05/07/2009 11:00PM

Breeder's ties run deep in female line

Barbara D. Livingston
Judy Needham, one of the partners who bred Mine That Bird, holds onto his dam Mining My Own's newest foal, an Even the Score colt.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Peter Lamantia, Jim Blackburn, and Needham/Betz Thoroughbreds not only bred Mine That Bird, they also bred his dam, Mining My Own. And Lamantia's connection goes back even further, because he bred and raced Mine That Bird's second dam, Aspenelle, and also raced her dam, Little to Do, in the early 1990s.

The various partners first got together in 1984, when Lamantia sent Little to Do to Arlington with plans to run her in the Arlington Oaks. Little to Do fractured a pastern in a workout for that race, but the gathering of friends and acquaintances who got to know each other in Chicago gradually solidified into a breeding partnership. Little to Do retired from racing and went on to a broodmare career, but that didn't last long, either. She hemorrhaged and died 36 hours after foaling her fifth foal, a Vice Regent filly, in 1990.

The filly, Aspenelle, won 2 of 4 starts and finished second in the 1993 Canadian Oaks before injury cut her career short. She then turned into a profitable broodmare for Lamantia and his partners. They still board the 19-year-old mare with Bill Betz near Lexington. Her most recent foal was the 2007 Lion Heart colt Pacha. She survived colic surgery after his birth and was given a year off in 2008, and this year she's been bred to Forest Danger.

Aspenelle's yearlings generally have sold for between $100,000 and $300,000, peaking with Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's $475,000 bid for her Mr. Greeley colt Antero in 2001. But Mining My Own, who eventually became Mine That Bird's dam, was an exception. Consigned to the 2002 Keeneland September yearling sale, the Smart Strike filly was a $25,000 buyback for the partnership. One reason likely had to do with Mining My Own's unusual face, Lamantia theorizes. The mare's left ear points outward rather than forward, and her mouth is slightly asymmetrical, the result of an unusual accident.

"When she was a suckling, she somehow got her head caught between the rungs of a feeder," Lamantia explained. "We thought maybe Aspenelle might have body-checked her and knocked her into the railings. But she got her head caught, and in struggling to get out she fractured her mandible on the left side of her face, but she recovered. So she had courage from the very beginning."

When she didn't sell, the partners decided to race Mining My Own. Trainer Josie Carroll told them she thought the filly was stakes-caliber, but nagging physical problems finally prompted Lamantia, Needham/Betz, and Blackburn to retire her.

"We brought her home," Lamantia said. "We knew she was quality. Yes, she was unraced, but she was by Smart Strike, and her dam had been second in the Canadian Oaks and had already produced a stakes winner in Golden Sunray."

The partners chose Birdstone, who stood for a $10,000 fee, as Mining My Own's first mate. They sold the resulting colt, Mine that Bird, for $9,500. Two years later, they decided to sell Mining My Own, too, and put her in the 2008 Keeneland January sale. But when bidding stalled early, Phil Needham couldn't help himself. He bid $8,000 and got Mining My Own for himself and wife Judy; Needham later sold a half-interest in Mining My Own to his cycling partner, Bena Halecky, for $4,000.

Not surprisingly, the Needhams had what Phil called "two very nice offers" for Mining My Own last year, when Mine That Bird became Canada's juvenile champion. Since the Derby, those offers have multiplied and gone up. But the Needhams and Halecky haven't decided yet whether to sell Mining My Own, who boards at Bona Terra Farm in central Kentucky. The mare currently has an Even the Score colt by her side and is in foal to Tapit.

"The phone's been pretty active," Needham said. "I know the best time to sell is when the skillet gets hot. She has a nice Yonaguska 2-year-old we sold for $72,000 that just sold as a 2-year-old for $100,000. In a down market, the resale of a 2-year-old for a profit is good, and it means he held up to the rigors of a 2-year-old sale campaign.

"It's almost impossible to replace her," he concluded. "She has many, many years left, and there's always a consideration of the risk factors and ongoing expenses. But, you know, it's something you don't have the chance to own very often. So there are a lot of different thoughts going through my mind. We're not going to make a hasty decision."