04/19/2012 12:36PM

Dullahan's dam could make Kentucky Derby history

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Barbara D. Livingston
Dullahan and his dam, Mining My Own, in 2009 with Judy Needham (left) and Emilie Fojan, owner of Bona Terra Farm.

LEXINGTON, Ky. − Bena Halecky, an executive with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, got the call from Phil Needham on the afternoon of January 8, 2008. Needham was Halecky’s bicycling partner, but he also was her partner in a handful of Thoroughbred broodmares. Now he was calling from the Keeneland January sale, and he hoped Halecky would be interested in a Smart Strike mare he had bought − or, really, bought back from other partners − the previous afternoon.

“It was 12:53 p.m. when he called me on my personal cellphone,” said Halecky, 53. “I was in my office in Cincinnati. I could hear the sales going on in the background. He says, ‘Do you want in on another mare?’ I said, ‘Phil, I’m losing my shirt, I don’t want in on any more mares.’

“She was barren, but he liked the pedigree, and that’s what he kept trying to sell me on,” Halecky said. “I said, ‘You want me to get a barren mare?’ I already had parts of seven or eight mares. But I said, ‘How much?’ ”

When Needham told her the mare had sold for $8,000, and he’d sell her half for $4,000, Halecky said, “Just go do it. It’s only $4,000. Stop bugging me, and go do it. It was one of those split decisions.

“Phil always kept telling me, ‘Spread your risk, and at some point we’re going to hit,’ ” Halecky said.

The mare was Mining My Own. The year after Halecky joined Needham and his wife, Judy, as partners in the mare, Mining My Own’s son Mine That Bird shocked the nation by winning the Kentucky Derby at 50-1. And now that her son Dullahan is heading to Louisville off his recent Blue Grass Stakes win, Mining My Own could become the first broodmare in history to produce two Kentucky Derby winners.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Judy Needham, 64. “Sometimes I look at her, and I chuckle. This mare? Who would believe it? There’s a lot of lovely things to like about her, but it amazes all of us.”

Needham said the mating that produced Dullahan was borne out of her attempt to breed a sound, versatile runner. She settled on Even the Score, a $7,500 son of the highly fashionable son of Unbridled’s Song, whose $150,000 fee was too costly.

“Even the Score was out of a Rahy mare, and Mining My Own is by Smart Strike, and I thought, ‘If we get a nice, sound, good-looking horse, even if it’s not a sales horse, we can always race it,’ ” Needham said.

But Dullahan did sell at Keeneland’s September yearling auction Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010, when Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing bought him for $250,000.

“Mine That Bird was a small, high-energy horse, and this horse was leggier, taller, and more correct,” Needham said of Dullahan during his first year, when he boarded at Emilie Fojan’s Bona Terra Farm. “He was straightforward: eat, sleep, play. He was almost like an old soul in that he was so mentally mature as compared to some of the others.

“I remember when he got to the sales grounds he got kind of animated, like they do,” she said. “I looked over my shoulder when he came into the back walking ring, and he swelled up and bowed his neck. I thought, ‘Oh my God, he has the same look Mine That Bird had when he walked from the seven-furlong chute to the grandstand on Derby Day. I noticed it because I was on the backstretch with Mine That Bird on Derby Day, and I watched him walk and walk, all quiet. But all of a sudden, when they turned to walk over to the track and he could see that grandstand, he bowed his neck and got into a little dressage trot, and he got totally focused.”

Three years ago, as Judy Needham was walking to Churchill’s saddling paddock with Mine That Bird, her husband and Halecky were watching the Kentucky Derby coverage on TV from Ohio. The pair had skipped the Derby in order to compete on one of their own, the 123-mile Calvin’s Challenge bicycle race in Dayton, Ohio. They won their respective divisions, then stopped by a sports bar near Cincinnati to eat dinner and watch the Derby. Like everyone else, they were stunned when Mine That Bird won. They’ll be less surprised if Dullahan does it, but once again they might not be there in person. They are training for the USA Cycling Masters Road Nationals in September, and the Calvin’s Challenge race is a useful prep. Besides, why upset the Derby karma?

“We’ve got to keep the mojo going!” Halecky said. “I’m going to try to talk Phil into coming to the Ohio race, but it will be interesting to see if he succumbs to the pressure, and if I succumb to the pressure, to go to the Derby.”

Her $4,000 investment in Mining My Own has given Halecky a fairytale ride. But she’s seen the downs as well as the ups since she and Phil Needham made mutual investments in each other’s businesses almost 12 years ago. It started when Halecky offered to invest some of the Needhams’ money in Procter & Gamble stock.

“We’re a good, blue-chip stock, but our appreciation is gradual,” Halecky said. “It’s not the crazy cycle of the horse business. So three years later, he said, ‘Bena, this thing is growing so slow. I want to show you what it’s really like.’ ”

Halecky put $50,000 into horses, mostly buying small percentages of mares and got lucky right off the bat with one, a Boundary mare named French Line. The partnership bought her for $40,000, then sold her Orientate colt, Emishi Warrior, for $400,000 at the 2005 Saratoga select yearling sale.

“Then the beginner’s luck wore off,” Halecky said. “They started getting sick, they needed vet help, or they aborted. You know how it goes. But I never did really poorly, because I believed in Phil’s strategy, which was to spread your risk. What I’ve learned in the business is that one horse will cover 15 or 20. So you’ve got to live through the ugly ones until you get the good one. Some people never get the good one.”

Today, Halecky owns pieces of 15-20 horses, including half of Mining My Own’s newest son. On Friday, April 13 − the day before Dullahan’s Blue Grass − Mining My Own lay down in her pasture and foaled a Giant’s Causeway colt at about 8 a.m. She’ll be bred back to Bernardini, Needham says. If she ever heads back to the sale ring again, Halecky and the Needhams will have little trouble finding buyers, especially if she can pull off a Derby double with Dullahan.

“Could it strike again? I never thought it would strike the first time, let alone the second time,” Halecky said. “The ride has been awesome. I got into the business for two reasons: One was to diversify investment and, hopefully, make a little money but not lose too much. And the other was to have some fun. Let me tell you, I am a poster child for why this business is fun.”

Gina Spadafori More than 1 year ago
What a fantastic story! See ... you don't have to be a Phipps or a Whitney to have a part of a dream ... and have it come true. Great work, from one of DRF's very best, most readable reporters.
James More than 1 year ago
shouldn't the caption say "his" dam?
DRFInsidePost More than 1 year ago
That has been corrected, thank you.
OwenJ More than 1 year ago
What a lovely tale!