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Hoppertunity brings Betz back to spotlight
Thoroughbred industry veteran Bill Betz knows how hard it is to taste success in the Kentucky Derby.
“It takes a lot of luck ... The Derby has its own life,” he said. “The stars have got to align.”
The stars have been kind to Betz. He is a co-breeder of 2009 Kentucky Derby upset winner Mine That Bird. This year, he has a rooting interest in Grade 2 Rebel Stakes winner Hoppertunity, recently second to divisional standout California Chrome in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. Betz co-bred Hoppertunity and consigned the colt to sale as a yearling.
“I always thought a lot of him,” Betz said of Hoppertunity, now trained by Bob Baffert for the partnership of Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. “He was a beautiful, long-bodied horse with a great temperament, a lovely mover. I was very happy with him from the very beginning.”
Betz also consigned the well-regarded Social Inclusion as a yearling. The colt, recently third in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial for Rontos Racing Stable, likely will fall short in Kentucky Derby qualifying points but could resurface in the Preakness Stakes.
Betz, who turned 63 in February, entered the industry as a stallion manager in Kentucky and Maryland and later settled in Kentucky to work for the late Lee Eaton, the co-breeder of 1976 Derby winner Bold Forbes and a prominent consignor. He began partnering with Phil Needham to raise and consign horses in 1984. The Needham/Betz partnership was dissolved in 2008, and Betz now consigns horses to major sales under his own shingle, as Betz Thoroughbreds, raising horses and operating from his farm in Lexington, Ky.
Betz, Needham, and a variety of partners struck gold with a trio of multiple Grade 1-producing mares in Silvery Swan, Sassy Pants, and Mining My Own. Silvery Swan is the dam of Grade 1 winners El Corredor and Roman Ruler and graded stakes winner Silver Tornado. She has produced four seven-figure sale horses. Needham and Betz, in partnership with Rob Whiteley’s Liberation Farm, consigned all three graded stakes winners. Sassy Pants, a purchase off the racetrack, produced the Grade 1-winning Madcap Escapade and Dubai Escapade, both bred by Betz, Needham, and James Blackburn.
Betz, Needham, and Blackburn bred Mining My Own in partnership with Peter Lamantia, who owned the Smart Strike filly’s dam, Aspenelle. Mining My Own failed to meet her reserve when offered as a yearling. She was then put in training but never started. The partners bred her to first-year sire Birdstone in 2005, and she produced the diminutive Mine That Bird, who sold for $9,500 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall sale.
Mine That Bird captured three stakes in Canada, including the Grade 3 Grey, to earn the Sovereign Award as champion juvenile male. The following year, the gelding snuck through on the rail to trigger a $103.20 payout in the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy Churchill Downs track. He followed up with a runner-up effort in the Preakness behind Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and a third in the Belmont Stakes behind eventual champion Summer Bird.
“The old adage in our business is that you win some, you lose a lot,” Betz said of the unpredictable result. “I’ve been in races with horses that I thought would be very competitive, and I’ve been disappointed. Then when Mine That Bird at 50-1 comes in and wins, it’s a surprise on the other end of the spectrum. It doesn’t happen often. But you know, Mine That Bird was a champion 2-year-old in Canada, and he had a good pedigree – I didn’t think his pedigree was gonna stop him.”
Before Mine That Bird made his debut, Mining My Own went through the ring at the 2008 Keeneland January sale of horses of all ages, and Needham purchased her for $8,000, not in foal, to dissolve the partnership in the mare. He later consigned her 2009 colt by Even the Score with Bena Halecky. Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing went to $250,000 to secure him at the Keeneland September yearling sale, and that colt, Dullahan, went on to become a multiple Grade 1 winner.
Mining My Own is now owned in partnership by WinStar Farm, Pauls Mill, Halecky, and Phil and Judy Needham. Boarded at Pauls Mill, she had a filly by WinStar sire Bodemeister this year.
Since going out on his own in 2008, Betz has bred and consigned, in partnership, Normandy Invasion, the runner-up in last year’s Wood Memorial, and Grade 2 winner Mamma Kimbo. He also consigned multiple Grade 3 winner Daddy Nose Best.
Betz purchased Refugee, a Grade 2-placed daughter of Unaccounted For, for $65,000 out of the 2006 Keeneland January sale, investing in a historic female family. Refugee’s second dam is filly triple crown winner and champion Davona Dale; further back in the female line is Hydroplane II, the dam of 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation. Although Davona Dale, like many top racemares, never replicated her own success in the breeding shed – she was the dam of three stakes-placed winners – Betz said he was confident the class in the family would come out in later generations.
“Just growing up in the business, back when [Davona Dale] was good, I was young and learning the business,” Betz said. “A great horse like that sticks in your mind. Sometimes talent skips a generation or two, but I’ve had good luck breeding into quality families.”
Betz, in partnership with D.J. Stable, Charles Kidder, Jim Betz, and Nancy Robenalt, co-bred and consigned a pair of stakes horses out of Refugee: Executiveprivilege, by First Samurai, and Hoppertunity, by Any Given Saturday.
“We try to produce a quality, straight mover,” Betz said. “When you start with a model like that, it’s easier [to succeed]. You try to find [a match] that’s going to strengthen their weaknesses but not weaken their strengths. Both these stallions did that for [Refugee].”
Betz offered Executiveprivilege at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale, where she sold for $23,000 to agent Hubert Guy. The filly was a successful pinhook for Eddie Woods at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s spring sale of juveniles, as the partnership of Pegram, Watson, and Weitman went to $650,000 to acquire her. She subsequently won the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante and Chandelier, the Grade 3 Sorrento Stakes, and the Landaluce Stakes as a juvenile and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Although Hoppertunity was a later-developing runner, not making his debut until his 3-year-old season, Betz said he saw similarities between the two horses as youngsters.
“Hoppertunity always looked like a two-turn kind of horse,” Betz said. “He wasn’t as mature early. But both have a lot of similarities as well. They both had wonderful temperaments – things that worry some horses didn’t bother them. They were confident. They were lovely movers – over the ground, they’d glide just like a cat.”
Baffert said his familiarity with the family influenced his decision to look at Hoppertunity as a yearling, and the Hall of Fame trainer landed him for $300,000 for Pegram, Watson, and Weitman at the 2012 Keeneland September sale. Betz said he was heartened by the level of interest in the colt from buyers familiar with the family.
“We expected him to sell well,” Betz said. “I don’t think Any Given Saturday was a hot sire at that time, but [Executiveprivilege] was [popular]. We were rewarded by some of the best judges in the business, and I’m happy he’s fulfilling his potential for them ... You develop a reputation with buyers, or trainers. They have a confidence level in you, and you in them.”
Hoppertunity went on to capture the Rebel in his fourth career start and was a clear second behind likely Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby.
Meanwhile, Betz sold Refugee for $480,000 to Blandford Bloodstock at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall mixed sale.
“In order to keep the big picture, the overall program going,” Betz said of the decision to sell. “There are a lot of horses we breed, with a lot of overhead, and sometimes you have to clip the coupon eventually to keep the machine going. It’s hard to sell those mares, but sometimes you market the mares to find the program. And then you go back and try to do it again.”
What Jeff said. And an added bonus, you don't have to pay to read it.