Heat of the Moment - By Evan Hammonds

To be a success in any endeavor, it helps to create one’s own luck. Generally that’s achieved by strong principles, a conviction to the business plan, and good old-fashioned hard work. It’s no wonder then that Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stud near Versailles, Ky., has been on a tear of late.

The horsewoman, a national breeder of the year, has dedicated most of her life to breeding, raising, and racing top-level Thoroughbreds.

“She’s assembled a great group of people that work hard every day,” said Pin Oak general manager Clifford Barry. “That’s all you try to do. You work hard and try to have some luck come your way.”

The “luck” has made for a summer to remember. Pin Oak stallion Alternation’s first major winner, Serengeti Empress, won the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) in Louisville May 3, and though she’s dropped her last two starts, they’ve been corkers. Her latest was a half-length loss to the brilliant Covfefe in the Longines Test Stakes (G1) Aug. 3 at Saratoga Race Course. Two weeks later the Pin Oak-bred Higher Power (a half brother to Alternation) won the $1 Million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (G1) at Del Mar. On Sept. 1 the Pin Oak-bred Perfect Alibi added the Spinaway Stakes (G1) to her brief résumé that already listed the Adirondack Stakes (G2) at the Spa.

Abercrombie’s business model has had to change with the times. The stallion barn is down to two: homebreds Alternation and Broken Vow. Her broodmare band, which numbers around 30, features some of the best bloodlines on the continent.

“The stallion business has changed. It’s very, very competitive to go out there and try to bring in new stallions,” Barry said the morning after the Spinaway. “It’s a fierce marketplace right now. That used to be a major source of income for us. We’ve had to regroup and sell some yearlings. We are a racing stable and a selling stable right now.

“It takes a lot to turn the lights on here every day, and Ms. Abercrombie is a businesswoman. Over the last few years she’s wanted this farm to stand alone on its own merits.”

Perfect Alibi, by Sky Mesa out of the Abercrombie-bred and -raced No Use Denying, was consigned by Denali Stud and sold to Tracy Farmer and trainer Mark Casse for $220,000 at last summer’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale.

“To be honest, it’s really exciting to breed horses like this and bring them to the marketplace and see them go on and do good for new connections,” Barry said. “Ms. Abercrombie is a breeder at heart. That’s what she’s done all of her life. She’s very proud of the horses she’s bred. It didn’t get any better than yesterday at Saratoga.

“Ms. Abercrombie has spent a lifetime of growing and nurturing these families. She’s deeply, deeply involved in the matings. We have a small group of people who sit down and put our heads together and give her our separate lists, but she makes the final decisions. These are hard decisions; they are her mares. She’s spent her lifetime making these families. It is amazing going back and seeing three and four generations of these families. We know them pretty well.”

Pin Oak’s fortunate run appears to be far from over. Pin Oak homebreds Synchrony and Chocolate Kisses—both out of homebred Brownie Points—have graded wins this year and the former is being pointed toward the Sept. 14 Ricoh Woodbine Mile (G1T) at Woodbine.
Alternation’s book of mares figures to be more robust.

“It’s amazing having a filly like Serengeti Empress,” Barry said. “That brings a whole different clientele. Now all of a sudden they’re not looking at the commercial value so much…people that are breeding to him now are going to the races. Once a horse gets you runners of that level, it brings in a whole new level of breeders, that’s for sure.”

And for sure, Barry is savoring the summer…as is the boss.

“She’s having fun playing the game,” he said.

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