Bloodstock agent John Moynihan has bought and sold many good horses, seen many top individuals at sales, and witnessed many impressive performances on the racetrack.
But he had never been completely blown away until May 1, 2009.
Wine mogul Jess Jackson did not attend the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) that day, but his wife, Barbara Banke, watched the race at Churchill Downs with Moynihan, the agent for their Stonestreet Stables.
“The performance by Rachel Alexandra was one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive, by a racehorse that I have ever seen in real life,” Moynihan said May 17, the day after the filly won the BlackBerry Preakness Stakes (gr. I). “She won by 20 lengths (for the record 201⁄4), but what struck me was that when the outrider picked her up, she was at the five-eighths gap. I thought to myself, ‘She just galloped out faster than they will run in the Belmont (gr. I).’ It struck me as awe inspiring.”
Moynihan accompanied Banke and Jackson to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and noticed the buzz created by the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro.
“Everybody was talking about it; everybody was talking about Rachel,” he said. “Then after the Derby, you had this feeling like the best 3-year-old in the country didn’t run on Derby day, but had run the day before. Everybody was saying that.”
On May 4, two days after the Derby, Moynihan called Dolphus Morrison, who bred and co-owned Rachel Alexandra, to inquire if she might be for sale.
She was, but there was a short-window of opportunity because Morrison and his wife were preparing to leave for a two-week vacation in Hawaii.
Moynihan needed to speak to Jackson and Banke immediately. The only problem was they were enjoying dinner at Dudley’s in Lexington to celebrate their anniversary.
Hey, for a horse deal, anyone can be interrupted at any time. Moynihan crashed the party.
“Yeah, I busted in on the party,” Moynihan said, chuckling. “I told them the situation; we discussed the pros and cons and the opportunities for the filly.”
The couple wanted to sleep on it, always good advice in a business where many deals are made on the spur of the moment.
As we now know, they decided to pursue it.
Moynihan got back in touch with Morrison and a deal was consummated, pending veterinary exams for racing soundness and breeding potential. The morning of May 6, Rachel Alexandra was vetted and passed with flying colors. Moynihan called Morrison, and he and his partner, Michael Lauffer, hopped in the car and started driving from Missouri to Kentucky.
The group had dinner, signed the papers, and the following morning at 5:15, Rachel Alexandra was walked from the barn of Hal Wiggins to Stonestreet’s primary trainer, Steve Asmussen.
The timing, Moynihan said, was crucial.
“They were not intending to run her until the Acorn (gr. I, June 6), so they were just walking her,” he said. “Had the deal been done a day later, it could have been too late to get her ready for the Preakness.”
Moynihan also engineered the deal to purchase a majority of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin after his first start, but this was different. This was buying a horse that had just won a grade I race by more than 20 lengths.
“With Curlin, I thought he had the ability to be a top racehorse, but he had to prove it,” Moynihan said. “She had already proven it, but she was a big gamble because we thought she was the best horse in the country—but to put your money where your mouth is, to push the envelope, to have her prove she is the best…
“The thing that is gratifying is that we knew we were buying a great horse, but we went off to achieve something she had not previously achieved. As (co-owner) Harold (McCormick) said, we raised the bar, and we cleared it pretty good.”
If they keep raising the bar, this could be an exciting year for racing.