02/08/2013 12:47PM

Melnyk shifts focus, selling mares at Fasig-Tipton

Michael Burns
Roxy Gap, a triple Sovereign finalist, is up for offer at Fasig-Tipton..

The blue and gold silks of award-winning owner-breeder Eugene Melnyk are a common sight in top-level events across North America, and although Melnyk is set to exit the breeding business, he hopes to continue his run of excellence on the track.

Melnyk will sell the majority of the remaining broodmares of his Winding Oaks Farm at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky winter mixed sale on Monday, part of a strategic plan to move away from a full-scale breeding operation to focus on a quality racing stable.

“Mr. Melnyk said, ‘I love the business, I want to stay in it, but we’re going to have to come up with a different plan,’ ” Winding Oaks manager Phil Hronec said. Melnyk bought the Ocala, Fla., property, formerly Mockingbird Farm, in 2001.

“You build up this broodmare band, it’s a bittersweet pill to say goodbye to them. . . . It is a business, and you need to make decisions. Hopefully, in the long run, we’re making the right ones.”

Taylor Made Sales will handle the consignment, which includes 28 broodmares and racing or broodmare prospects.

“It’s a welcome bonus shot,” Fasig-Tipton’s president and chief executive officer, Boyd Browning, said. “It’s an excellent group of performers on the racetrack, and in foal to some of the best stallions in the world. There’s tremendous quality in the offerings from Winding Oaks, and we’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to sell them this year.”

[DRF BREEDING: Latest news, live sale updates, Stallion Roster and more]

Melnyk, a Toronto native who turns 54 in May, made his fortune in the pharmaceutical business and is known elsewhere in the sporting world as owner of the Ottawa Senators in the National Hockey League. The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association’s National Owner of the Year in 2005, Melnyk won the Sovereign Award as Canada’s outstanding owner in 2007 and 2009 and is a 2012 finalist. He was named outstanding breeder in 2009. Melnyk Racing Stables has finished in the North American top 10 by earnings six times in the past 10 years. He was seventh in the national breeder standings last year, his sixth straight top-10 ranking.

Melnyk’s top runners include millionaire Speightstown, who captured the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Sprint to earn the Eclipse Award as outstanding sprinter, and Flower Alley, who won the 2005 Travers Stakes and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Horses campaigned by Melnyk have combined to win all three legs of Canada’s Triple Crown. He also bred and raced the 2007 Canadian Horse of the Year and Triple Tiara winner, Sealy Hill.

A number of Melnyk’s runners have gone on to successful stud careers, notably WinStar Farms stallion Speightstown, who was third on the general sire list in 2012. Three Chimneys Farm’s Flower Alley recorded a breakthrough season in 2012, siring dual classic winner and champion I’ll Have Another from his second crop. Other current or former stallions who campaigned in Melnyk’s colors include Archers Bay, Graeme Hall, Harlington, Marchfield, and Stratford Hill.

“Our original plan was not to necessarily to get into breeding, but to continue buying yearlings and 2-year-olds,” Hronec said. “Then, all of a sudden, he had stallions. Then you start buying mares to breed to those horses.”

At the peak of business, Hronec said, Melnyk owned about 550 horses between his racing and breeding operations. As of early 2013, he owns about 200 horses, which will be pared down to 170 or 180.

Winding Oaks’s offerings at Fasig-Tipton include Sealy Hill, in foal to Distorted Humor, and 10 other stakes winners.

“These are mares that, over the last three years we’ve been culling, we wanted to keep,” Hronec said. “These were going to be our best mares. We’ve gotten a lot of interest.”

Melnyk’s current stars include Roxy Gap, a finalist for three 2012 Sovereign Awards. A multiple graded stakes winner, she will race in 2013 if she does not meet her reserve.

“She’s very valuable to race [this] year,” Hronec said. “She’s very sound. If he doesn’t get what he wants for her, we’ll race her and then put her in the November sale.”

The approach to Roxy Gap’s future illustrates Melnyk’s new plan for his racemares.

“Our good fillies will run until they’re 4 or 5 and then we’ll put them in sales,” Hronec said. “Every now and then, he’ll find a favorite and we’ll keep her. But we’ll never get back up to 20 or 30 mares – that’s not going to be his game plan. We’re basically getting out of the breeding business.”

Melnyk is retaining a handful of active and pensioned broodmares – including Grade 1 winner Harmony Lodge, one of Melnyk’s favorite runners – who will live out their days at Winding Oaks.

Melnyk’s runners are known for long, productive careers. Speightstown blossomed at age 6, when he won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Bridgetown, a homebred son of Speightstown, will return for his 6-year-old season in 2013. A Grade 3 winner, he is approaching millionaire status.

“As long as they’re sound and they’re healthy, especially the way the business is going, you might as well enjoy a horse,” Hronec said. “Mr. Melnyk would rather run them – that’s what he enjoys, watching his horses perform at a top level.”