Quite an Upgrade - By Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the June 23, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

An early foray into Thoroughbred racing spoiled breeder and owner Mike Anderson.

The second horse purchased at auction by the 60-year-old Illinois car dealership owner developed into stakes winner Emily Ring. He bought the daughter of Fit to Fight at the 1999 Keeneland September sale for $20,000 with the help of bloodstock adviser Cecil Seaman and named the filly after his mother Bernice Emily Ring Anderson and his grandmother Emily Ring.

“I thought the sound of ‘Emily Ring’ coming down the stretch sounded better than ‘Bernice Anderson,’ ” Anderson joked. Emily Ring was a flat-out speed demon that won three stakes, two of them gate to wire, between Dec. 7, 2002, and Feb. 8, 2003. She placed in three other stakes during a racing career that spanned five seasons from 2 to 6.

“She was so fast, but we could never rate her,” Anderson said. “As soon as she got in that starting gate, she wouldn’t slow down for anything. I thought they were all going to be like that. I got spoiled on my second try.”

Emily Ring is now his sole broodmare and living at Jim FitzGerald’s Knockgriffin Farm near Paris, Ky. She has produced six foals of racing age, all bred by Anderson, including graded stakes winner Upgrade, who won the Jaipur Stakes (gr. IIIT) June 8 at Belmont Park. The Jaipur was the 5-year-old gelded son of Saint Liam’s second start in stakes company. His first, the Ft. Marcy Stakes (gr. IIIT) May 5 at Belmont, was run over soft turf, which wasn’t to his liking.

Anderson had sold Upgrade as a yearling for $170,000 to agent Ben Glass, who purchased the horse for Gary and Mary West. The gelding has changed hands a couple of times since the Wests bought him and is now owned by Dennis Narlinger and trained by Michelle Nihei. After Upgrade crossed the wire in the Jaipur, Anderson’s phone started ringing with congratulations and offers to buy Emily Ring. He’s not selling, however.

“Emily Ring was a real diamond in the rough,” said Anderson, who is racing a Bluegrass Cat half brother to Upgrade named Bluegrass Dan. The 3-year-old gelding, being trained by Wayne Catalano, broke his maiden by 43?4 lengths June 2 in wire-to-wire fashion at Arlington Park.

Anderson has two other fillies in training. One is an Empire Maker named Lady Micaela, who has not started, and the other is an Awesome Again named Awesome Gisel, who was the first 2-year-old he ever bought at auction. He acquired Awesome Gisel for $110,000 during the 2011 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s March sale because a homebred colt out of Emily Ring got injured and was unable to race. That left an empty spot in his stable. Because Anderson was already in Florida on a golfing trip at the time, he went to Ocala to shop.

“She is awesome,” said Anderson. “She won her first start. If she stays healthy, I think she is the real deal.”

Anderson does not have a lifelong love affair with Thoroughbred racing. His introduction to the sport came in 2006 through his ex-wife, Kim, and her father and part-time trainer Dave Reid. After he got a taste of the action, Anderson was all in.

“Once you get into it, it becomes fascinating,” he said. “The part I really like best is the breeding part, watching the babies grow and then watching them as racehorses.”

Anderson was so committed early on that he bought a house with 50 acres, thinking he would keep broodmares on the property.

“I went to seminars and breeding clinics; then I discovered how much work it is (to take care of the mares), so now I let Jim take care of them.”

All of Anderson’s young horses now are broken and trained by Bill Recio in Ocala. When they are ready to race, they go to Catalano. At auction and with mating decisions, Anderson relies on FitzGerald and James Keogh.

“It has taken awhile for me to get the team together, but what I have now is as good a team as I have ever had in my life,” he said. “I have a good mare and three really good horses in training right now. I am really happy.”

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