Long-time breeder Ted Kuster found himself in a slump a few years back. After having devoted more than four decades to breeding and raising Thoroughbreds, a venture he stumbled into, he was getting discouraged. The economy was struggling, and he hadn’t had a big horse in several years. His enthusiasm for the industry waned.
Then Hilda’s Passion came along.
The filly turned things rightside up for Kuster with her eye-catching 91⁄4-length score in the Aug. 27 Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, giving Kuster his first grade I win as a breeder. The now five-time graded stakes winner has not only reignited Kuster’s passion for the industry, but she’s renewed his confidence in a relatively new partnership with the Koch family in his farm, Shawhan Place. Brothers Matt and Charles Koch, who now co-own and operate the full-service facility near Paris, Ky., are key ingredients to Shawhan’s rejuvenation and success.
“Once (horses) get in your blood, you can’t get them out,” said Kuster, 68. “But Hilda’s Passion has definitely rejuvenated my love and respect for the industry. It’s always exciting when a horse you bred does well...it was phenomenal to watch her win a grade I.”
Kuster, who bred the 4-year-old daughter of Canadian Frontier with his wife, Betsy, acquired the filly’s dam Executricker for $20,000 while she was in foal to Mazel Trick at the 2002 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
“I love the family, and Executricker is a big mare—a typical El Prado mare,” said Kuster.
Executricker was a disappointment initially because her foals were bringing only modest prices. Even Hilda’s Passion was privately acquired for less than $10,000 after failing to meet her reserve at the 2007 Keeneland November sale. The filly was campaigned by Jack and Laurie Wolf’s Starlight Partners and C.E. Glasscock until she suffered a condylar fracture in the Ballerina and is now scheduled to be sold as a broodmare prospect at the Fasig Tipton November select mixed sale.
“(Hilda’s Passion) had a lot of size and presence to her (as a foal), but her mother hadn’t produced anything yet,” said Kuster.
The grade I winner’s success has undoubtedly upgraded Executricker’s value, and Kuster has high hopes for the mare’s future offspring.
The other positive change in Kuster’s business happened about six years ago when he formed a partnership with longtime acquaintance and neighbor Matt Koch, whose father, Gus Koch Sr., is the former manager of the Hancock family’s Claiborne Farm.
Gus Sr., who is retired, now assists with farm duties at Shawhan, while another son, Gus Jr., oversees the breaking and training operations.
The Kusters have since relocated to Betsy’s family’s Hillside Farm, also near Paris, where they keep a few mares, while Matt Koch moved into Shawhan Place to oversee the main broodmare and yearling prepping facilities. The joint venture is paying off for Shawhan, which has had a big year, highlighted by the careers of Hilda’s Passion and dual grade III winner Strike the Bell, whom the Kusters bred in partnership.
“We let the horses be horses…we don’t try and outsmart ourselves,” said Charles Koch, who joined as a co-owner a couple years after Matt. “We’ve been around horses our whole lives, so we know how to do things right.”
“We treat every horse as if it was our own and our clients are all close friends...we’re with them during the good times and the bad, and that’s one of the keys to our success,” added Matt Koch.
Shawhan, which encompasses about 400 acres between Kuster’s original property and several other leased farms, boards horses for 55 clients, and last year foaled 80 mares.
The farm takes pride in raising several successful horses on behalf of those customers, such as 2010 Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) winner Fly Down. The farm also foaled, raised, and sold group I winner Sparkling Oro.
Shawhan is special to Kuster, because his family has owned the land for more than a century. Formerly a beef cattle operation, the property was turned into a Thoroughbred farm when Ted and Betsy purchased their first two mares in 1966.
Initially called Westview, Kuster eventually changed the farm’s name to Shawhan Place after Daniel Shawhan, who distilled whiskey on the property in the late 1700s.
During Kuster’s early years in the industry, he served as manager of Sunnyside Farm and in the mid 1980s he was named Farm Manager of the Year by the Kentucky Farm Manager’s Club. Outside the industry, he had a stint as chairman of the Kentucky Parole Board and was also involved with state politics.
Kuster predicted he’s bred more than 30 stakes horses, including 1997 dual grade III winner High Stakes Player (in partnership with his father-in-law, Eddie Reynolds).
Kuster’s aspirations for the future are simple: “I want to try and stay in the horse business and keep the farms going, and I hope Matt, Charles, and I can keep raising some good horses,” he said.
Added Charles Koch: “We’re growing every year and we feel like the sky is the limit.”