12/21/2016 10:50AM

Bartons make big bet on Champ Pegasus as stallion

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Benoit & Associates
The first foals by Champ Pegasus will race next year, with many in the colors of Richard Barton.

The gamble will take all of 2017 to unfold.

California owner and breeder Richard Barton has amassed a massive broodmare band in recent years and has sent many of them to the young stallion Champ Pegasus, whose first foals race next year. By next Christmas, Barton is hoping the stallion will be the talk of California racing.

Barton, 69, has been a racehorse owner for decades but has intensified his investment in recent years, with significant purchases at the Keeneland November sale – 51 horses last month, for example, mostly broodmares. In the next year, his operation will be active through ongoing support of Champ Pegasus, racing a small number of horses and offering yearlings at sales throughout the state.

“We’ll try to make it a better year,” Barton said in a recent interview. “2016 wasn’t a bad year. We haven’t had any big stakes horses, and we didn’t have big runners. We didn’t lose any money.”

Finding a “big horse” in 2017 is a major objective for Barton, whose family is active with the racing operation. Daughter Kate, 26, works as a racing manager. The family has a farm in Utah, where the mares are boarded for part of the year.

Richard Barton has invested in California racing at a vital time for the sport. Breeding has declined in the last decade with the closing of a few prominent farms, a reduction in inventory by breeders – both big and small – and the overall effect of the recession of the late 2000s.

Barton has approximately 250 mares, a number that fluctuates with sales and acquisitions through the year. The large herd was accumulated by design, many purchased for low sums. At Keeneland last month, Barton’s purchases ranged in cost from $1,000 to $45,000.

“I don’t get liquored up and go to the sale,” Barton said.

“We have quite a few mares. If we can get a quality mare who may have a little age on her, but if she’s in foal to a stallion that is standing for $25,000 and we can get her for $3,000 or $4,000, we can always breed her back to Champ Pegasus.

“We’re not going to buy a horse for $240,000 that can’t run.”

Even with those inexpensive purchases, there have been occasional home runs. Appealing Bride was purchased as a broodmare for $3,700 at the 2014 Keeneland November sale and sold the following year for $150,000. Through 2015, Appealing Tale, out of Appealing Bride, won two Grade 2 stakes – the Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar and the Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park – making the mare more commercially viable.

“That was one of our success stories,” Kate Barton said. “That keeps us doing what we’re doing and trying to strike gold.”

Many Barton-owned mares have been bred to Champ Pegasus, who was trained in Southern California by Richard Mandella.

Champ Pegasus, who stands for $4,000 at Legacy Ranch in Clements, Calif., won 5 of 14 starts and earned $1,052,520. Champ Pegasus had his best year in 2010, winning half of his eight starts. He earned $897,800 that year, which was highlighted by consecutive wins in turf marathons – the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap and Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes – and a second to Dangerous Midge in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs. In 2011, his final year on the track, Champ Pegasus made four starts, with his lone win the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Stakes on turf at Santa Anita.

By Fusaichi Pegasus, Champ Pegasus thrived in distance races on turf, which suggests to Richard Barton that the foals may need time to be at their best in 2017.

“I’m not going to say we’ll know in a couple of months,” he said.

Champ Pegasus had two yearlings sell for a total of $95,000 at the Barretts August select sale, including one for $75,000. At the Barretts October yearling sale, 11 yearlings by Champ Pegasus sold for an average of $4,645.

“They weren’t our best,” Richard Barton said. “We kept a lot.”

The $75,000 yearling, who was purchased by Kristina and Jerome Russell, is out of Broadway Hoofer, a $400,000 broodmare purchase at Keeneland in 2006. Barton bought Broadway Hoofer for $3,000 in 2012.

Richard Barton and his family own California Packaging, which is based in Ontario, Calif., and develops cardboard packaging for a wide variety of businesses ranging from produce boxes to stand-up advertising seen in movie theater lobbies.

Kate Barton said the family has bought mares at Keeneland in November for five years, breeding the mares to California-based stallions in the spring. Such mares can attract attention in the commercial market, she said.

“They’re doing well when we have a Kentucky-sired Cal-bred,” she said. “They tend to stand out on the page.”

Finding the right number of mares for a herd can be difficult.

“I think if you ask my dad, he’d say the more the merrier,” she said. “We’re lucky to manage this many. I would probably like a little less on my end. I think we’re trying to give Champ Pegasus a good shot.”

Kate Barton remembers trips to the winner’s circle at Santa Anita when she was little more than a toddler. The family often had a runner or two in the 1990s. The recent increased holdings have coincided with her first years after graduating from college. She works for the family company, but devotes ample time to racing.

“I think 80 percent of it is the horses,” she said of her workday. “My dad oversees it, but I handle the day-to-day goings on.”

The Bartons rely on Southern California-based Mike Machowsky as a trainer and to consult on yearling and racehorse prospects.

“He’s more than a trainer for us,” Kate Barton said. “He helps me with the day-to-day and questions I have. He’s one of the first people I call. He helps us go through the babies at different stages in the game. We’ll see how they’re looking, what the are plans for the future, and whether they will do well commercially.”

The Bartons house most of their mares at Legacy Ranch and at the family-owned ranch in eastern Utah, near the Colorado border. The mares spent part of the year in California and the rest in Utah, a way to hold down costs, Richard Barton said.

“We definitely have money in board bills,” he said. “We breed in California and we can turn the mare out to our own ranch in Utah.

“We have good horses and good mares. We’re not breeding antelopes to Utah mule deer. We’re trying to be lucky people.

“We talk in advance what we’ll pay for this horse and that horse. We watch what we’re doing. It’s our money and not the bank’s money. We want to race some good horses. All of our horses are by stallions that are Grade 1 winners, and our mares are winners. Good things can happen.”