11/09/2011 3:55PM

Amazombie's breeder gone but not forgotten


Once every so often it’s good to take advertising seriously, just to see how a product holds up. Are corn flakes really made from corn? Is Disneyland truly the happiest place on earth? It lifts but does it, in fact, separate?

On the face of it, the Breeders’ Cup would figure to celebrate breeders, right? These are the men and women who crack it early each day to check the pregnant mares, worry over the fractious weanlings, and maintain long, cold foaling vigils. They are also the people who actually own the mares, the foals, and the weanlings, having hired others to deal with the hands-on application of husbandry skills. Either way, they represent the bedrock investment in the business in time, talent, and treasure, standing watch at that junction where nature and nurture intersect.

Breeders, though, can become pretty far removed from final products as horses sometimes pass through any number of transactions before those rare few reach the heights of a Breeders’ Cup victory. To its credit, the multi-channel ABC/ESPN telecast of the Cup last week featured a sprinkling of idyllic scenes of mares and young foals, lit in low golden light and pushing all the right romantic buttons. Anyone who breeds Thoroughbreds for a living knows it’s not always as pretty as that, but it can be.

As for specific acknowledgment of the winning breeders during the telecast, their names are mentioned in passing, but unless they also own the horse in the winner’s circle – or are asked to join the party – they are very much among the missing.

The greatest moments for Breeders’ Cup breeders include two-winner Cups for Frank Stronach in 2000 (Perfect Sting and Macho Uno), Aaron and Marie Jones in 2004 (Ashado and Speightstown), and the McNairs Stonerside Stable in 2008 (Midshipman and Raven’s Pass). Drosselmeyer, this year’s Classic winner, was bred by the Joneses.

If ever there was a breeder ripe for overlooking, though, it would be the man who gets the credit for 2011 Sprint winner Amazombie. Gregg Anderson was a prominent West Coast developer who died in late December 2009, two weeks before his long-time friend and business partner Ron Waranch also passed away. Together they owned Amazombie’s sire, Northern Afleet.

At that point, as 2010 dawned, the 3-year-old version of Amazombie was still a maiden and worth pretty close to what trainer Bill Spawr and his partner Tom Sanford paid for him as a yearling, which was nothing, having been tossed into a two-horse package at the last minute.

“I know. Can you believe it?” said Sally Waranch Rajcic, Waranch’s daughter. “I called Gregg’s son Rob right after the race and asked him if he was sure the horse wasn’t still his. There’s our dads, up there in heaven, screaming that the horse they’d been trying to get for 32 years just won – for somebody else!

“It was a proud day,” she added. “I give Bill Spawr credit for great training, but the horse comes from good stock. I’m just glad I had a bet on him.”

In fact, last Saturday was a very big day for Northern Afleet and his second generation owners. An 18-year-old son of Afleet, Northern Afleet stands at Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky after beginning his stallion career in Florida.

Northern Afleet’s name went up in lights through the exploits of 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex. In what must be the most unusual one-two family punch in Breeders’ Cup history, Afleet Again, a son of Afleet Alex, won Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Marathon at 1 3/4 miles barely an hour and a half before Amazombie won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at three-quarters of a mile. This would be the definition of versatile.

Amazombie’s victory was worth a $45,000 breeders’ award to the Anderson estate, which is nice, but a drop in the bucket compared to the impact Anderson and Waranch had on the face of Southern California. Their partnership helped bring civilization to the Antelope Valley region north of Los Angeles – known primarily as the place where the space shuttles used to land with that bam-bam! double break of the sound barrier – as well as to the development of Westlake Village, to the northwest of L.A.

“Gregg was my father’s best friend and business partner for 50 years,” Sally Waranch added. “And Gregg was one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met. Very family oriented. Always doing things for other people. He was a big supporter of the educational system there in the Palmdale area, where he and my father developed Rancho Vista.”

Wilshe Amaze, the dam of Amazombie, was sold by Anderson’s estate after his death. There will still be action with Amazombie, though, who is getting a break and then will be pointed for a West Coast campaign.

“Home court advantage next year,” said Spawr, referring to the host track of Santa Anita for the 2012 Cup.

In the meantime, the name of Gregg Anderson will persist in places other than the racetrack, like the city of Palmdale where they are building a shiny new school. If everything goes as scheduled, which happens in construction about as often as it does in Thoroughbred racing, Amazombie will be gearing up for a defense of his Breeders’ Cup Sprint title about the same time that Gregg Anderson Elementary opens for business. As to which one is the greater tribute, pick’em.