05/11/2012 1:04PM

Breeder has no regrets in selling Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another

Tom Keyser
Harvey Clarke bred 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another. He sold the Flower Alley colt for $11,000 at a yearling auction.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – If he had it to do again, Harvey Clarke probably still would have sold I’ll Have Another. Clarke sells many of the foals his 10-mare band produces, and, back in 2010, there was nothing about the Flower Alley colt that suggested he would go from $11,000 auction yearling to 2012 Kentucky Derby winner.

“I have a few mares, I breed a few horses every year, and we just pick some out and say, ‘Let’s sell them,’ ” said Clarke, the man who bred the 2012 Kentucky Derby winner. “He was a little weak behind, and he was a little immature. I can’t say I hated him, but I can’t say I loved him, either. He was just a horse. Obviously, the price he brought, nobody loved him.”

Today, of course, Clarke’s little colt is a headliner. Having caught front-running Bodemeister to win the Derby by 1 1/2 lengths, he’s put his breeder in the history books.

“Every once in a while, even a blind squirrel finds a nut,” Clarke said of his breeding achievement. “I said to my wife, ‘We’ve done something that only 137 other breeders in the history of the world have done.’ It’s pretty special.”

Clarke, the 70-year-old president of A.J. Clarke Real Estate Corp. in New York City, would never have guessed it would be I’ll Have Another that would give him a Derby win. A year ago, it looked like Clarke might get there as an owner with Soldat. Clarke’s longtime adviser, Steve Shahinian, paid $180,000 for the War Front colt at Keeneland’s 2009 September yearling sale. At 3, Soldat won a Gulfstream allowance by 10 lengths before taking the Fountain of Youth. Favored for the Florida Derby, he had a poor trip and finished a disappointing fifth. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he’d throw that race out and shipped on to the Derby.

[PREAKNESS STAKES: PPs, contender profiles, video, latest news]

“We had a ball,” Clarke recalled. “I had my wife, my kids, and my grandkids down there, and my son brought about 16 of his fraternity brothers and some of the girls from college. I’ve been doing this all these years and never even dreamed I’d go to the Derby.”

But Soldat finished 11th.

“It was somewhat disappointing, but just the fact that we got there was more than I ever expected,” Clarke said.

Between Soldat’s Florida Derby and Derby performances, Shahinian had gone to the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s spring 2-year-old sale. On April 13, 2011, he spotted a familiar colt in the auction’s under-tack show: the little Flower Alley colt out of Clarke’s mare Arch’s Gal Edith. Now part of the Eisaman equine consignment, the $11,000 yearling had grown up. After he worked a furlong in 10.4 seconds in Ocala, Shahinian dialed Clarke.

“When we were down to five or six horses on the short list, he was still on the list to buy,” said Shahinian, 64. “I said to Harvey, ‘I think we might have made a mistake here, letting this horse go as a yearling. He worked well, and he looked good.’ ”

“But I said, ‘You know, Steve, we sold him, let’s leave him sold. What the heck. There are other horses out there,’ ” Clarke recalled. “Ha. Not a good move.”

Dennis O’Neill, brother of trainer Doug O’Neill, signed the $35,000 ticket for I’ll Have Another.

“After he ran second in the Best Pal, I called Harvey to ask if I was fired,” Shahinian said. “He said: ‘No, you’re not fired, but I’m seriously considering double-secret probation.’ ”

Shahinian and Clarke’s friendship goes back to 1979, when Clarke brought three of his children into Shahinian’s New Jersey riding stable for lessons and decided that he loved the horses as much as they did.

“I met a few racehorse people and bought a horse with a couple of guys. I was just going to have some fun with a racehorse,” Clarke said, putting the emphasis on a racehorse.

The first racehorse, a filly named Aisle Seat, led inevitably to another, and another, and mares, then foals.

“I got this virus called the horse virus, and I kept buying ’em and buying ’em and doing more and more horses,” he said. “The only mares I breed were mares I raced. When their careers were done, I kind of liked them, so I figured I’d give them a shot.”

Shahinian selected I’ll Have Another’s dam, Arch’s Gal Edith, out of the OBS March 2-year-old sale in 2002.

“She was a beast,” Shahinian said of the Arch filly, a daughter of the stakes-placed Pleasant Tap mare Force Five Gal. “She had a beautiful way of going. She wasn’t a real big filly, not tall, but she was dynamic in how she galloped. You talk about a man among boys, well, she was a woman among girls at the 2-year-old sale. She didn’t have a lot of pedigree, but I shop for two-turn horses, and she was by Arch out of a Pleasant Tap mare. I knew she’d get two turns, and she worked quick enough. But the way she did it was impressive. And we were able to get her probably a little cheaper because she had sore shins.”

Clarke paid $80,000 for Arch’s Gal Edith, and she showed promise. But things went awry. She kicked her stall wall and injured her hock, a problem that postponed her debut until she was 3. She won that start, a six-furlong maiden special weight, but then vets discovered an ankle chip.

“We did surgery on it, but it never got right,” Clarke said. “So, even though she didn’t have much pedigree, given the fact that Kiaran McLaughlin who trained her really liked her, and she passed all the tests when we bought her, I figured I’d give her a shot as a broodmare. It worked out pretty well.”

Clarke and Shahinian give credit to Brookdale Farm’s Freddy Seitz for mating Arch’s Gal Edith to Flower Alley, then standing for $25,000. Seitz is the 37-year-old son of Fred Seitz, who owns Brookdale, where Clarke boards Arch’s Gal Edith.

“I liked Flower Alley as a racehorse and a stallion prospect,” Freddy Seitz said of the young Three Chimneys Farm stallion, a son of Distorted Humor. “Conformationally, I only recommend correct horses, and I liked the speed plus stamina that the stallion possessed. I just thought that, like a lot of Distorted Humors, he was able to carry his speed quite a distance. And I thought the mating looked good on paper, too. The mare was similar to him.

“The mare was a maiden special weight winner who ran once and broke down, so, realistically, to go to a $100,000 stallion, we weren’t going to do that. But the stud fee of Flower Alley that year was a pretty good amount of money, and that showed that Harvey had some confidence in the mare. Around that stud fee, he seemed like the best newer prospect for that mare.

“You want to create a Kentucky Derby winner with every mating,” added Seitz, “but you realize that it’s very unrealistic to think it’s going to happen very often. There is more luck involved than skill. It took me literally hours after the race to come down to the point I could have a normal conversation, I was so excited. And for this to happen to Harvey Clarke is just great.”

Clarke and his wife, Donna, watched the Derby at friend and fellow Thoroughbred owner Mike Mandera’s house in Upper Saddle River, N.J. Clarke believed I’ll Have Another, who was coming off a nose victory over Creative Cause in the Santa Anita Derby, had a shot, though he hadn’t bet him.

“There must have been eight or nine of us in the room, and we were amazed by how well Bodemeister was running,” Clarke said. “It looked like he was going to win the race. Nobody noticed, except I said, ‘That’s our boy coming up on the outside.’ He was at about the sixteenth pole. Everybody said, ‘Oh, no, that’s not him.’ And, yeah, it was.

“It was surreal. Having been there last year with a nice horse and the experience was so great, this was just icing on the cake. And when I saw him make that move on the outside, it was like a dream.”

Clarke retained Arch’s Gal Edith’s 2-year-old Tapit filly, Gloria S, whose name follows Clarke’s tradition of names related to the TV show “All in the Family.” Not all those names have gotten through, including one attempt to name a Thunder Gulch colt after Archie Bunker’s infamous son-in-law.

“Arch’s Gal Edith’s first foal is named Those Wer the Days,” Clarke said. “I tried to name him Meathead, but The Jockey Club turned it down.”

So far, Arch’s Gal Edith has produced three winners from three starters, with I’ll Have Another her first stakes winner. She lost her 2012 Midnight Lute foal and currently is in foal to Gio Ponti. And Clarke said he’s not planning to sell her.

“If I had any brains, I’d sell her,” he said, “and I don’t have any brains.”

You can’t blame the man, after he let I’ll Have Another go twice.

“When we sold him, I remember Fred and Joe Seitz both saying to me, ‘He’s coming along. He looks like he’s pretty good,’ ” Clarke said. “But you know, he was just a horse. None of us was smart enough to think of what he was gonna be.

“But you know what, what you can’t change you shouldn’t regret. I just feel good for the people that own him. It couldn’t happen to better people.”