08/28/2009 11:00PM

More clients, horses for Kenneally


The majority of horsemen descending on Lexington, Ky., for the annual Keeneland September yearling sale have a singular task. Having traveled from Florida, California, New York, or any number of destinations, they are unencumbered by most of the chores they otherwise would be undertaking at the racetrack or farm back at home.

But for a few - the Kentucky trainers with horses at Churchill Downs - there is double duty to which they must attend.

Eddie Kenneally, the 43-year-old Irishman whose stable has grown and prospered in recent years, is one of those. On a typical morning in early September, Kenneally will be up to train at Churchill, then drive a little more than an hour to Keeneland, usually arriving shortly before noon. He then works the sale for as long as it takes, then typically drives back to Louisville to do it all over again the next day.

"Some people might not realize how much work is required during the sales," Kenneally said. "You're constantly on the go. We work every catalog at the sale, from Book 1 through Book 7, so that's a whole lot of time you're putting in - besides looking after the horses at Churchill."

These uninterrupted circles of intensive labor tend to reap their own rewards. Kenneally, in particular, has seen his client list as a trainer increase to about 20 now - a trend that goes against the grain in these tough economic times, when many trainers are struggling to maintain their numbers of clients and horses.

Kenneally came to the U.S. in 1987 to work as an exercise rider. For his first 12 years as a trainer (1993-2004), including the first four as private trainer for the Elmendorf Farm of Jack Kent Cooke, he never won as many as 25 races in a year, nor did his stable earn as much as $600,000.

But since 2005, Kenneally has become an occasional player in the upper echelons of the sport. Racing primarily at Keeneland and Churchill in the spring and fall, Gulfstream Park in the winter, and Saratoga in the summer, Kenneally is thriving: His stable won 59 races and more than $2.1 million in 2008, both career highs, and he is on pace in 2009 to surpass those totals.

The best Kenneally horses have included Kelly's Landing, winner of the 2007 Dubai Golden Shaheen and an earner of more than $1.85 million, and Bushfire, a winner of three Grade 1 races for 3-year-old fillies in 2006. The current roster includes proven stakes types Custom for Carlos, Saratoga Sinner, Keep the Peace, Artic Cry, and Taletobetold, along with a number of promising younger horses such as Cowgirl Mally, Aspire, and Heavenly Landing.

Building a productive public stable requires a sturdy foundation, and Kenneally will once again approach the September sales with certain protocols, discipline, and optimism. Some of the more prominent purchases from the September sales in which he has been directly involved include Saratoga Sinner ($130,000 in 2007), winner of the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream earlier this year; Custom for Carlos ($145,000, RNA, in 2007), winner of the Grade 3 Jersey Shore this summer at Monmouth Park; and Heavenly Landing ($340,000 in 2008), a sharp recent maiden winner at Saratoga.

"Early in the sale, you can get both conformation and pedigree," Kenneally said. "Certainly you're going to have to pay more, but obviously you're going to have a better shot at coming up with a good horse from Book 1 or 2 because you've got plenty of good-looking individuals, horses with good size, nice walkers and movers."

With nearly 5,200 yearlings cataloged this year, "there are plenty of good horses later in the sale as well," Kenneally said. "The ones you're buying in the latter part of the sale, you're compromising because you don't have as much pedigree. But that doesn't mean you can't find an athlete, a horse that can run. There are still some very good-looking individuals after the first couple of books. The main thing is conformation, how they move and walk. The better-looking ones tend to end up being the better horses."

Like most trainers in his position, Kenneally has a main associate in his sales endeavors: Peter Kirwan, a longtime farm manager and veteran horseman in Lexington, has assisted and advised Kenneally in recent years.

With Kenneally still settling back into Churchill after taking his main string to Saratoga for the summer, "Peter tends to have more time than me to start covering all the ground," Keneally said. "He's there at Keeneland three or four days before I've got the time to be there, and he takes care of a lot of the legwork. He helps make the short list - although I'd say he leaves plenty of horses on the list - so that when I get there we can hit the ground running.

"Once I'm there, we go take a second look and try to shorten it again. You then try to arrange the horses that fall into your budget. Then we'll start doing some vet work, X-rays and scoping, and try to narrow it a little more, see who we're going to make a serious run at. Then it gets a little tougher once the sale starts because you're trying to keep an eye on the sales ring while also doing your homework on the ship-ins in the next few books. It's a very involved, time-consuming process, but obviously it's worth pursuing."

"The thing about Eddie is he knows what he likes," said Kirwan, a fellow Irishman who owns a 63-acre farm, Glen Malure, and has collaborated closely with Kenneally at the September sales for the last four years. "He has an eye for a horse with a good walk, a good swing - and he has the ultimate decision because he has to train them. The ones I like, he goes over them closely, then gives a yay or nay."

There are two main clients for whom Kenneally and Kirwan will be buying horses this September: Jack and Louise Lally, whose horses run under the banner of Summerplace Farm and Lally Stable, and Ron and Ricki Rashinski, whose horses run under the Homewrecker Stable silks. Kenneally said he also will be active at the sales for Joe Sutton and Bob Dewitt.

"I've gone back more than 20 years with Ed, and I've always been extremely respectful of his training and management skills," said Jack Lally, whose top horse was Kelly's Landing. "He's an excellent manager, he gets along with people, and he has very good help throughout his organization. He's a good taskmaster, he knows horses, and he works very, very hard.

"One time Ed told me, 'I think I'm smart enough to make more money doing something else, but when I pull my boots on at 4 a.m. knowing I'm headed to the track, I'm the happiest guy in the world.' I think that says a lot about him."

Ron Rashinski, whose top horses have been Bushfire and Custom for Carlos, said: "There are a lot of good horsemen out there, but I really think Eddie's honesty and integrity in our dealings with him have been foremost in cementing our relationship with him. We're not horsemen, so we rely on outside people. When you trust people the way we do Eddie, you feel right about being in this business."

Kenneally said procuring classic-type horses has become his primary goal at the September sales.

"I've become more focused on two-turn horses, the long-term horses that will be able to run in the better races, more 1 1/8-mile types than sprinters," he said. "Obviously getting what you want depends on what price range you're working in. This year we've got some clients who might be able to get something in the first part of the sale, a select yearling or two. Then we've got people in the middle part, then guys wanting to spend maybe $20,000 or $30,000 later in the catalog.

"The key to all this is there are plenty of nice horses to be bought, but you have to spend the time necessary and you have to work at it. Sometimes you have to compromise and go for an individual with a pedigree that's not as fashionable as you might prefer. It's not an exact science, but you try to rely on your experience and judgment and hope you come up with a horse that eventually will pan out."