04/28/2010 11:00PM

Trend is keeping it all back home

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - WinStar Farm bred the 2003 Kentucky Derby winner, Funny Cide, and this year it's hoping to hit the winner's circle again, this time as breeder and owner.

Even after scratching Rule and Endorsement this week, WinStar still has two Derby starters in the gate. Both American Lion and Super Saver are homebreds.

Keeping control of horses it bred through the breaking process and early racing has had benefits, WinStar's president, Doug Cauthen, said.

"We breed to good horses," said Cauthen. "We have a good broodmare band, and from the matings and birth all the way through their careers they're managed the best possible way we possibly can, and we let them be horses. But no doubt it was a special year to have this many."

WinStar's original Derby lineup showed the breadth of the Versailles, Ky., farm's breeding and buying program. Rule, Super Saver, and American Lion are homebreds, while Endorsement was a $450,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase. All are by WinStar sires except for Super Saver, a son of the late Pin Oak stallion Maria's Mon. WinStar purchased Super Saver's dam, Supercharger, for $160,000 while she was carrying the Derby contender. They bought her to breed to Distorted Humor, but "Super Saver was the icing on the cake," Cauthen said.

Supercharger also had a WinStar connection as the full sister to Bluegrass Cat's dam, She's a Winner.

The WinStar team - including Cauthen, co-owners Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, and racing manager Elliott Walden - always liked Super Saver. Figuring he would bring about $75,000 as a yearling, they opted to keep him and gamble on his potential. In American Lion's case, "He was a big, strong colt who was a little late-maturing," Cauthen recalled. "He'd probably have sold well at that time. We hadn't kept all that many Tiznows. Colonel John was out there but hadn't really peaked. American Lion probably would have brought several hundred thousand, but he wasn't going to be a home run, so we kept him as well, thank God!"

Cauthen believes both American Lion and Super Saver have "good, live shots" in the Derby.

"I am definitely rooting for both," Cauthen said. "I think they're both going to handle the dirt really well, but we know Super Saver likes Churchill, and he's got the Calvin factor," - a nod to jockey Calvin Borel, who has ridden two of the last three Derby winners - "so he might have a little home-field advantage."

Market health a key

WinStar isn't the only breeder campaigning a homebred in the Derby this year. On Wednesday, there were five homebreds remaining in the field: American Lion, Super Saver, Dean's Kitten, Discreetly Mine, and Sidney's Candy.

A sixth runner, Jackson Bend, owned by Robert LaPenta and Fred Brei, partly qualifies, too. Brei, now the colt's minority owner, bred the colt at his Jacks or Better Farm in Florida. Brei also bred and raced Jackson's Bend's sire, Hear No Evil.

WinStar's Cauthen shed some potential light on the number of homebreds in this year's Derby. As Thoroughbred yearling prices fell in 2008 and 2009, many commercial breeders like WinStar found themselves holding on to their stock longer.

"We still sell a lot of horses, but as the market has evolved, if we can sell a horse really well, we go to the sale," Cauthen explained. "If they're not going to be a triple or a home run, we can develop them. They're all for sale, but the market for racehorses has remained strong. We felt like the yearling market took more of a hit than the racehorse market, so we shifted a little bit and said, 'If we can't get paid retail for them early in their career, maybe we can get retail-plus later.' "

Looking beyond appearances

Another breeder with two horses in the running is Gulf Coast Farms, a partnership headed by Jerry Bailey and Lance Robinson that bred favored Lookin At Lucky and Conveyance. The colts are by Smart Strike and Indian Charlie, respectively.

Bailey said the matings that produced both Derby candidates came about by matching proven sires with relatively young mares. The matches paid off well in the auction ring: Gulf Coast sold Lookin At Lucky for $475,000 as a Keeneland April juvenile, and it got $240,000 for Conveyance as a September yearling. But Lookin At Lucky wasn't immediately popular.

"Lookin At Lucky, as a yearling, was completely shunned by everyone, and probably justifiably so," Bailey said. "He wasn't the most attractive yearling. A lot of times Smart Strikes aren't the most attractive yearlings, but they sure run."

Lookin At Lucky also had some slight stifle problems that, though successfully operated on, turned many bidders off.

"I think sometimes people are looking for a reason not to buy a horse, rather than a reason to buy a horse," Bailey said. "Those same things were there as a 2-year-old. However, he sold himself the way he got across the racetrack. He's a two-turn horse, and he went so easily it looked like he was going slow. When I looked at the Teletimer, I was amazed."

Lookin At Lucky breezed an eighth in 10 seconds, sealing the deal for winning bidder Mike Pegram.

Unusually dependable stock

Kurt and Kim Butenhoff have only six broodmares, and 30 percent of their band is related to Florida Derby winner Ice Box.

The Butenhoffs own 300-acre Denlea Park in Hillsdale, N.Y., and Ice Box's dam, Spice Island, was one of their first Thoroughbreds. They claimed that Tabasco Cat mare for $40,000 back in 2002 and went on to win the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap with her. She retired in 2004 with 7 wins from 28 starts and $487,376, and the Butenhoffs thought so much of her they bought her dam, Crown of Sheba, too.

"This is a family I had a lot of confidence in and felt strongly about," Kurt Butenhoff said.

"The durability and the stamina in this family isn't easy to find in the American breeding stock. I felt that his family could produce the types of horses that could have the stamina to be successful in the classic-style races."

Spice Island won from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles, and Butenhoff thought that made her a good match for Pulpit, whose progeny excel at distances around a mile.

"The A. P. Indy line also has proven a great cross with the Storm Cat line," he said.

The Butenhoffs sold Ice Box at Keeneland's 2008 September yearling sale as part of their general plan to sell colts and keep fillies. Robert LaPenta, also the majority partner in Jackson Bend, paid $125,000 for Ice Box.

LaPenta has invited the Butenhoffs and their children to walk over with the colt on Derby day, a big thrill for these relatively new breeders whose Derby path started with a $40,000 claimer.

"We were looking to claim fillies with great pedigrees that maybe could be improved with a surface or distance or management change," Butenhoff said of Spice Island. "And we got lucky."