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Redekop comes up with two rockets
Peter Redekop got into real estate in the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia, back in 1958. Ten years later, Redekop found himself headed to a football game in Vancouver itself.
"We went past the racetrack because the football stadium and the track are in the same park," Redekop said, referring to Hastings Park, known at the time as Exhibition Park. "We didn't even know such a thing as a racetrack existed. So we went to the football game, and after that, we went out and bought a couple of yearlings. We paid $500 and $800, and I don't think either one of them won a race."
Redekop bought more horses, dabbled and experimented and had some fun, eventually becoming a primary ownership force at Hastings, a provincial track far removed from any spotlights. Redekop raced some in Washington, and his operation extended as far south as Northern California, where, in the winter of 2006, a 3-year-old he had purchased the year before for $30,000, Cause to Believe, began looking enough like a Triple Crown prospect that some folks bought a piece of the horse. Cause to Believe did make the Derby that spring but finished 13th.
"I've bought horses all different ways," Redekop said last week. "Yearlings, 2-year-olds in training, and, lately, I've also bought horses that are racing."
Until last year, Redekop had rarely ventured into six-figure territory. Once, he went up to $150,000, but not for any good reason, as it turned out. Redekop is 75 now. Owner's titles at Hastings had not sated his hunger.
"I'm getting later in life, and I wanted some fast horses," he said. "You have to go through a lot of them to get good ones. The odds are very small."
So in 2009, Redekop stepped up his spending, paying more for horses than ever before. And still Redekop did not acquire a single big horse, his horse of a lifetime.
Instead, he got two of them.
Comedero has gone 5 for 5 in 2010 and is 6 for 7 since Redekop purchased him privately for $350,000 last fall. Comedero, the most expensive horse Redekop has owned, already has earned almost $100,000 more than he cost. He also has earned two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, among the only 3-year-olds in the country to have so impressed the calculators, and Comedero was a fraction of a second from setting a seven-furlong track record at Charles Town on April 17.
As fast as Comedero is, Hollywood Hit is faster. It was late last spring when Redekop paid $250,000 for him. Since then, Hollywood Hit has finished first in all five of his starts. He has won two stakes races; earned a 114 Beyer, the second-highest at a mile or less and the fourth-highest overall this year; and is the track record holder at six and seven furlongs at Woodbine Race Course.
It's at Woodbine where the 4-year-old Hollywood Hit starts Saturday, when he runs in the $150,000 Bold Venture Stakes. Redekop will travel east from Vancouver for the race and get a look at one of his two sprint stars in person.
"I've never seen either horse, and I haven't been to Woodbine in 40 years," Redekop said.
A person could wait 400 years - nay, 4,000 - and still not come up with a pair like The Redekop Two. It's not just that both are so fast, but that neither is really supposed to be that fast.
Comedero is an Arkansas-bred gelding - that's right, Arkansas. At least he has a little pedigree, by Posse and out of the mare Pawnee Patti, who won 7 of 15 starts. Breeder and former owner Dan Bearden thought enough of Comedero as a yearling that he set a $50,000 reserve at the Keeneland September sale of 2008 and brought Comedero back home when he failed to meet it.
Hollywood Hit? Another gelding, and the best Oklahoma-bred since Kip Deville. C.R. Trout bred, owned, and raced Hollywood Hit before he was convinced to sell. Trout's mare Solid Hit has about no pedigree and failed to win a race in a 12-start career. Somehow, she has produced runner after runner, Hollywood Hit the best of them.
Add another layer of unlikely onto the Redekop saga: The same bloodstock agent, Lexington-based Alistair Roden, uncovered both the Arky-bred and Okie-bred and engineered Redekop's purchases. Redekop has never seen Roden in person, either, but they, too, will come together for the first time at Woodbine on Saturday.
Roden, 49, hails from Ballymena in Northern Ireland. He has spent his life around horses and went to work with stallions at Gainesway Farm in 1985. Several years later, Roden became stallion manager for the Vinery, a position he held 10 years, the last three of which he handled the marketing of stallions. A second career off the farm and out on his own as a bloodstock agent was not planned.
"It was November 2003, and I had a little bit of a falling out with Vinery," Roden said. "I got offered other jobs, good jobs, but the more I went into those interviews and talked to people, the more I thought, 'I'm going back into the same deal, just other faces.' Meanwhile, the phone would ring, and people would be asking questions about mares, and I thought, 'Why not?' "
Roden was a farm man, not a racetrack man. Breeding stock, not racers, was his specialty, and for some years that was just fine. Times have changed.
"The whole breeding industry has kind of gone in a slump," Roden said. "There's not a market at all for mares, what I knew most about. I just kind of gravitated toward the racehorses, and probably right now, that's 90 percent of my business."
Roden does his own research and legwork - pretty basic stuff at first, but requiring sound equine sense and market knowledge as the process unfolds.
"I go through all the charts, and if you see something runs a good time, you pull the PP's up on them and hope it works out," Roden said. "When you're doing it every day, you try to evaluate the numbers they run, and price-wise, it's just something you get a feel for. The thing is, of all the horses that run every weekend, 60 percent or more are not buyable. I'm not going to call Sheikh Mohammed up to buy a horse off him."
Comedero was not easily pried from Bearden, his owner-breeder. Last fall at Louisiana Downs, facing no great foes, he won two races by more than 16 lengths combined. Harboring Breeders' Cup Juvenile dreams, Bearden sent Comedero to trainer Mike Stidham at Keeneland, having been told Stidham was headed to Santa Anita for a Breeders' Cup undercard stakes.
"We worked him on the Poly at Keeneland, and he didn't work very well, and we didn't think he was ready to go two turns off the sprints, so we talked [Bearden] out of the Breeders' Cup," Stidham said. "He said, 'By the way, we've got an offer for the horse, but I'm not going to take it.' He called back a day or two later and said they had bumped him up to $350,000, and he had decided to take it."
That was Roden at work, with Redekop backing the offers. And Roden was hotly pursuing a gelding who would not have appealed to everyone.
"I didn't think they'd buy him," Stidham said. "He doesn't look like a horse that will go two turns. He comes out of his stall kind of crabby, he's got a funky walk, and he's funky jogging on the racetrack. The only time he looks smooth is when he's going fast. When he breezes or races he looks like a cat. At any other gait, it's not pretty.
"Alistair spent the entire morning at the barn, watched him walk out of the stall, watched him gallop, watched him eat his breakfast," he said. "That's very unusual for an agent. He just spent the morning watching, and at the end he said, 'Okay, we're going to vet him.' "
Said Roden: "He's actually pretty good-sized, but I wouldn't buy him at the sales. You could say he lacks heft and that fancy conformation they all want. But that's the beauty of buying these racehorses - you're buying on the numbers. You have to pay more for them this way, but if you can buy these things on the racetrack, hard as it is to do, you're taking a lot of the risk out of it."
Comedero has hiccupped twice since racing in Redekop's colors. Stretched to two turns at Remington Park last fall, Comedero displaced his soft palate after being hard held early in the race. Throat surgery - a myectomy - was performed, and Comedero has had no breathing problems since. But in a minor sprint stakes over the winter at Fair Grounds, Comedero sat down in the starting gate and quickly was scratched by the track veterinarian. Nothing was wrong with the horse, and Comedero has won his five 2010 starts - his most prominent victory an easy score in the Grade 3 Chick Lang on the Preakness undercard - by a combined 30 lengths. In the Blue N Gold Stakes in April at Charles Town, Comedero barely missed a seven-furlong track record and recorded a figure of zero - Grade 1 stakes quality - on the Ragozin sheets.
"I would say he would rank as the top surprise in my career," Stidham said. "Me and the Ragozins, I've been watching those things for 20-some years, and I've never had a horse run a zero. To think that an Arkansas-bred gelding would be the first one to do it."
Comedero, stabled at Keeneland last fall, sat right in Roden's backyard. It took a trip to Texas to scout Hollywood Hit, who had a longer racing r sum than Comedero when Redekop bought him. At 2, in 2008, Hollywood Hit finished fourth in a pair of Oklahoma-bred races at Remington Park, but his 2009 form looked better: a second, a first, a second, and finally, in May at Lone Star, a breakout 7 3/4-length entry-level allowance victory that earned Hollywood Hit a 100 Beyer Speed Figure.
"I went down to Lone Star, and I looked at him, watched him gallop him and all," Roden said. "He had run that 1:08 and change, and I was pretty excited. I made a couple of calls, and [Trout] was hinting he wasn't a seller. But it ended up that the timing was just kind of right."
Hollywood Hit went to trainer Terry Jordan at Woodbine. Jordan, 68, was born in Vancouver and grew up across the street from Hastings Park, taking out his trainer's license in the late 1950s. Jordan sent a horse to Calder once and also ran one at Emerald Downs in Washington; the rest of his career is strictly Canada, and most of that Hastings. But Jordan wins races. His career strike rate sits at 30 percent. At Woodbine he has gone 96 for 268, a 35 percent win rate, and he has hit the same percentage in 203 stakes races throughout his career. Ten of the 38 runners Jordan has sent into graded stakes have won, and 23 of them have finished third or better. No wonder Redekop hired him three years ago.
And Hollywood Hit does take some training. If the horse had his way, he would set a land-speed record every morning during routine exercise.
"We got him the middle of last May, a nice big horse," Jordan said. "He had his problems, and we kind of sorted him out, and I think he liked the way we sorted things out. But he's a tough horse to train. He needs someone very strong to gallop him."
First time out for Redekop and Jordan, Hollywood Hit won an allowance race by 1 1/2 lengths. In August, he stepped up in allowance class and won by four, running six furlongs in 1:08 and change. In September, Hollywood Hit delivered an explosive performance in the King Corrie Stakes, winning off by more than five lengths while running six furlongs in 1:07.38, a Woodbine track record.
That performance would have sent Hollywood Hit on to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita, but a postrace drug test revealed the presence of acepromazine, a commonly used tranquilizer. Hollywood Hit was banned from racing for 90 days in Canada - a ban expected to be honored in California - and Jordan was handed a 30-day suspension.
Jordan readily concedes that Hollywood Hit has trained on ace: It's a widespread practice with over-eager horses, an effort to keep them from sustaining injury from training at a breakneck pace.
"We used tranquilizers, and that's why we got ruled off," Jordan said. "It's supposed to be 60 hours withdrawal time with acepromazine. We take him off of it five days out from a race and just jog him on the sand track, don't do anything much with him on those days."
In fact, Jordan and Hollywood Hit's 160-pound exercise rider, Demetris Topouzis, take things as slow as they can most every morning. When it comes time to work - and Jordan does not work the horse often - Hollywood Hit tends to fly. His Woodbine drill July 7 went in 58 seconds for five furlongs, and Hollywood Hit galloped out six furlongs in 1:10.
"You can't take him much slower than that," Jordan said. "Like I said, he's a real difficult horse. We tried to stop him from going that fast so we can keep him in one piece. We've tried to do as little as possible with him.
"Mr. Redekop said, 'You're in charge. Do what you need to do.' Talk about putting the heat on me," Jordan said with a laugh. "Most owners want to see them run a lot, but [Redekop's] okay with this. Horses like this, you don't want to run more than three, four, five times in a year. They'd blow out pretty quick."
Hollywood Hit has two starts behind him in 2010 and has lost nothing since last year. He won the Jacques Cartier by a half-length April 11, then set a seven-furlong Woodbine track record of 1:20.07 when he captured the Grade 3 Vigil by three lengths May 9. Fatal Bullet, one of the fastest synthetic-track sprinters in North America the last two seasons, simply could not keep up.
"He's a horse that just swells up," Jordan said. "He gets twice as big when you get him over to the paddock. He looks a foot taller. He's really a competitor."
If all goes as planned, Hollywood Hit will race twice more this year after Saturday, with the Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland serving as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill. And who knows: Maybe Comedero will be one of his chief rivals there.
"I still go to the office every day," Redekop said. "I wouldn't really call it work, it's just fun. These horses have given me a lot of pleasure. I'm a pretty competitive person, and this is another outlet."
Redekop was reached at his lake house just south of the U.S. border. As he sat on the porch chatting on the telephone, the kids and grandkids were out on the lake water skiing. There were decades of work in the bank, and for the first time, a couple of truly fast horses in the barn.
* Handicapping roundups from Belmont, Monmouth, Calder, Hollywood, and Woodbine
* Marcus Hersh's Q&A with singer and horse owner Toby Keith
* Plus video analysis of the weekend's biggest stakes