06/03/2013 7:00AM

Santulli's long-term investment pays off in Oxbow

Barbara D. Livingston
Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow is the first classic winner bred by Richard Santulli’s Colts Neck Stable.

Oxbow’s May 18 Preakness Stakes win was the first classic win for his breeder, Richard Santulli. It also was a welcome payoff for Santulli’s 10-year investment in the broodmare Tizamazing, a $1 million yearling who never made it to the races.

Santulli bought Tizamazing in 2003, spending seven figures in large part because of the filly’s pedigree: She’s a full sister to 2000 Horse of the Year and two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, to multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire Budroyale, and to a pair of other graded stakes performers in Tizbud and Tizdubai. That, plus her appealing looks, made Tizamazing a good long-term prospect for Santulli, who expected eventually to add her to his commercial broodmare band.

“She was a big, strong, good-looking filly,” said Santulli, the 68-year-old entrepreneur behind aircraft-leasing companies NetJets and the Milestone Aviation Group. “She got hurt in training, but we liked her. I keep most of my fillies, at least those with good pedigrees, and especially if they look like they have a little run in them, so we kept her and bred her accordingly.”

The day Santulli found out his unraced $1 million filly had been injured couldn’t have been a good one, but Santulli says he was – and still is – philosophical about such things.

“It’s part of the game,” he said. “That happens a lot. At least it was a filly. If it were a colt, he’d be worthless.”

Tizamazing’s worth now rested entirely on her ability to produce. For her first mating, Santulli sent Tizamazing to the fashionable Distorted Humor and had only modest success, getting the colt What Now, a winner of just four races in 25 starts. Santulli and his longtime adviser, Reynolds Bell, then turned to Awesome Again and struck gold.

“Ghostzapper was probably as good a horse as we’ve seen in a long, long time, and he was by Awesome Again out of a Relaunch mare,” Santulli said. “Relaunch sired [Tizamazing’s sire] Cee’s Tizzy. Tizamazing is a big, big mare, and Awesome Again has quality but doesn’t throw big foals, so I did it from the Relaunch play and the size.”

Tizamazing’s first Awesome Again foal, the 2008 colt Awesome Patriot, was what Santulli called “not big but handy.” He sold for $350,000 and went on to place in graded stakes and become a stakes winner.

Oxbow sold to Calumet owner Brad Kelley for $250,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling auction.

“Oxbow isn’t a big horse either, but he’s well muscled and very well balanced,” Santulli said, noting that the cross also produced 2012 Haskell winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter. Bred by Diamond A Racing and campaigned by Zayat Stables, that colt is by Awesome Again out of Tizamazing’s full sister Tizso.

“Awesome Again wasn’t quite as commercial as some at the time, but one of the things we’ve always talked about is that we want to do mating with the commercial in mind, but we also want to do matings primarily to produce racehorses,” said Bell, who operates Reynolds Bell Thoroughbred Services in Lexington, Ky., and has known Santulli since the 1980s. “We got Awesome Patriot, who was a decent-enough individual, not big but athletic. We liked him well enough to do it again, and that was Oxbow. We did it a third time because by then, we knew Awesome Patriot could run.”

Tizamazing’s third Awesome Again colt, the aptly named Expect a Lot, was a $190,000 buyback at last year’s September sale. Santulli now has him in training with Alan Goldberg.

“Part of what’s made him such a good commercial breeder is that he’s prepared to put a reserve on a horse that he thinks is reasonable for him, and if the horse doesn’t bring that, he’s happy to race,” Bell said of Santulli.

“I work closely with Reynolds, and I run probably 10 to 15 potential stallions for every mare we have,” Santulli said. “I look at what’s worked for us and what’s worked before. On breeding season, I spend a tremendous amount of time. I love it. I like pedigrees and spend a lot of time with them, but Reynolds and I work very closely together. We also work closely with Al, my trainer, so it’s really a team. We spend a lot of time going over it. You think you know what you’re doing, and then you don’t.”

Pedigree puzzles aren’t the only thing that drew Santulli into the Thoroughbred game. In his college years, the Brooklyn native was studying past performances and handicapping angles while working toward applied-mathematics degrees at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute.

“I loved racing from the betting angle,” Santulli said. “I would set up my schedule so that I could spend most of my afternoons either at Aqueduct or Belmont.”

In the early 1980s, Santulli met the famous gambler Jules Fink – the leader of the successful “Speed Boys” syndicate and a client of trainer Woody Stephens – when Fink came to visit Santulli’s attorney, David Orlinsky. It was a meeting of similar minds and passions, and it eventually led Fink, Santulli, Orlinsky, and George Prussin to establish Jayeff B Stables.

“I loved the guy,” Santulli said of Fink. “That was magic time. He was probably the classiest gentleman I ever met in my life, and brilliant as far as handicapping. We became dear friends and bought our first horse together, named Alchise. It’s amazing how we’d look at a Racing Form, and he’d picture the race and tell you exactly how it was going to be run. He had red pens, green pens, blue pens, and this was before computers. He went to the races every day, and basically what he taught me was betting value. Not that he would throw out a favorite; he might put a favorite in an exacta or a triple.

“If you look at all the great trainers, they’re all great handicappers,” he added. “A lot of the breeders don’t bet, but if people didn’t bet, we wouldn’t breed any horses. It’s all about betting and the people that handicap and bet.”

Fink had died by the time the stable won the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Safely Kept. The stable later campaigned such notables as 1998 champion 3-year-old filly Banshee Breeze (in partnership with Jim Tafel) and co-bred 2001 champion juvenile male Johannesburg. They had commercial success, too. In 2006, the Jayeff B Stables-bred Meydan City sold for $11.7 million.

Lyn Burleson, the man who consigned Meydan City for Jayeff B, also raised and sold Oxbow for Santulli’s Colts Neck Stable. Santulli founded Colts Neck on his own almost a decade ago after buying out his partners in Jayeff B, which now retains only a few horses, Santulli said.

The Colts Neck breeding program now produces about 35 to 40 foals a year, and Santulli said he expects to keep about half of those to race himself.

“I’d like to have about 25 2-year-olds every year, and now I’ll keep some colts,” said Santulli, who has about 40 horses in training with Goldberg. “I won’t sell anything out of Tizamazing anymore. I’ll keep everything to race. I have Oxbow’s 2-year-old brother, a Speightstown yearling filly, and I have an Unbridled’s Song weanling colt, and I’ll keep them.”

Santulli said he’s keeping some colts now in hopes of making it to “the big dance” – the Triple Crown races – as an owner next time around.

“I was rooting for Orb,” Santulli said of this year’s Preakness. “I know Dinny [Phipps] and Stuart [Janney] very well, and it’s always great for the business to have a potential Triple Crown winner. I thought the horse could be a Triple Crown winner. I thought Oxbow ran a huge race in the Derby – he was the only horse that was up near the front early that didn’t finish 15th or worse – so I thought Orb would win the Preakness and that we could get a piece. We got the right piece, I’ll tell you that. Not that I didn’t wish Orb well, but when they hit the top of the stretch I was screaming pretty loud for my colt.”