06/29/2009 11:00PM

Bargain matings struck Royal gold

Courtesy photo
Jealous Again wins the Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot, setting off a celebration by owners Mitch Dutko (left) and Bob Abrams.

Mitch Dutko had the best possible view at Royal Ascot when his horse Strike the Tiger won the Windsor Castle Stakes and put his connections in the record books. Dutko was in the Royal Enclosure and subsequently celebrated in so many places it was hard to keep track of them all. In the Ascot owner bar, waiters poured bottle after bottle of Bollinger, James Bond's Champagne of choice. There was the night in an Irish pub, somewhere in London, that is owned by soccer star and racing man Niall Quinn. There, they put Dutko behind the bar to pull pints of Guinness, like a celebrity bartender. All this for being co-owner of the first American winner at Royal Ascot.

Back in Los Angeles, Dutko's racing partner Ray Sainz watched the Windsor Castle live at about 6:30 a.m. Pacific, his whole family gathered around the television in their pajamas, screaming for Strike the Tiger to hang on for the win. He did, giving Dutko and Sainz their first winner as breeders and the most fun they've probably had as owners.

Dutko got that heady feeling twice. The following day, Jealous Again won the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes, and Dutko was there in the winner's circle again as a co-owner. He and his partners ended the day drinking Champagne out of her trophy at an Italian restaurant.

In Ocala, Fla., Jealous Again's breeder, Harold Plumley, and Plumley Farms president Richard Kent watched the Queen Mary via TVG in the farm office and were not entirely surprised that the Trippi filly they had bred won the five-furlong sprint. They had always liked her, and trainer Wesley Ward had told them he expected a good performance. But Plumley didn't realize how big the achievement was until he got a congratulatory e-mail from Australia.

"I didn't understand the magnitude of it at first," Plumley said. "But to win a race under the queen's nose, and the Queen Mary Stakes at that! When I got that e-mail, I understood that not only was it a big English race, but one that was watched all over the world."

As breeders, Dutko, Sainz, and Plumley pulled off quite a coup with Strike the Tiger and Jealous Again, striking a blow for inexpensive stallions and the kind of early 2-year-old speed associated more with American dirt racing than English grass.

Strike the Tiger's sire, Tiger Ridge, and Jealous Again's sire, Trippi, both stood in Florida for $7,500 when these two juveniles were conceived in 2006, and both have since been exported to South Africa. And both Strike the Tiger and Jealous Again are the products of speed-on-speed mating plans that aim to produce a precocious juvenile.

Dutko, 38, and Sainz, 49, met through Ward. When the trainer relocated from California to his own Ward Ranch in Florida, he took a mare the three owned together, R Lucky Strike. A daughter of Irish-bred In Excess, R Lucky Strike had cost them just $18,000 at the 2005 Barretts May 2-year-old sale.

"She broke her maiden first time out by three at Del Mar, and we always thought she was a really, really talented mare," said Dutko, who lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and works in real estate financing. But R Lucky Strike ran just twice more, because of knee problems, and didn't win again. Strike the Tiger is her first foal. He is also the first horse Dutko bred.

"She was precocious and had a little bit of speed and some grass pedigree, so I did a few nick ratings," Dutko recalled. "Wesley's farm happened to be next door to Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds, which stood Tiger Ridge. We'd thought it might be a good match. It nicked out really well, and we liked the fact that Tiger Ridge had really good breeding, especially on his dam's side."

Tiger Ridge, now 13, is by Storm Cat out of 1992 Broodmare of the Year Weekend Surprise. He's a half-brother to outstanding sire A.P. Indy, Preakness winner Summer Squall, and Grade 1-placed Weekend in Seattle. That rich bloodline gave them access to classic-distance winners as well as speed. It also offset concerns Dutko had about breeding a mare with knee problems to a son of Storm Cat.

"The Storm Cat line is notorious for bad knees, and most breeders know that," he said.

The stud fee also appealed.

"It wasn't really our game plan to go to a super-expensive stallion," Dutko said. "We wanted to maybe make our money back but just do it for fun."

"There have been a couple of dry years, but this year we've all clicked," said Sainz, a roofing contractor in L.A. who has owned horses since the mid-1990s. "Me and Mitch are about the same. We own pieces of horses, we breed a little, but we're not big-time owners. We like buying horses in the $20,000 to $40,000 range, and Wesley has had good luck with those."

R Lucky Strike's most recent foal is a Tribal Rule yearling filly that Dutko and Sainz intend to race.

"We're breeding to race," Sainz said. "We're breeding to fast Storm Cat sons. We already know the mare's fast."

Harold Plumley, 82, and farm president Richard Kent, 59, had the same speed-on-speed plan when they booked Plumley's mare Chi Sa to Grade 1-winning sprinter Trippi. Chi Sa was a daughter of Bold Ruckus, who never won beyond six furlongs.

"In Florida, you generally give some emphasis to speed, because they tend to be more receptive to that at the sales down here," said Kent, who plans most of the Plumley Farms matings.

"We remember her," Plumley said of Jealous Again. "She had an attitude."

Plumley produces about 35 foals each season for sale, and Jealous Again stood out from the 2007 crop because she had a habit of hauling her groom around the barn from an early age.

"That toughness comes a little from the Bold Ruckus/Boldnesian side," Kent said. "They were all a little bit tough from that mare."

Sadly, Plumley Farms will have no new siblings to Jealous Again. Chi Sa foundered and was euthanized soon after the farm weaned Jealous Again.

Plumley sent Jealous Again to the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s August yearling auction, where she brought $30,000 from Ward.

"Wesley called me from the sale and said, 'You've got to see this filly, she looks better than Bear Fan,' " Dutko said, referring to the multiple Grade 2-winning mare Ward trained.

Dutko bought in. So did his accountant, Bob Abrams, and Rob Brewer.

Sainz passed on Jealous Again and bought a $15,000 Wildcat Heir-Sister Rosie colt instead. Named Convoy Ahead, he won his first start April 30 in a 2 1/2-furlong maiden at Gulfstream, and Sainz likes his chances for the future.

Sainz didn't accompany Strike the Tiger to Royal Ascot because he had important family business: his son Corey's eighth-grade graduation Mass from a private Catholic academy. That's a move he doesn't regret.

"I'm a karma kind of guy," he said. "If I had been there, the horse probably would've lost by a neck, not won by a neck. It's like the mare's name, it was our lucky strike."

For Dutko, it has been a Thoroughbred breeder's and owner's ride of a lifetime.

"It's all starting to come back to me," Dutko joked of his whirlwind tour of Royal Ascot and associated celebrations. "It probably will all sink in now that I'm home. Man, what a great experience."