05/10/2012 1:23PM

Derby winner I'll Have Another's family full of luck

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Lee Thomas Photography
Flower Alley nearly died the night he was born in May 2002. Ten years later, his son I’ll Have Another won the Derby.

LEXINGTON, Ky. − Emilie Fojan vividly remembers the night Flower Alley was born. His dam, the 7-year-old mare Princess Olivia, was in labor, but Flower Alley was hopelessly stuck. So Fojan and her partner, George Brunacini, loaded Princess Olivia onto a horse van and sped from their Bona Terra Farm in Georgetown, Ky., to the Hagyard equine hospital in Lexington.

“His head was tucked under, and we just could not get his head up and get him out of the mare,” Fojan said of the foal. “George was holding the mare in the back of the van, and I drove. Dr. Michael Spirito at Hagyard was a friend of ours, and he really, really worked on her. They pretty much had to cut him out of the mare, and when they got the baby out, he was alive.”

That was May 7, 2002. Almost exactly 10 years later, on May 5, 2012, Flower Alley became the sire of a Kentucky Derby winner, thanks to his son I’ll Have Another.

“When you save a baby, it’s almost like you change history,” said Fojan, 52. “If you didn’t save this baby, you wouldn’t have this stallion. And now he has a Derby horse.”

Fojan actually had two Derby horses to root for this year, and both did her proud. In addition to her connection to the Derby winner through Flower Alley, Fojan also raised third-finisher Dullahan for her friends and clients, breeders Phil and Judy Needham and Bena Halecky.

The Fojan angle might not be a bad Kentucky Derby betting strategy. The 2009 Derby winner, Dullahan’s half-brother Mine That Bird, also was foaled and raised at Bona Terra. Their dam, Mining My Own, still resides at the farm and will be bred this year to Bernardini. But Brunacini, who died in 2006, sold Princess Olivia to Shadai Farm for $825,000 at the 2005 Keeneland November sale, shortly after Flower Alley won the Travers and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Brunacini paid just $32,000 for Princess Olivia, almost on a whim, at Fasig-Tipton’s sale of Adena Springs breeding stock in 2000.

“Everything was luck,” Fojan said. “I love old bloodlines, and she had Vaguely Noble in there and Lyphard. We were sitting there, and I said, ‘George, I really want this mare.’ He said, ‘Oh, we don’t want another one.’”

But he bought Princess Olivia anyway. When it came time to breed the mare, Fojan said, she and Brunacini put very little thought into mating Princess Olivia to the then-unproven Distorted Humor.

“It was luck,” she said. “George loved Distorted Humor and had bought two shares in him, and I loved the mare, so instead of trying to find something to match her, he said, ‘We’ll just breed her to Distorted Humor and see what happens.’ ”

The couple consigned Princess Olivia to Fasig-Tipton’s December 2001 mixed sale, carrying her Distorted Humor foal, but bought her back at $10,000. Two months later, they tried again at the Fasig-Tipton February mixed sale, but she fared just as poorly in the ring. They bought her back again, at $9,500.

“So George brought her home and foaled her out,” Fojan said. “She was a very small, very feminine mare who looked a lot like the Lyphard line. She really let the stallion come through. She never stamped her foals, and you would never pick her out. Mining My Own is the most majestic, gorgeous mare, and Princess Olivia was the opposite, a plain brown wrapper.”

Princess Olivia also had opinions. When she arrived home from Hagyard with newborn Flower Alley, she took an immediate dislike to her foal’s new leather halter.

“Mares can be funny if they smell something different,” Fojan said. “She was irritated after the surgery anyway, and once he had that halter on, she did not take to her baby at all. She almost mangled that baby, and it was lucky that we caught it in time and took the halter off. So Flower Alley had a really rough start.”

Not so for Dullahan. Foaled on Feb. 8, 2009, he coasted gently through his early days at Bona Terra before the Needhams and Halecky sold him at Keeneland’s September yearling sale for $250,000.

“From start to finish, nothing went wrong,” Fojan said of Dullahan, an Even the Score colt. “The foaling went easy, there were never any setbacks. He was the coolest horse. And Mining My Own is so special. I’m just so lucky to have her on the farm. She’s an easygoing mare, and there’s never an issue with her. And she puts a brilliance into her foals. They’re so smart. She’s a big, powerful mare, and I can’t brag on her enough.”

Mining My Own had a Giant’s Causeway colt this year.

Fojan bet a Dullahan-I’ll Have Another exacta box, but she didn’t make it to Churchill in person to see either of Bona Terra’s graduates at the Derby.

“I really wanted to go see Dullahan,” Fojan said, “but I had a mare that had a really hard foaling that night. I actually ended up losing the baby. So I stayed home.”

As the Bona Terra graduates crossed the wire in first and third, Fojan’s thoughts turned immediately to her late partner. Brunacini died Aug. 27, 2006, when Comair Flight 5191 crashed on takeoff from Lexington’s airport.

“I am so excited for George,” she said. “I have his picture in my barn, and I put it where he can see everything. It’s just a symbol, but I know he’s watching over us. When I’ll Have Another won and Dullahan was third, I talked to him and said, ‘You beat me!’ I’m sure he’s laughing and enjoying it. He never really bragged about anything. He always believed you just took care of the horses, and the rest was just luck.”

Two days after the Derby, Fojan hauled a mare to Three Chimneys in Midway, Ky., where Flower Alley now stands at stud.

“Every time I bring over one of the mares that grew up with him, I say to him, ‘Do you remember her?’ ” she said. “I take all my own mares to the breeding shed, and every time I see him, it’s such a thrill to see him all grown up, a stallion at a lovely farm. He was always a little boy, very typey, and he has grown into such a handsome stallion.” 

Michael Spirito More than 1 year ago
Lots of truth to that story
superdog More than 1 year ago
Nice down home story. These are the hard working folks who keep the sport alive.
Nancy Reagan More than 1 year ago
Sweet story. Thanks. I think that's what keeps us all going in this game.