05/02/2013 11:31AM

Kentucky Derby: Sale horses far outnumber homebreds in field

Barbara D. Livingston
Will Take Charge, a 20-1 choice for the Kentucky Derby, sold to owner Willis Horton for $425,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale.

For most of the horses in this year’s Kentucky Derby field, the road to the starting gate went through the auction ring, and often at a fairly modest price.

Fourteen of the 21 horses entered in the 2013 Derby, including the also-eligible Fear the Kitten, were sold at least once at public auction, with prices ranging from $5,500 to $425,000, proving once again that a classic horse can come from anywhere in the sale book.

A pair of horses tied for the highest sale price among the Derby field at $425,000. The first to achieve the mark was Will Take Charge, who sold to owner Willis Horton at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale. The regally bred son of Unbridled’s Song is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, who herself is a Grade 1 producer.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas also coveted Will Take Charge at the September sale. Though he was outbid at the time, the colt eventually ended up in his barn as a 2-year-old.

“When Will Take Charge came up in the sale ring, I was bidding on him, and I looked down about four rows and saw that Willis was bidding on him, and I thought, ‘Whoa,’ ” Lukas said. “So, I went down, and I said, ‘Go ahead and buy him. He’s the best thing in here. But if you weaken, give me the high sign. I might go a little farther.’ ”

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The second horse to sell for $425,000, Falling Sky, took a more unorthodox route to the Derby, drawing his high bid from Justin Casse, agent, as a racing prospect at this year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. winter mixed sale. When he went through the ring, the Lion Heart colt had already raced three times and won twice for co-owners Armachan Stable and Carlos Morales and Joe Appelbaum’s Off the Hook LLC, which consigned Falling Sky at the OBS sale.

Falling Sky is one of six horses in the Derby field to have sold at public auction twice. He previously sold to Off the Hook as a weanling for $16,000 at the 2010 Keeneland November breeding-stock sale, making him the most successful pinhook of the field.

The biggest bargain among the sale horses in the Derby is Goldencents, who commanded $5,500 from Webb Carroll, agent, at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale. Consigned as agent by Pope McLean, the Into Mischief colt will enter the starting gate Saturday with $1.25 million in earnings.

Some owners spend their entire lives trying to pluck a Kentucky Derby-caliber horse out of the auction ring, and many never land one. Sam Herzberg, the owner of Black Onyx, found his Derby horse on his first try at auction, securing the colt for $125,000 at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale. However, a previous appointment almost kept him from even looking at the horse.

“I wanted to buy two nice yearlings every year, two nice colts, and maybe I’d get lucky,” Herzberg said, laying out the plan for his budding stable. “It’s a funny story. I’d looked at 50 other horses that day that my trainer had picked out, and I said, ‘Listen, I can’t look at any more horses. I’ve got a massage back at the hotel. I’m done.’ But he says, ‘You have to look at this one last horse,’ so I said, ‘OK, I’ll look at him.’

“They bring him out, and I said, ‘Oh my God.’ He was amazing, beautiful, and I said, ‘We’re bidding on this horse for sure.’ Luckily, he went at a price I could afford, so it worked out.”

Of the seven Derby horses who were not sold at auction, five are homebreds, one was a private purchase, and one was claimed in his first start.

Two of the homebreds come from the program of owner/breeder Charles Fipke, who sends out Java’s War and Golden Soul. A resident of Kelowna, British Columbia, Fipke’s breeding operation is based at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Ky., and at Coolmore Stud in Ireland.

“All my horses – Perfect Soul, Tale of Ekati, Not Bourbon, Jersey Town – they’re all my own homebred horses,” he said. “It’s harder to win as a homebred, so I take that much more joy in it. To me, to go and buy a bloody horse and win, I don’t get anything out of it. When you breed them yourself and you work every day at finding the right combination to get the result, it’s wonderful.”

The lone claimer of the group is late arrival Fear the Kitten, who was picked up for a $40,000 tag in his maiden start at Keeneland by current owner Frank Irvin. Had Fear the Kitten not been claimed, he might have ended up being the second homebred in this year’s Derby for owner/breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who will send out Charming Kitten.

– additional reporting by Nicole Russo