02/08/2018 11:56AM

Horses bred in Florida, Mid-Atlantic made their mark in 2017

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Emily Shields
Florida-bred World Approval, winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile, was one of three finalists for 2017 Horse of the Year.

There have been 27 finalists for North America’s Horse of the Year honors since 2010, and just seven of them have been born outside of Kentucky.

The latest came in 2017, when Florida-bred World Approval earned the distinction on the strength of a campaign featuring wins in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Woodbine Mile, and Fourstardave Handicap, all Grade 1’s.

He joined a club of regionally bred finalists that in recent years has included California Chrome, the 2014 and 2016 Horse of the Year bred in his namesake state; Mucho Macho Man (2013, Florida-bred); Acclamation (2011, California-bred); Cape Blanco (2011, Irish-bred); and Goldikova (2010, Irish-bred).

Though he fell short in the Horse of the Year race, World Approval took home champion turf male honors, punctuating a strong season for statebred runners in 2017.

World Approval, a 6-year-old Northern Afleet gelding, races as a homebred for Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Stud in Ocala, Fla. Weber, a five-decade veteran of the Thoroughbred industry, also bred World Approval’s dam, Win Approval, and second dam, Negotiator.

“Mrs. Weber’s very seasoned in this game, and she started very young,” Live Oak general manager Bruce Hill said. “From the very beginning, she’s had long-range planning in everything that she’s done. She’s not in it for the short haul. You see deep pedigrees in programs, and you stick with it, and with no bad luck and just a little bit of good luck, you put yourself in a position to let good things happen.”

Live Oak Stud is a perennial top breeder in Florida, but Hill noted that the farm’s runners are bred with the aim of succeeding on all points on the map instead of locally, as evidenced by the operation’s eight graded stakes wins in 2017, the second most among breeders in North America.

Hill said Win Approval’s greatest attribute as a broodmare is her ability to pass on strong conformation and soundness. However, her genetic hoofprint also comes with some quirks for her foals.

“With the exception of [2006 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner] Miesque’s Approval, they’re all geldings, and they’re geldings for a reason,” he said. “They’re not always the most cooperative. They’re strong-minded. Gelding is a requirement for them to reach their potential. Otherwise, they’re not the easiest to get along with.”

World Approval finished the year with career earnings of $2,937,363, ranking him 12th all time among Florida-breds and the top earner among active runners born in the Sunshine State. With plans calling for a 2018 campaign, the gelding is well positioned to move into the top 10 with a strong year.

Pennsylvania-bred Unique Bella took home the Eclipse Award for champion female sprinter and also was a finalist for champion 3-year-old female. Her five graded stakes wins on the year were highlighted by the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes in December.

The Tapit filly was bred by Elizabeth Moran’s Brushwood Stable in Malvern, Pa., out of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle. The mare was purchased by the Brushwood operation for $2.8 million at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, and she sold again to Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm for $3.8 million at the 2016 Keene-land November sale.

Brooks Adams, farm manager of Brushwood Stable, said Unique Bella was a prime example of the farm’s “breed the best to the best” philosophy. Though she was only on the Pennsylvania farm until she was a yearling, Unique Bella already displayed potential, so much so that Moran and Adams had discussed retaining the filly to race as a homebred. She was ultimately sold to Don Alberto Corp. for $400,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale.

“We had five or six fillies, and she was the biggest,” Adams said. “She was the standout in the field. We always talk back and forth, and if we were going to keep one that year, that was the one to keep.”

While Unique Bella joined rare company as a Pennsylvania-bred Eclipse winner, she has more work ahead of her to join the ranks of the state’s all-time earners, a list on which she sits outside the top 70 with $592,400. Page McKenney entered the top 10 in 2017, sitting ninth with $1,760,378. Closely behind is Mor Spirit, who finished the year in 11th place with $1,668,400.

The New York-bred program was represented by a pair of Eclipse finalists in male sprinter Mind Your Biscuits and female sprinter Bar of Gold.

Mind Your Biscuits, a now 5-year-old son of Posse, won the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan and returned to the United States to win the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes, finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and run second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap. At the end of the season, he sat as New York’s fourth-highest all-time earner, with $2,509,166. Mind Your Biscuits was bred by Jumping Jack Racing.

Bar of Gold, a 6-year-old Medaglia d’Oro mare, was an upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. The rest of her campaign featured a win in the Yaddo Stakes at Saratoga and runner-up efforts in the Grade 2 Presque Isle Downs Masters and Ruffian stakes. Racing as a homebred for Chester and Mary Broman, Bar of Gold is New York’s 18th-highest earner, with $1,551,000.

“To me, she’s been the epitome of class,” trainer John Kimmel said about Bar of Gold. “She doesn’t get upset. She’s never turned a hair. Even though she’s won some restricted stakes, we thought sometimes that she just hadn’t put it all together at the right time. She had some rough trips and some rough rides, but there was never any doubt to me that she could put it all together.”

Champion Stellar Wind rapidly climbed the ladder of highest-earning Virginia-breds, finishing her career with earnings of $2,903,200, which places her sixth all time after running in this year’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational.

She started her 2017 season on a three-race winning streak, taking the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, Beholder Mile Stakes, and Clement L. Hirsch Stakes. The year ended with Stellar Wind topping the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, going to M.V. Magnier of the Coolmore partnership for $6 million, and she recieved a finalist nod as champion older female.

Keswick Stables bred the 6-year-old Curlin mare in partnership with Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings.

Irish War Cry put himself in good position to one day finish high on the list of top-earning New Jersey-breds. The 4-year-old Curlin colt was a standout among his class of sophomores last year, winning the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes and Wood Memorial and running second in the Belmont Stakes and Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.

He has earned $1,049,460, putting him eighth on the New Jersey-bred earnings list.

The colt is a homebred for Isabelle de Tomaso, whose father was the late Amory L. Haskell, the first president and chairman of the Monmouth Park Jockey Club and the namesake of its signature race.

The family has “put a lot of time, money, and effort into breeding in New Jersey,” said Michael Campbell, executive director of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association of New Jersey. “Mrs. de Tomaso could breed her horses anywhere in the country. She has good mares, she breeds to top stallions. To breed and foal in New Jersey is admirable.”

Other active New Jersey-breds making noise on the all-time earnings chart in 2017 were Green Gratto in sixth at $1,136,372, 11th-ranked Sunny Ridge at $937,402, and Rainbow Heir in 14th at $804,395.

– additional reporting by Nicole Russo