Gray Area - By Evan Hammonds

As we chased down one of many angles of the back story of Gunmetal Gray following the 3-year-old’s dramatic last-to-first victory in Santa Anita Park’s Sham Stakes (G3), J.R. Boyd of Brick City Thoroughbreds near Ocala, Fla., gave props to bloodstock agent Steve Shahinian. When the same names pop up over and over throughout the years while being associated with top of the line horses, we figure they’re up to something pretty good.

We first got acquainted with Shahinian six years ago when he became famous, or perhaps infamous, for advising longtime client Harvey Clarke to sell his 2009 Flower Alley—Arch’s Gal Edith colt for $11,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale. Deep into the Great Recession, selling was a viable option with a young horse who was “weak behind.” The colt, purchased by Victor Davila, was flipped for $35,000 the following year at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales’ April sale to agent Dennis O’Neill. Named I’ll Have Another, the colt won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1).

Shahinian made amends later in 2012 with the purchase of a Pioneerof the Nile—Holy Bubbette colt on which Clarke was a partner. The colt—Cairo Prince—won the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) and has become a successful sire at Brereton Jones’ Airdrie Stud.

Learning Shahinian was involved with Gunmetal Gray didn’t surprise us. Shahinian has a pretty good eye for a horse. Working with Michael and Melvyn Ezekiel, he purchased the Lee Pokoik-bred Exchange Rate—Classofsixtythree, by Include, colt privately after the colt had RNA’d at $85,000 at the 2017 September sale.

“He was actually quite a nice colt,” Shahinian said Jan. 6. “Taylor Made (Sales Agency) had him. We didn’t have a big budget. He RNA’d and I went back and we made a deal.”

His clients are originally from Singapore and they have worked together for only a few years. The Ezekiel brothers look to pinhook horses with the idea that if they can’t turn a profit with the resell, the horses can be shipped to Singapore where purses are fairly robust compared to the quality of runners there.

“They like me to buy colts,” Shahinian said. “They did buy a lovely Tapizar filly that worked :09 4/5 who would have brought a half-million at the sale if she didn’t chip a knee doing it.

“I don’t buy that many horses,” Shahinian continued. “I tell my people four out of five horses I buy are bad horses, and that puts me in the top 2% of all bloodstock agents. When I first say that, newcomers think I’m kidding until they’re in the game a little while and they go, ‘Wow, four of five bad horses is terrific.’ ”

Going back to Gunmetal Gray, Shahinian said: “He ruins a good trivia question: Who is the best Exchange Rate colt in history? The answer is there aren’t any. El Areeb won the Jerome and Withers (Stakes, both G3), maybe. I could be wrong. He gets really good fillies.”

Exchange Rate, who stood at Three Chimneys Farm in Central Kentucky, is the sire of 94 stakes winners…and his top earners are all fillies. The son of Danzig died in January 2016. Gunmetal Gray is from his last crop.

“He was a handy colt but very immature at the sale, but he did everything the right way,” Shahinian said. “He had a good shape with a good brain. I shop for brains. Good brains never made a horse go faster, but a bad brain will slow them down. They can be tough, they can be bullies, but they can’t be cowards. A coward is seldom a good racehorse. There are too many ways they can be intimidated and burn energy in a useless way.”

Shahinian apparently has plenty of energy. In addition to finding top-level stakes runners and selling a few horses at the Keeneland January sale for his old friend Clarke, “I bird hunt, fly fish, and if I can’t find anything better to do I will play some golf.”

At least, that’s his story.

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