Rebuilding Her Empire - by Esther Marr

(Originally published in the August 18, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

Breeder Diane "Dede" Snowden attended the Aug. 6-7 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale with one specific purpose: to watch her flashy Empire Maker colt bring big money.

Snowden, who had scaled back her involvement in the Thoroughbred business considerably in recent years due to the poor economy, had high hopes for the colt as her possible ticket to a full force re-entry back into the game.

Plenty of buzz had surrounded the Empire Maker yearling, a full brother to grade I winner Mushka, so Snowden went in with great expectations. She wasn't disappointed.

The Empire Maker colt became the second seven-figure yearling of the opening session, bringing a final bid of $1.1 million from Stone-street Stables' Barbara Banke and George Bolton. The colt was consigned by Craig and Holly Bandoroff's Denali Stud, where Snowden keeps her mares.

"I thought the price was very good considering the sale," said Snowden. "The big buyers were there and the horse was a close-to-perfect physical with a great attitude. Craig Bandoroff does a wonderful job...he's got a great team to get them looking shined up and perfect."

Snowden said the son of Empire Maker was tall with above average weight as a foal.

"He had a very good temperament," she said. "He was always well-behaved, good-minded, and smart. He had good horse sense. A lot of them don't. He was just a pretty sensible guy that Craig brought on even further."

The colt is out of the stakes-winning Seeking the Gold mare Sluice, who is one of just two members left in Snowden's broodmare band. Since Mushka, who sold for $1.6 million as a yearling and later for $2.4 million as a broodmare prospect, Sluice has yet to produce another offspring that would accomplish anything significant on the racetrack.

"You can't go into this business without understanding the ups and the downs," said Snowden. "There are extreme highs and extreme lows. Fortunately we've had more on the high end, but I think that a lot of people think it's easy to jump into the business and be successful. It's quite the opposite, really."

Mushka retired from racing a millionaire. She won the 2009 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I) and Glens Falls Handicap (gr. IIIT) at 4, plus the 2007 Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) as a juvenile. She was the first grade I winner for Snowden as a breeder, who alone or in partnership has also campaigned grade III winner El Amante, plus stakes winners Solar Bound and Stormy West, and Peekskill, who ran third in the 2002 Florida Derby (gr. I).

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott trained Mushka and is the main conditioner at the racetrack for Dede and her husband, Guy.

"It's indescribable (watching a horse like Mushka win)," said Snowden of the mare, who was raced initially by Zayat Stables and later by Brushwood Stable. "You're just so proud and feel such a part of it. Mushka was a beautiful girl, and we've gotten a lot of pleasure out of all of them--whether we race them or someone else does."

While Guy is supportive of her Thoroughbred endeavors, he lets her run the business as he focuses on some private investments. Guy used to race a few horses on his own in the early 1990s, including stakes winners Departing Cloud, Fashion Maven, and Premier Mombo.

In addition to breeding Thoroughbreds, the Snowdens own Falls Creek Farm, a Quarter Horse breeding, training, and showing center near Oneco, Conn. The farm is managed by Dede's brother, Mark Pailthorpe. The Snowdens' daughter, Stephanie, is a nationally known show horse rider.

Dede Snowden, who is now looking to rebuild her broodmare band, also wants to purchase a few more horses in training. One of her two current runners, a juvenile Street Sense filly named Sensationalize, out of Stormy West, ran fourth in her debut at Saratoga the same day Snowden's Empire Maker colt sold.

"My husband has always made me treat (the Thoroughbred industry) like a business," she added. "It's hard because I'm a very emotional person and I, of course, want to keep them all. But you just can't do it.

"You need to have a fabulous team to get it all coordinated, and the right people to put you on the right track. We've got all that with Craig and Bill, we have (trainer) Eddie Woods, and Frank Smith in South Carolina. It's a great, great team. I have to give them a lot of credit."

When asked what had kept her in the business so long, Snowden's reply was simple: "The love of the animal itself. Horses have always been my obsession, and I don't think I could live without them. I always wanted to be a part of it.

"I talked my husband into coming to Keeneland with me in September (for the yearling sale), so, hopefully, we'll find that perfect filly there and do the same thing all over again."

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