded with good people, and I thought the best was Bob," Young said. "He oversees everything I do."
Most of the other key members of the Overbrook team also have lengthy tenures at the farm, including:
- Ben Giles: as project manager, he has supervised the construction of nearly every building on the farm. Though he has a liberal arts degree from Vanderbilt University, Giles' love of historic restoration and furniture building led him to a life of working with his hands. He has been at Overbrook 20 years, first as an independent contractor, now as a full-time employee.
- Billy Joe Skinner: was the broodmare manager at Wimbledon Farm for five years before coming to Overbrook in the same capacity 10 years ago. He oversees 25 men who care for the mares and their babies. Though soft spoken, Skinner has a good sense of humor: "We've got 80 mares to foal. That's like taking care of 80 pregnant women." Asked why the O-team approach' works so well at Overbrook, he says, "Because it's all about what's best for the horses."
- Bruce Jensen: an Idaho native whose parents both rode and trained horses, he knew little else while growing up. A former rider himself until a bad spill at Thistledown in 1974, Jensen had broken horses for Cannon. He was hired as yearling manager nearly 17 years ago. He had eight yearlings to worry about his first year at Overbrook; this year, he has 75.
- Joe Yocum, D.V.M.: because 80% of his time was being spent doing reproductive work at Overbrook, he left his position as a partner at Hagyard-Davidson-McGee to become the farm's resident vet. Yocum has been taking care of the Overbrook mares since 1985. A graduate of the Auburn veterinary program, his family formerly owned a farm that is now part of the Three Chimneys stallion division.
- Wes Lanter: the new member of the team is stallion manager Wes Lanter, who joined Overbrook Jan. 10 after 10 years at Three Chimneys. He worked at Spendthrift Farm for seven years, and thus worked with Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew at two different locations. "This is a new challenge and a great opportunity," Lanter said. "There aren't many places I would have left Three Chimneys for."
Not to be left out of the picture are Young's two children, Bill Jr., 51, who runs W.T. Young Storage Co., and Lucy Young Boutin, 47, who lives in Chantilly, France, and was married to the late trainer Francois Boutin.
Conversations with employees at Overbrook always wind their way back to Young, a smallish white-haired man with a grandfatherly look and demeanor. Warren summed it up best of all:
"He's as kind as anyone you will meet. A gentleman and a gentle man. He's always concerned with others; very open minded; always invites debate. But he wants to hear the truth."
The truth is, the team he has put together at Overbrook Farm has Young on top of the Thoroughbred business.
To see this article as it originally appeared in the pages of The Blood-Horse magazine, download the PDF.