04/07/2011 2:05PM

Kentucky Derby trip within reach thanks to early investment


LEXINGTON, Ky. − In 2006, when they forked over the money for their first broodmare, Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge thought $135,000 looked like a pretty serious investment in a horse. But they have gotten more than they dreamed out of Oatsee. Two years after buying her, they resold her for $1.55 million. Now her son Shackleford, who finished a head behind Dialed In in the Florida Derby, could take them to the Kentucky Derby.

“I attribute most of it to luck,” Lauffer said. “You just have to enjoy it.”

Lauffer, 57, looks like one of the luckiest guys in the game right now. In one of his earliest racing ventures, he bought a half-interest in a promising juvenile filly, Rachel Alexandra, from her breeder, Dolphus Morrison; they later sold Rachel Alexandra privately to Jess Jackson. So when Lauffer and fellow Paintsville, Ky., native Marty Takacs decided Oatsee looked like a good mare at the 2006 Keeneland January sale, Cubbedge counted himself in.

“I thought it was a lot of money,” Cubbedge, 59, said of Oatsee’s $135,000 purchase price. “This horse was the first horse we’d ever bought ourselves. But Mike’s always been lucky in his investments, and we were doing pretty well in the gas business at the time, so I went along with it.

“You’ve got to blame it on Marty Takacs,” Cubbedge said of the partnership.

Lauffer and Cubbedge had known each other for about 30 years through the natural gas business. But it wasn’t until Takacs, who operates Belvedere Farm, started putting partnerships together that Lauffer and Cubbedge joined forces in the Thoroughbred game. They started with small percentages in racing partnerships.

“Mike is the type of individual, when he sinks his teeth into something, by God, you’d better look out, and that was the catalyst that got things going,” Cubbedge said. “Mike knew a little bit, Marty knew a lot, and I knew nothing. Now I know a little bit. We’ve been lucky sometimes, and we’ve been unlucky a lot of times.”

“We were looking for an Unbridled mare,” Lauffer said of the decision to buy Oatsee. “She was a big, strong mare who looked like she could produce strong, classic-distance horses. We weren’t thinking much about breeding to race. At the time, the horse business was good, and horses were really selling good, bringing a lot of money. We thought we’d just start out with one or two mares, breed some horses, and see what happened.”

It took less than a week for Oatsee’s value to jump. Four days after Lauffer and Cubbedge bought her, her daughter Baghdaria won the Grade 3 Silverbulletday Stakes. Another daughter, Lady Joanne, won the Grade 2 Golden Rod later that year, and she got even better in 2007, taking the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. After Oatsee foaled her 2008 Forestry colt, Shackleford, the partners bred Oatsee back to A.P. Indy and put her in the Keeneland November sale. She brought $1.55 million from My MeadowView Farm even as the Thoroughbred market was collapsing with the global recession.

Shackleford went through Keeneland’s auction ring the following year, but when live bidding stopped at $250,000, Lauffer and Cubbedge bought him back at $275,000.

“He was an absolutely beautiful colt from the time he was born,” Lauffer said. “Very good conformation, good size and scope, a lot of leg under him, and a smart horse. We were kind of torn whether to sell him to start with, but that was our business plan, to sell the good colts. But we weren’t going to give him away.”

The partners sent Shackleford to Webb Carroll’s training center in South Carolina, and the reports from his breaking and early training were enthusiastic. They got even better when Shackleford went to trainer Dale Romans last year. But few believed he was on Dialed In’s level. After a fifth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth, Shackleford went off at 68-1 in the Florida Derby.

“He won his first two races, and he showed a lot of heart and class coming back to win that first time at Churchill over seven furlongs on the dirt,” Lauffer said. “He got passed, and he came back to win. He’s such a big colt, we wanted to give him plenty of time, and that’s why he just had a couple of starts at 2.

“We didn’t get a race in the first allowance race we wanted to run in at Gulfstream this year, and that put us a little behind. We had to race with just three weeks rest coming off his first win down there and heading into the Fountain of Youth, and three weeks really wasn’t enough time. But we’ve had the Kentucky Derby as our big picture, and you’ve got to get started on graded earnings, so we thought the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby were our best route. He had one little quarter crack that set us back a couple of weeks once, but he’s had no other problems whatsoever.”

If they make it to Churchill on the first Saturday in May, Lauffer and Cubbedge said they won’t be especially worried about the Derby distance.

“Forestry was a real fast horse, and we wanted to breed some speed into the mare because she’s got more of a stamina-type pedigree, being by Unbridled out of a Lear Fan mare,” Lauffer said. “We got lucky, and I think it worked out real well for us.”

“I’m a skeptic, but he’s a good horse,” Cubbedge said. “Now we have a chance, if he gets into the Derby, to show the other skeptics that he can run with the rest of these Derby favorites. I know especially in the Derby, it depends on racing luck, and you can’t be too hopeful about that.

“We’ve been really lucky, and that’s what it comes down to: luck,” he said. “I’m taking it one day at a time.”