03/10/2013 10:21AM

Brocklebank continues sales success with BC3

Bruno Cannatelli
John Brocklebank (center) at the Inglis Melbourne yearling sale with Adam Sangster of Swettenham Stud (left) and BC3 CEO Craig Cameron

Over the past quarter-century, John Brocklebank’s name has become synonymous with expert judgment to those immersed in the exciting and demanding world of yearling-to-juvenile pinhooking. And he is starting to move back into operating in the United States after leaving when the Great Recession hit bloodstock markets here.

A native of Utah, Brocklebank gave up a full-ride football scholarship to his home state university for a career developing horses, after first being “infected with the horse disease” during high school, as he terms it. Brocklebank developed his eye for talent working with Quarter Horses, before gaining experience with Thoroughbreds alongside astute horsemen such as the late Richard Matlow on the West Coast.

Brocklebank took the next step in the mid-2000s, forming BC3 Thoroughbreds with partner Shane Chipman and focusing on the research-intensive and intuitive process of spotting hidden talent at yearling sales and then developing those youngsters into prized prospects as 2-year-olds.

Working out of their home base in Utah, Brocklebank and Chipman established BC3 as a major player in the pinhooking arena, developing horses such as multiple stakes winner Indian Breeze, Grade 1 winner River’s Prayer, and, most prominently, Santa Anita Derby winner and millionaire Brother Derek, who ran fourth in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and became one of the most popular West Coast horses of the young century. That success led to plans for expansion roughly at the same time Brocklebank was becoming known on an international basis for his acumen as both a talent scout and as a “coach” of young horses. But the economic recession was just around the corner.

“We got popular in 2006, and I think, as the saying goes, rather than [sticking with] quality we started going more to quantity, and it was a little harder to keep the wheels on the wagon dealing with a lot of horses,” Brocklebank said. “We were all buying horses [at the sales] and the market was, you know, jumping off a bridge. So, in 2008, Bill Vlahos in Melbourne offered to buy BC3, and we decided to take the format to Australia.”

In its Australian incarnation, Vlahos’s BC3 has continued the entrepreneurial approach established by Brocklebank but also has made several adjustments, primarily in response to a different ownership model in that country, where syndicated ownership of juveniles is popular and the traditional yearling-to-juvenile, buy, train, and resell pinhooking formula is not nearly as widespread as in the United States.

Brocklebank has remained in Australia and as a Thoroughbred consultant for BC3 as it continues to attract owners to its “American” style of developing young racehorses.

As a longtime proponent of developing superior physical fitness in young horses, Brocklebank found some initial resistance to his methods from more conservative Australian owners, but the success of BC3’s runners (nearly 60 percent winners through five years) has quieted those concerns. The company also offers owner guarantee provisions that eliminate some of the risk involved with developing a young racehorse. For the past four years, BC3 offered a “Future Stars” draft sale in late August, just as the Australian racing calendar starts up again, and the format has proven to be popular.

“It is a different format. [Owners] work more off of syndications, and actually this year BC3 is buying for the first time without the sensitivity of reselling,” Brocklebank said. “As far as training, I’ve always taken the philosophy that I think you can make a coward out of a young horse if he’s not prepared to handle what you want him to do, so I’ve always looked at it as kind of cruel to a horse not to have him fit. . . . The philosophy of what pinhookers do – I know that some people are opposed to [training young horses], but you know, the younger a horse is, the more bone density you can apply to him, and there’s only a certain window of opportunity to do that.”

Brocklebank, 55, is excited about BC3’s ambitions as the economic recovery continues. The operation moved aggressively into purchasing more high-priced horses in 2012 and 2013, focusing on prospects that have the potential to win early and often. It purchased three yearlings at this January’s Magic Millions Gold Coast yearling sale, two of them for more than $300,000 Australian ($306,800 U.S), and BC3 made headlines last April when it purchased a half-sister to undefeated Australian Horse of the Year Black Caviar and to multiple Group 1 winner All Too Hard at the Inglis Easter yearling sale for $2.6 million Australian ($2,681,380).

That filly, named Belle Couture, is training for her juvenile debut later this year. By leading Australian sire Redoute’s Choice, she has, according to Brocklebank, “more of a license plate” than either Black Caviar and All Too Hard in terms of pedigree (those two are by Bel Esprit and Casino Prince, respectively). More promising to Brocklebank, she has already aced two of his most important tests for a potential star racehorse – conformation and attitude.

Said Brocklebank: “She’s a big mare, she’s absolutely fantastic, and she’s got a real quality about her, where she already knows she’s good. After we bought [Belle Couture], I wanted to compare All Too Hard to her. I’ve been doing this my whole life, so I’m kind of non-partial . . . and I was so happy when I saw All Too Hard in person, because he was a nice horse, but she’s better than him on the shank, this Belle.

“So far, [in training] we’ve kind of had our differences over who’s the boss, and right now, Belle Couture sort of reminds me of my fiancée, Tari. I’m starting to learn who’s the boss, and it’s probably not me. Obviously, to duplicate what her siblings have done on the racetrack is going to be a tough, tough feat. But right now, I like her possibilities.”

Despite being based in Australia the past five years, Brocklebank has kept his U.S. antenna finely tuned, albeit under the radar. He has continued to advise several friends in pinhooking ventures, with typical success. Recent bull’s-eyes include Gervinho, a stakes winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner last year, as well as multiple 2011-12 stakes winner Chips All In.

Brocklebank also purchased, as agent, a Songandaprayer yearling for $10,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September sale, and then advised cohorts Callaway Thoroughbreds as it pinhooked the colt for $100,000 at the Barretts March 2-year-olds in training sale the following spring. Named Let Em Shine, the colt won a maiden race Jan. 19 at Santa Anita, running six furlongs in 1:08.36, and backed that up with a 4 1/4-length score in a six-furlong allowance at the same track on March 10.

Callaway Thoroughbreds sold two juveniles at the Barretts March sale last week totaling $108,000.

That 10-1 return on investment Let Em Shine brought at the 2012 Barretts March sale is a testament to Brocklebank’s skill and is what continues to drive his love for spotting a potentially spectacular horse “in the eighth and ninth rounds,” as he puts it.

“The price doesn’t really have anything to do with [finding talent] as far as a yearling prospect,” he said. “I think we’ve bought four or five Grade 1 horses through the years at around $30,000 each, so the price is just the opinion of the sale ring, you know.

“I just take my hat off to pinhookers everywhere. I love the guys in Florida and I think there’s just a wealth of knowledge down there . . . and year after year, they get two or three major horses, like that filly [Executiveprivilege that trainer] Bob Baffert had last year that won everything up to the Breeders’ Cup.”

Brocklebank said that BC3 is planning to modestly expand into the United States during 2013 under the leadership of new chief executive officer Craig Cameron, who previously served as general manager of the Richmond Tigers Australian Rules football team. As an ardent fan of California-breds, Brocklebank intends to attend the Barretts yearling sale this fall and likely Keeneland’s and Fasig-Tipton fall yearling sales as well.

“You’d have to put a ring bit on me to keep me from getting excited about [returning to the United States], I’m really ready to do that,” he said. “I just can’t imagine not being involved in this, and I actually do feel sorry for people who haven’t been exposed to the business. It’s a great way of life.”