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For Sulpizios, breeding is where it's at
ARCADIA, Calif. - Few people have taken a more contrarian approach to breaking into horse racing than Rich and Gaby Sulpizio.
Since they acquired a 238-acre farm in Santa Ynez in late 2001, the Sulpizios have not done the following things - gone crazy claiming horses at the track, rocked the yearling sales with a series of big-ticket purchases, or sent agents to foreign countries with an open checkbook.
Unlike most horse owners, who concentrate on racing first, the Sulpizios got into the sport almost solely as breeders. They have launched Magali Farms on property that was formerly occupied by Magness Arabians, for many years the nation's leading breeders of Arabian racehorses.
When the farm became available for sale in late 2001, after most of the 280 horses owned by Magness were sold to a horse owner in Abu Dhabi, the Sulpizios joined the Thoroughbred business.
Since then, they have refurbished the farm, spent more than a half-million dollars on broodmares at public sales, boarded mares for outside clients, and acquired the stallion Lit de Justice, the 1996 champion sprinter.
The Sulpizios have not had any starters at the track - that will happen in coming months - and there are no plans for a big racing stable; they intend mostly to breed Thoroughbreds that can be sold at the commercial market, primarily in California.
So far, the Sulpizios have stuck to the business plan they created in the fall of 2001. What they didn't anticipate was how they would feel about the broodmares and foals.
"The turning point was when we began to fall in love with the broodmares and the babies," Gaby Sulpizio said.
The Sulpizios do not have a racing background. They had never owned horses or didn't frequently attend major races. But they were always interested in horses. After Rich Sulpizio retired as president and chief operating officer of the wireless communications giant Qualcomm, the couple began looking for a new venture to occupy their time.
"The opportunity to buy this farm was presented to us," Gaby Sulpizio said. "We sat down and tried to determine what we wanted. We decided to concentrate on taking care of Thoroughbreds."
The Magali Farm property underwent a transformation after being purchased. The training track, slightly larger than a half-mile, was resurfaced; a landscaping project was launched; and a 22-stall barn for mares and lay-ups was constructed at a cost of $220,000. The Sulpizios have plans to expand.
Tom Hudson, the racing manager for Magness Arabians, joined the Sulpizios as farm manager. Initially, Magali was home to mares owned by outside clients and lay-ups from the racetrack, but in the past year the Sulpizios have bought several broodmares.
Last October, the couple was the leading buyer at the Barretts October mixed sale, purchasing three broodmares for $181,000, including the sale topper, a 10-year-old mare named Day Jewels, for $115,000. At the Barretts January mixed sale, the Sulpizios again topped the buyers' list, acquiring 10 broodmares for $403,500. They paid prices ranging from $14,000 to $110,000.
"We thought, If we're taking good care of other people's mares we can take care of our own," Gaby Sulpizio said. "Then Lit de Justice came into our life and that made us more involved."
Best known for his come-from-behind victory in the 1996 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Woodbine, Lit de Justice began his stallion career in Kentucky. Many of the Sulpizios' mares will be bred to Lit de Justice, Hudson said.
By El Gran Senor, Lit de Justice won 10 of 36 starts and $1,324,234, racing in France and North America. He was at his peak while based in California with trainer Jenine Sahadi, scoring all six of his stakes wins in sprints ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to seven furlongs, and always scoring with a nerve-racking late rally.
"I was glad I wasn't his owner," Gaby Sulpizio said. "We show people the videos and they go, 'Where is he?' We tell them, 'He's not in the picture yet.' "
This is Lit de Justice's first year at stud in California. His fee is $7,500.
"He will have about 40 to 50 mares," Hudson said.
In addition, Magali Farms stands Until Sundown, a Grade 3 winner, who entered stud this year as property of Sidney Port.
"He's getting a lot of interest now," Hudson said. "I believe he'll do quite well."
Most of the horses on the farm are held by outside clients - broodmares and foals, or lay-ups from the racetrack. Hudson said that trainers Simon Bray, Wally Dollase, Paddy Gallagher, Nick Hines, and Doug O'Neill have sent horses to Magali for a rest. Bray and O'Neill have 3-year-olds owned by the Sulpizios who will race in coming months.
Gaby Sulpizio insists the couple will not have a large racing stable.
"If we get lucky with a horse, then so be it," she said. "The racehorses are not where our business is. The farm is where our business is. The racing is a little dessert."
The couple has approximately 15 broodmares, and they plan to buy more. Many of the foals produced by their broodmares will be sold at auction as yearlings. Of course, Hudson and Gaby Sulpizio admit, some of them may not be sold and could go to the racetrack. Hudson foresees racing a maximum of 10 or 15 horses.
"We'll be commercial and sell yearlings," Hudson said. "There will be some that you in fall in love and you will race."
This year, the Sulpizios have foals by Event of the Year, General Meeting, and Malek, to name a few. As of earlier this week, the farm had had eight foals this year, all fillies.
In coming months, the Sulpizios intend to spend half their time at the farm and half in the San Diego area, where they have a home. They have three adult daughters, two of whom are involved with the farm.
Their youngest daughter, Teri, 23, developed the farm's computer system and website. Their second daughter, Trisha, 25, has designed print advertising for the farm. Oldest daughter Lorri, 27, coaches basketball at Mesa Community College in the San Diego area.
Recently, the Sulpizios have not been able to devote as much time to the farm as they would like, Gaby said. In the last year, Rich, 52, has been working with Qualcomm as a consultant, concentrating on business deals in China. That arrangement is coming to a close, Gaby said.
"He's dying to come home so we can spend more time at the farm," she said earlier this week.
The Sulpizios have learned many aspects of the sport in the last year, and are putting the lessons into practice immediately.
"This was totally new to the two of us," she said. "For him it's very much a venture business but with a lot of fun in it.
"The more we learned, the more involved we've come. Just to go to a couple of sales and get a little bit of knowledge of what makes a good broodmare or not a good broodmare. How best to treat the lay-ups and the training horses. As far as knowledge, we are complete neophytes.
"My husband is very cautious. I think we basically got into this business to have something very exciting for us. I've always loved horses and he's always loved business."