One in a Million - By Evan Hammonds

While indicators at the end of the second session of Book 3 at the Keeneland September yearling sale seemed to indicate a “more stable” environment according to our Ron Mitchell, others suggested that the leading buyer of Book 3 was “RNA.” Nobody has ever said the sale game is easy…especially during a pandemic.

Through six sessions some $208 million had been spent on yearlings out on Versailles Road, a figure down from the more than $326 million that had passed hands at the same point a year ago. Everyone knew this year’s sales were going to be different, and this can be looked at two ways. On the down side, sales are off by about a third; on the bright side, buyers have been optimistic enough to spend more than $200 million on horses.

“Selectivity” and a “narrowing of the market” have been in force for some time, with many buying outfits landing on the same horses while other seemingly good horses to consignors go unsold, proverbially “slipping through the cracks.”

One who gave everybody the slip is Starship Jubilee, the gritty 7-year-old mare who took the boys to the woodshed Sept. 19 in winning the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (G1T) in Canada. A full-length film could hardly cover her career. The Florida-bred with the less-than-fashionable pedigree has now earned more than $2 million after exchanging hands for $6,500 at the 2014 Ocala Breeders’ Sales’ August yearling auction, then was left behind as a $34,000 RNA the following year at the OBS April 2-year-olds in training sale.

Five of her first nine starts came in the claiming ranks, and trainer Jorge Navarro took her for $16,000 in January 2017 at Gulfstream Park. Canadian-based trainer Kevin Attard won a three-way shake for her for the same price in her next start in South Florida and got her on track at Woodbine where she proved a worthy adversary in graded stakes on the turf.

So good for so long, she scored her first graded win in the Nassau Stakes (G2T) in May 2017. The runner-up that afternoon was Involuntary. The day after Starship Jubilee’s Woodbine Mile score, Involuntary’s first foal, a colt by Point of Entry, sold to Margaret O’Toole for $45,000 at Keeneland.

Starship Jubilee was offered for sale yet again at the 2018 Keeneland November sale during the horses of racing age portion and RNA’d again, albeit for $425,000. She now races for Bonnie Baskin’s Central Kentucky Blue Heaven Farm, and instead of being bred to Medaglia d’Oro earlier this year she was kept in training…so we can chalk up one good thing for 2020. She’s won five of six, earning $921,682. Her lone defeat came against a deep cast in Saratoga’s Diana Stakes (G1T).

Eight furlongs is a specialty distance for Thoroughbreds, with runners requiring the right balance of flat out speed and the ability to carry it 1,760 yards. Most top milers are rarely asked to step outside their preferred trip, but Starship Jubilee has proved an outlier. Her win at Woodbine was the first at the trip since winning the 2017 Nassau. Since then she’s landed victories at 1 1/16 miles, nine furlongs, about nine furlongs, and 1 1/4 miles. Talk about a Renaissance woman.

This is, of course, the classic tale of little-wanted-horse-done-good. They don’t come along very often, but when they do, it’s a reminder that horses don’t have to “tick all of the boxes” at the sale.

Sellers all the time talk about how much more savvy and discerning buyers are than a decade ago. But for the most part they are landing on a lot of the same horses. Starship Jubilee’s success is a reminder that not every yearling has to tick every box to be a grade 1 winner.

Happy shopping.

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