One of the hardest things Dr. Michael Cavey Jr., 63, has ever done in his 35 years in the Thoroughbred industry was sell Playa Maya, dam of 2010 champion 2-year-old male Uncle Mo. The decision to part with the crown jewel of his broodmare band meant letting go of a family with which the veterinarian/breeder had been involved since he started in the business. Hot Slippers, Uncle Mo's fourth dam, was the first horse Cavey ever bought.
"It was difficult, but it was a business decision," said Cavey of the mare who brought $1.65 million (in foal to Broken Vow) from M.V. Magnier at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton November mixed sale. The sale was just days after Uncle Mo had captured the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
"I think I was the underbidder on her at that sale," Cavey said of the mare who was consigned by his Respite Farm through Denali Stud, agent. "My wife was screaming at me at the time to keep my hands in my pockets. It was difficult (to sell her), but it was the right decision to make for our breeding operation."
In contrast, one thing that comes easy for Cavey is cheering for the horses he has bred. The latest result of Cavey's meticulous breeding philosophies and patient approach is City to City, winner of the Aug. 12 John C. Mabee Stakes (gr. IIT) at Del Mar.
Cavey, who owns and operates a 200-acre farm near Paris, Ky., with his wife, Nancy Temple, primarily breeds to sell, but he often retains some fillies for his racing stable. The year City to City was born, Cavey had a particularly large foal crop and decided to send several through the ring at the 2007 Keeneland November sale. Luckily for the now 5-year-old daughter of City Zip, she ended up in more than capable hands.
Campaigned by Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer in partnership with Mark Dedomenico and William DeBurgh, City to City has won or placed in 18 of 29 starts, with additional graded victories in this year's Buena Vista Handicap (gr. IIT), the 2011 Palomar Handicap (gr. IIT), and the 2010 Providencia Stakes (gr. IIT).
"She had an ankle injury a couple of years ago, and Jerry Hollendorfer did the right thing for her...he had the surgery done, gave her the time, and he's done a masterful job bringing her back," said Cavey. "There's a lot of satisfaction seeing somebody that is that good get their hands on them. Jerry deserves a lot of the credit."
Cavey is a native of Maryland, where he ran a mixed-practice veterinary clinic from the late 1970s through the early '80s.
"I treated everything from aardvarks to zebras--anything that had hair, four feet, and bled," said Cavey, who delved into Thoroughbred racing after meeting successful Maryland owner Adelaide Riggs.
Helping Riggs with her breeding operation eventually segued into a partnership, and in 1987, Cavey decided to sell his veterinary practice to work full-time alongside Riggs as her breeding and racing manager.
Among the best horses Cavey picked out for Riggs was Wild Zone, a multiple stakes winner who set two track records at Woodbine while earning $509,973.
At the same time he was working for Riggs, Cavey also began running his own farm in Maryland under the Respite banner. Cavey, whose earliest stakes winners as a breeder include Shes Got the Facts and Wa Bert, decided to make the move to Kentucky in 2000.
Cavey and Temple, who is also a veterinarian, receive much joy from treating and caring for the horses on their own operation, selling the majority to pay the bills, and keeping the rest to race, including Proud Heiress, winner of back-to-back runnings of Turfway Park's Wishing Well Stakes in 2009-10.
While Cavey has considerably scaled back his broodmare band from 30 to 14 in light of the recession in the commercial market, he certainly hasn't skimped on quality.
Cavey's methods are calculated, as he closely examines the winning percentages of stallions to which he is considering sending his mares.
"We also do nicking patterns and all the things other breeders do, but we try and always look at the stallions, judge their conformations, and try to do as much research as possible to see if there are certain sire lines with mares that cross well," said Cavey. "We try to match conformation as well as pedigree."
When asked how he managed to record his biggest success stories in the midst of a turbulent economy, Cavey chalked it up to persistence and a lot of luck.
"Adelaide Riggs used to call me her pit bull...she'd say it's a great game if you don't weaken," he noted. "You have to develop a philosophy and stick to it. We've had a lot of misses and a few hits...there is a lot of luck involved in getting the right trainer and owner to buy them. You have to stay in it long enough, do the best you can, and sometimes it comes back to you."