Big Leap - by Dan Liebman

Machu Picchu is translated to mean “Old Mountain” or “Old Peak.” Discovered on a mountain ridge in Peru in 1911, it is often called “The Lost City of the Incas.” Built around 1450 and abandoned 100 years later, Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Visiting Machu Picchu affords a traveler a chance to journey back in time; a place to contemplate lost civilizations while also pausing to ponder what will happen to future generations.

With modern technology, one can even be visiting the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, 8,000 feet above sea level, and communicate by satellite phone to Kentucky while negotiating a deal to stand the colt that had won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and was the heavy favorite to capture the Preakness (gr. I).

During the week following the Derby, Robert Clay flew to New York to meet with Michael Iavarone of IEAH Stables, which races Big Brown in partnership with Paul Pompa Jr. Clay made his pitch to stand the unbeaten Boundary colt at his farm, in a stallion barn aside others such as Smarty Jones, Dynaformer, and Rahy. Big Brown could walk each day past the statue of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, who ended his stallion career at the farm.

Feeling so good about the meeting, Clay saw no need to cancel his scheduled trip to Machu Picchu. He instructed his son, Case, age 34 and just a few months into his new role as farm president, to work out the details.

So, while Robert Clay studied a lost civilization of the past, Case Clay delivered the horse of the future, working with Iavarone and the attorneys on both sides on a contract that was finalized on Preakness day.

Robert Clay arrived back in the States after midnight, signed the agreement at noon, and arrived at Pimlico with his family in time for the race prior to the Preakness.

With the winning connections on the infield podium following the impressive performance by Big Brown, Robert Clay took off his hat and waved it toward the jubilant throng. Spotting him and his gesture, Iavarone removed his hat and waved it in the air as well.

Iavarone, his partners, trainer Rick Dutrow, and jockey Kent Desormeaux were smiling, but they were not smiling as broadly as Robert and Case Clay.

“It was a leap of faith,” Case Clay said, noting had Big Brown lost the Preakness, the luster would have been off, his value almost assuredly worth less than the price agreed to earlier that day.

In fact, when asked if the biggest detail to work out the past week was the purchase price, Clay hesitated, smiled, and said, “Yes, yes it was.”

Both Clays refused to answer questions regarding the specifics of the deal, though Robert Clay acknowledged he and a partnership group had purchased a minority interest in the colt. A total valuation of around $50 million has been widely mentioned.

Robert Clay noted how Iavarone and his group had total control of the racing career of Big Brown, but sadly Iavarone has already stated that the colt will not race beyond this year.

In today’s civilization, far removed from places such as Machu Picchu, once a stallion deal is signed with such a hefty value, business considerations begin to far outweigh racing options. Still, it would have been better to have left Big Brown’s impending retirement unsaid. The colt is gathering quite a cheering section, and his fans will be disappointed, as were many last year, to have another of their 3-year-old stars rushed off to stud.

But for now, for the next few weeks, Three Chimneys is the only farm that has the possibility of standing a Triple Crown winner.

Whether talking about the stallion business or the advancement of any civilization, it is always a leap of faith.

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