Getting Lucky in Kentucky - by Evan Hammonds

If we’ve learned anything about the Thoroughbred business, it’s that it sure takes a lot of hard work to get lucky.

After his Nyquist stormed home in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), owner Paul Reddam was asked to explain the fact he’s now won the Run for the Roses twice.

“Well, one of your colleagues told me I was the luckiest guy in horse racing 10 years ago,” Reddam responded. “And I think that’s how I’d explain it. I’m just very lucky to be with these guys…it’s as simple as that, really.”

Reddam was referring to trainer Doug O’Neill—who also trained Reddam’s 2012 Derby and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner I’ll Have Another—and his training team that includes Doug’s brother Dennis. The trainer’s brother spends countless hours at the O’Neill barn and at juvenile sales scouring the grounds looking for the next big horse.

Reddam has spent countless hours—along with millions of dollars—on the sport he loves. Beyond the classic wins, he’s scored major wins in the Breeders’ Cup with horses such as Wilko and Red Rocks, and has campaigned a long list of grade I winners such as Elloluv, Square Eddie, and Great Hunter, to name but a few.

This doesn’t happen by chance.

Finding success on the racetrack is a great undertaking. It’s not exactly breaking rocks in the hot sun, but it requires long hours at every stage of the game, from breeding and foaling and raising Thoroughbreds, to breaking and training, to the track, and back again to the breeding farm. And don’t forget sales and sales prep.

Eight of the fillies that ran in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and 10 of the Derby runners—including Nyquist—had gone through sales at Keeneland, but Fasig-Tipton had the good fortune of selling both the Oaks winner—Cathryn Sophia ($30,000 at the 2014 Midlantic fall yearling sale) and Nyquist ($400,000 at the 2015 Florida 2-year-old sale).

Was Fasig-Tipton lucky? Well, yes, but there was a lot of effort behind that.

“For our yearling sales we have more than 3,000 yearlings nominated, and we look at those and evaluate pedigrees to identify which ones are acceptable physically,” said Fasig-Tipton president and CEO Boyd Browning. “We probably look at in the neighborhood of 500 for the 2-year-old sale. It’s a continuous process. You are always trying to build and strengthen your relationships with people who are buying and selling horses.”

Browning’s crew at Fasig-Tipton work the phones, email, make personal visits, and hit racetracks throughout the year to promote their sale. They also came up with a bonus plan for last year’s Florida sale with a $1 million bonus tied to the Florida Derby (gr. I) that was tapped by Nyquist.

Again, going the extra mile led to good fortune.

Good fortune Derby weekend was also bestowed upon Tom Hinkle and his family’s Hinkle Farms. The co-breeder of Oaks runner Weep No More were also the breeders of Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT) winner Divisid-ero and had purchased Seeking Gabrielle, the dam of Nyquist, at the 2013 Keeneland November sale.

“We work hard; we put in a lot of effort and do a lot of research,” Hinkle said the day after the Run for the Roses. “We try to identify mares with good pedigrees that will have the opportunities to produce good horses. We go out and look at a lot of horses, and we’re pretty rigid on what we’ll accept physically and what we won’t. We go out and look at stallions and put a lot of effort into our matings.

“If you work hard, surround yourself with good people, make solid decisions— that usually is a recipe for success,” he said. “But this is the horse business. You can’t just turn out the lights and go to bed. We recognize how fortunate we are and don’t take it for granted.”

Nothing can be taken for granted in the breeding, raising, and racing of Thoroughbreds. Sometimes you get the chicken; sometimes you don’t get anything but a handful of feathers. In this business it takes a lot of hard work just to get the chance to get lucky.

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