(Originally published in the April 7, 2012 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
By Evan Hammonds
Anita Cauley and her trainer Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage are riding a hot streak they hope will run through the spring…and beyond. Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby, winner of Oaklawn Park’s Honeybee Stakes (gr. II) at 2-5, March 10 will make a run at either the Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) or Arkansas Derby (gr. I) in her next start—a start they expect will propel the daughter of Smoke Glacken to the first weekend in May at Churchill Downs.
Cauley, a Louisville resident, has been involved in racing for more than 25 years. Her game plan was to race fillies and then sell them as broodmare prospects, but the template changed when Ornate came along. A daughter of Gilded Time—Nile Chant, by Val de l’Orne, Ornate was an $80,000 buy as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling in the summer of 1998 by Anita and her late husband Barry Ebert. A winner of the 2002 Pleasant Temper Stakes at Kentucky Downs, Ornate was put in the 2003 Keeneland November sale while in foal to E Dubai.
“A wonderful turn of events happened,” Cauley said. “I put a relatively high reserve on her. In my head I needed somebody to pay a decent amount of money for her to go to a good home, and she didn’t meet the reserve.”
Instead of buying horses, Cauley decided to “create horses.” A self-described control freak, she decided if she was particular to whom she bred Ornate to she could get a horse with a career that would last beyond its 2-year-old year.
The resulting foal, High Heels, would go on to win the 2007 Fantasy Stakes and run third in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). She placed in four other graded stakes and earned $484,636.
Ornate’s second foal, French Kiss (by Hussonet), won a stakes and was grade III-placed at 4. Her fifth foal is On Fire Baby, who won the Pocahontas and Golden Rod stakes (both gr. II) last fall at Churchill Downs and kicked off her 2012 campaign Jan. 16 with a third-place finish against the boys in Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones Stakes.
In choosing stallions for Ornate, Cauley does her homework—both on paper and by viewing the sires up close with adviser Lee McMillin of Amende Place near Paris, Ky.
“I really look at a lot of spreadsheets and stallion numbers,” Cauley said. “I look at stallions that have good race records at 4 and 5; a horse that was out there and was sound and racing at that age.
“I had to make exceptions, and Smoke Glacken was one of those because he only raced at 3. He had some incredible numbers, and for a $10,000 stud fee, what were people not seeing? The only thing was his sale numbers; he’s not that commercial, but I didn’t care. If he throws runners, then that’s what I’m looking for.”
Cauley learned some of that homebred mentality while growing up outside Indianapolis. She always loved horses but didn’t learn how to ride until she was 22, finding herself in an equitation class with school-aged children.
“I was completely embarrassed by that but was told I needed to learn how to ride properly,” she recalled with a laugh. “I got through that and eventually showed Arabian show horses.”
Her late husband owned an investment-counseling firm. She married political consultant and former chief of staff for Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, James Cauley and has been fortunate to be able to focus more on her horses lately.
With McMillin tending to Ornate and her foals, and Barry and Shari Eisaman’s Eisaman Equine in central Florida breaking the youngsters, it’s up to Hartlage to train them on the track.
“I couldn’t tell you what she’s done for me,” Hartlage said of his relationship with Cauley. “I’m still training horses because of her. If you want to rate somebody on a scale of 1 to 10, she’s a 10. She’s got total faith in me, and I have total faith in her.”
Cauley and Ebert met Hartlage more than 25 years ago, and they’ve been together since. While interviewing trainers, they were taken by Hartlage’s demeanor and the family-oriented barn area. They noted that most of Hartlage’s family lived within a mile of each other in the Louisville neighborhood of Shively.
“That was the atmosphere I wanted,” Cauley said. “This is such a tough business that it makes it that much more enjoyable when all these other people get it and they know how hard it is, so that when you do find the winner’s circle, it’s a big celebration.”
Cauley and Hartlage hope the celebration continues, whether On Fire Baby runs against the girls or the boys.
“We’ve had a great run, and On Fire Baby has made it even better,” Hartlage said, “and we’re not done yet.”