For small-time Thoroughbred race owners, the chances of picking out one graded stakes winner is slim. To do it a second time is even rarer. And to do it a third time is unheard of, especially if you are only buying one horse per year.
Apparently, Chris Walters doesn't know how hard this sport really is because he is making it look ridiculously easy.
Walters, who is only 30, has picked out one weanling for his father, Tom, for the last five years. In 2004 they bought Elite Squadron (Officer-Sweet Mama, by High Brite) privately and four years later he wound up winning the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) on Kentucky Derby Day. In 2009 Elite Squadron was retired and now stands at Wintergreen Stallion Station near Midway, Ky.
In 2006 they bought the filly Pretty Prolific (Lion Heart-Seattle Way, by Seattle Slew) privately from Paget Bloodstock. She won three times for them including last year's Sugar Swirl Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park. She was later retired and is now at Ashford Stud near Versailles, Ky.
Liking the results they saw from Paget, the Walters went back to the well in 2008 and bought Santiva (Giant's Causeway-Slide, by Smarten). The colt showed promise from the very start of his career by running second in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland and in his last start won the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) at Churchill. With the $180,000 in graded earnings he has already accumulated, Santiva is now a legitimate Kentucky Derby threat.
Is this game really that easy?
"We buy one horse per year, we're not a big operation," said Tom Walters, who is in the insurance business and lives in Franklin, Indiana, about 20 miles south of Indianapolis. "So far, with Chris' help, we've done pretty well."
The elder Walters has owned Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds for most of his adult life. It wasn't until Chris graduated college and started helping him out that things started to get exciting.
"He obviously has a good eye for horses," Walters said. "He must get that from my father, who was in the livestock business for many years. I guess it skips a generation.
"Chris understands pedigree very well. He is a student of it, just like a stockbroker studies the market. I wish I could tell you there was more to it. But it is what it is. We've been very fortunate to have three good horses."
Santiva is the most exciting of the three since he showed so much promise as a juvenile and is a very real Derby threat. The bay colt began his career in the barn of Ken McPeek, where he ran third in his debut at Saratoga behind Wine Police and Soldat, and then second to J.B.'s Thunder on the turf. The Walters' then moved Santiva to the barn of Todd Pletcher where he proceeded to run second again, this time in the Breeders' Futurity, also behind J. B.'s Thunder.
In October, the Walters' decided to move their colt once again, this time to Eddie Kenneally. It was Kenneally who saddled him for the Kentucky Jockey Club when he defeated Astrology by a half-length.
"It just wasn't the right fit," said Walters when asked why Santiva was moved from McPeek and Pletcher. "It's not like I change trainers all the time; I had James Baker for eight years. I love Kenny and Todd, but I just thought Eddie was a better fit. He has a smaller stable than those guys."
With the Kentucky Jockey Club win in the books, Santiva went down to Palm Meadows with Kenneally. After getting some time off he recently started training again, having recorded two official works this month. On Thursday he breezed four furlongs in :49 3/5. They have yet to pick out a spot for Santiva's return but Kenneally said it is likely to be next month.
"We're in no hurry, especially since he has about $180,000 in graded earnings," Walters said. "We're going to take our time with him. We want him to be racing as a 3, 4, even a 5-year-old. We're not going to get caught up in the (Derby) hype. He's in good hands with Eddie.
"I think when you only have one horse you tend to protect him more."
FYI: I am on vacation next week and will return the week of Jan. 31. Play nice while I'm gone, and if you are at Gulfstream on Saturday, Jan. 29 come find me. I will be the one at the IRS window--begging for money.