01/09/2015 1:51PM

Keeneland January: Don Alberto making impact on a global scale

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Barbara D. Livingston
Homebred Bronzo, who finished fourth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, is now training in California for Chilean-based Don Alberto.

Don Alberto may not be a household name in the United States yet – but give it some time.

It’s been just over a year since Chilean-based interests purchased Tom Simon’s former Vinery property in Lexington, Ky. The group is led by Liliana Solari, who founded the famed Haras Don Alberto in Chile, and her son Carlos Heller, president of the family’s Bethia Holding, a conglomerate that holds interests in a wide variety of fields. They re-christened Vinery as Don Alberto, expanding the family’s brand.

The outfit has been busy since at the North American mixed sales, finishing as the leading buyer by total expenditure at two consecutive editions of the Keene-land November breeding stock sale, and making a number of other high-profile purchases both publicly and privately. The breeding stock at the Kentucky farm now includes a solid collection of Grade 1- or Group 1-winning mares, and a handful of youngsters by prominent stallions including unbeaten champion Frankel, as Don Alberto continues to attack racing and breeding on a global scale.

The team behind Don Alberto first became a major force in breeding and racing in Chile, where family patriarch Alberto Solari founded Haras Tarapaca. His daughter Liliana Solari later founded Haras Don Alberto in Los Angeles, Chile, in 1987 and named it for her father. That same year, Bethia, bred by Haras Tarapaca, won the Group 1 Premio Mil Guineas in Chile. She later went on to become a minor stakes winner in California. Bethia Holdings was subsequently named for the racemare.

“The passion for horses was the beginning of everything,” Liliana Solari writes on Don Alberto’s website. “At his death, with the same passion, we founded Haras Don Alberto, in his memory. We begin our profession of family farmers with land in Los Angeles … a beautiful and suitable place for raising horses, counting also with some maternal lines of the old Haras Tarapaca.”

Currently standing at Haras Don Alberto is Total Impact, winner of the 2004 Hollywood Gold Cup and bred by the Solari family. The farm also has stood a number of notable shuttle stallions on Southern Hemisphere time, including Bluegrass Cat, Dylan Thomas, Fusaichi Pegasus, Henrythenavigator, Holy Roman Emperor, Mastercraftsman, Proud Citizen, Stevie Wonderboy, and Stormin Fever.

Bethia Holdings holds shares in other equestrian properties in Chile, including Club Hipico de Santiago, a racecourse founded in 1869 and designated as a historical monument. Heller is the president of the board.

Don Alberto’s latest homebred success is Bronzo, who won three of his first four starts in 2014, including a 8 3/4-length romp in the Group 1 Gran Premio Hipodromo Chile and a score in the Group 2 Cope de Oro. The Cope de Oro was a Win and You’re In qualifying event for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and in that race Bronzo finished a creditable fourth in his first start in the U.S., which was also first start in more than four months. He was the first starter for Don Alberto in a Breeders’ Cup event, and just the fourth Chilean-bred to compete at the event. The Fusaichi Pegasus gelding has remained in California with trainer Neil Drysdale for 2015, and was expected to start in Saturday’s Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita.

With a base in the heart of Central Kentucky’s Thoroughbred country, Don Alberto is now poised to make an even greater impact on U.S. racing and breeding. The purchase price on the 440-acre former Vinery property was $13.82 million, according to the Fayette County Clerk’s office.

Following the October 2013 purchase of the farm, the operation went on a shopping spree at the fall mixed sales. Don Alberto was Keeneland November’s leading buyer by total expenditures, purchasing 32 horses for $10,640,000. It also landed five horses for a total of $2,950,000 at the one-night Fasig-Tipton Kentucky selected fall mixed sale.

Heller bought Vinery after he saw the farm while he was in Kentucky in September 2013.

“He was just stopping by to look at some farms,” agent Fernando Diaz-Valdes, translating for Heller, said at that year’s Keeneland sale. “He was impressed with Vinery, and fortunately it was for sale. So they decided to buy it, but it was an empty place. There was no stallion. There was no broodmare. The next step was logical: Come here to the November sales and buy some broodmares. Of course, the purpose of the family is to have a place to live here, come more often. Everybody wants to be in Kentucky. Such a wonderful place, no?”

Don Alberto continued to make an impact at the 2014 fall mixed sales, purchasing fewer horses but continuing to focus on well-bred mares in foal to successful stallions. At the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky sale the night of Nov. 3, it landed three mares for a combined $5,650,000. For $2.6 million, Don Alberto bought Grade 1 winner Sarah Lynx, in foal for the final crop of Street Cry. For $2.4 million it bought stakes winner La Cloche, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Winter Memories and in foal to leading sire Tapit.

At the Keeneland November sale that began the following day, Don Alberto again finished as the top buyer by total expenditures, with nine purchases for $8,575,000. That included three seven-figure mares – Modeling, an unraced Tapit mare from the family of Better Than Honour, for $2.85 million; Precious Stone, a stakes-placed Galileo mare in foal to War Front, for $1.8 million; and graded stakes winner Ciao Bella for $1.6 million.

Don Alberto also purchased four youngsters at last fall’s Keeneland September yearling sale, led by a $775,000 Tapit filly and a $200,000 War Front filly.

In addition to its activity at the major North American sales, Don Alberto has been active in the international markets and in private sales as it broadens its international scope. It bought six mares at the 2013 Tattersalls December sale for a combined 1.77 million guineas. That tally does not include group stakes winner Chrysanthemum, purchased in the name of Reiley McDonald’s Lexington, Ky.-based Eaton Sales. The mare subsequently delivered the first foal by Frankel, on Jan. 11, 2014.

Don Alberto also owns a handful of Frankel foals born on its new Kentucky farm on Southern Hemisphere time after purchasing their dams. Some of those mares were booked back to Kentucky stallions and will head to Chile. Some of the Frankel foals, meanwhile, are destined for Australia.