06/09/2013 8:45AM

Twenty years of classic winners: homebreds vs. sale horses

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David Alcosser/NYRA
Rags to Riches, a $1.9 million yearling, narrowly edges Curlin, a $57,000 yearling, in the 2007 Belmont Stakes.

When Orb won the Kentucky Derby on May 4, it marked the seventh time in the past 10 years that a homebred has worn the garland of roses. Orb’s victory proved to be a popular one with racing fans, but even more so with those who have followed the sport for a long time and have an appreciation of its history, as it cast the spotlight on the breeding operations of Orb’s owners and breeders, the Janney and Phipps families, and highlighted the role played by Claiborne Farm, where the colt was foaled and raised.

Oxbow’s upset win in the Preakness two weeks later revived another venerated name, as Calumet Farm, the operation behind some of the mid-20th century’s most accomplished racehorses, returned to classic glory. Oxbow’s journey to Calumet, however, came via the contemporary Thoroughbred marketplace, as the colt was purchased for $250,000 by reclusive billionaire Brad Kelley at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale in the name of his Bluegrass Hall. Kelley subsequently would acquire the historic Calumet property in the spring of 2012 and assemble a stallion roster. Thanks in no small part to Oxbow, Kelley is on his way to returning the Calumet name to among the sport’s elite.

Looking back at classic winners over the past 20 years gives a good indication of the shifting nature of Thoroughbred ownership during the late 20th century and into the 21st. The explosion of the commercial bloodstock market during the 1970s and 1980s lessened the stranglehold many of the sport’s most storied families and stud farms had on the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes for most of the century, and by the mid-1990s, an egalitarian trend had surfaced, giving “little guy” operations (such as Funny Cide’s owner, Sackatoga Stable) a chance to chase their dreams at sales in hopes of discovering and purchasing the next classic winner.

Still, as the 20-year survey shows, homebreds remain a force in classic races, albeit as a minority. Somewhat surprisingly, it is the Belmont Stakes that had the fewest homebred winners from 1993 to 2012 – 25 percent, compared with 35 percent of Preakness winners and 40 percent of Derby winners from 1994 to the present. Among the Triple Crown races, the 1 1/2-mile Belmont traditionally was the race most valued by breeders as the best indicator of a horse’s potential success at stud. Over time, however, the rise of the commercial market, with its emphasis on speed, has de-emphasized stamina, helping to make the Preakness and Derby more admired by breeders.

That said, the Belmont easily outpaces both the Derby and Preakness over the past two decades when it comes to the sale prices of its winning horses, notably at the important yearling sales. Twelve of the Belmont’s 20 winners from 1993 to 2012 sold for $100,000 or more as yearlings (including the $1.9 million filly and 2007 winner Rags to Riches), compared with only two each for the Derby and Preakness (the latter including Oxbow) spanning from 1994 to 2013.

There are caveats: Breeder Phyllis Wyeth sold eventual 2012 Belmont winner Union Rags for $145,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale in 2010, only to buy the colt back for $390,000 the following spring at the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of selected 2-year-olds in training. And Animal Kingdom sold for $100,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale, but that transaction took place so members of his breeding syndicate, Team Valor, could divest their ownership of the colt. Racing essentially as a homebred, he would go on to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby.

A few private sales have played major roles in the stories of recent classic winners as well, and, in the cases of 2002 Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem and 2009 Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra, contributed directly to their starts in the classics.

Prince Ahmed bin Salman purchased a 90 percent interest in War Emblem from owner Russell Reineman shortly after the colt won the Illinois Derby at Sportsman’s Park in April 2002. Enamored with War Emblem’s high cruising speed, the prince transferred him to Bob Baffert and then enjoyed two classic wins before a bad start in the Belmont ended his Triple Crown run.

Seven springs later, owner and breeder Dolphus Morrison sold Rachel Alexandra to Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick after the Medaglia d’Oro filly electrified the racing world with a 20 1/4-length romp in the Kentucky Oaks.

Jackson, who along with McCormick paid what was rumored to be a seven-figure sum for Rachel Alexandra, was known for his desire to challenge his best racehorses and to provide fans with memorable experiences – as exemplified by the 2007 3-year-old campaign of his Preakness winner, Belmont runner-up, and Derby third-place finisher Curlin, who would win back-to-back Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008. He pointed Rachel Alexandra to the Preakness, and the filly delivered one of her best performances en route to an undefeated Horse of the Year season.

Notwithstanding the recent uptick of homebred winners in the Kentucky Derby, the past 20 years have given us several classic winners who, based on their sales histories, embody in equine form the classic Horatio Alger myth of up-from-obscurity success. Funny Cide’s rise from a $22,000 yearling who was then bought privately and campaigned by a group of former schoolboy chums may be the most resonant tale, but there are plenty of others.

The 1998 Triple Crown series in particular stands out. That spring, fans watched $17,000 Keeneland yearling Real Quiet win the Derby and Preakness for Mike Pegram, only to be denied at the Belmont wire by another bargain purchase in Victory Gallop, who sold as a yearling at Keeneland to Dr. E.G. and Susie Hart for $25,000 before changing hands privately and earning classic glory for Prestonwood Farm.

*** This article was published before the 2013 Belmont, won by Palace Malice. The colt out of Curlin's first crop was purchased by Colin Brennan from breeder Will Farish's Lane's End for $25,000 as a yearling at the 2011 Keeneland September sale, and then pinhooked by Niall Brennan's operation for $200,000 to Dogwood Stable at the $200,000 at the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale.

Kentucky Derby winners: 20-year history of homebreds vs. auction horses

Year Winner Sale info
2013 Orb Homebred (Stuart S. Janney III & Phipps Stable)
2012 I'll Have Another $35,000, OBS April 2-year-old
    $11,000, Keeneland September yearling
2011 Animal Kingdom Homebred (Team Valor)*
2010 Super Saver Homebred (WinStar Farm)
2009 Mine That Bird $9,500, Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling
2008 Big Brown $190,000, Keeneland April 2-year-old
    $60,000, Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling
2007 Street Sense Homebred (Jim Tafel)
2006 Barbaro Homebred (Roy and Gretchen Jackson)
2005 Giacomo Homebred (Jerry and Ann Moss)
2004 Smarty Jones Homebred (Someday Farm)
2003 Funny Cide $22,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling
2002 War Emblem $20,000 Keeneland September yearling**
2001 Monarchos $170,000 Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus $4,000,000 Keeneland July yearling
1999 Charismatic $200,000 private sale***
1998 Real Quiet $17,000 Keeneland September yearling
1997 Silver Charm $100,000 OBS April 2-year-old
    $16,500 OBS August yearling
1996 Grindstone Homebred (Overbrook Farm)
1995 Thunder Gulch $40,000 Keeneland July yearling
1994 Go for Gin $150,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling
    $32,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November weanling

*In order to allow the Team Valor syndicate partners that owned Animal Kingdom to have the chance to sell their interest in the colt, the horse was entered in the Keeneland September yearling sale, where he was bought for $100,000 by Team Valor President Barry Irwin. 
** War Emblem was bought back via trainer Frank Springer by original owner Russell Reineman as a yearling, and sold privately to Prince Ahmed bin Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp. after his Illinois Derby win and just prior to the Kentucky Derby 
*** Breeders Will Farish, Ben Roach, and Tom Roach sold Charismatic to Bob and Beverly Lewis in spring 1996.

Preakness winners: 20-year history of homebreds vs. auction horses

Year Winner Sale info
2013 Oxbow $250,000 Keeneland September yearling
2012 I'll Have Another $35,000, OBS April 2-year-old;
    $11,000, Keeneland September yearling
2011 Shackleford Homebred (Mike Lauffer & Bill Cubbedge)*
2010 Lookin At Lucky $475,000, Keeneland April 2-year-old
2009 Rachel Alexandra Private sale
2008 Big Brown $190,000, Keeneland April 2-year-old
    $60,000, Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling
2007 Curlin $57,000, Keeneland September yearling
2006 Bernardini Homebred (Darley)
2005 Afleet Alex $75,000, Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2-year-old
2004 Smarty Jones Homebred (Someday Farm)
2003 Funny Cide $22,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling
2002 War Emblem $20,000 Keeneland September yearling**
2001 Point Given Homebred (The Thoroughbed Corporation)
2000 Red Bullet Homebred (Adena Springs)
1999 Charismatic $200,000 private sale***
1998 Real Quiet $17,000 Keeneland September yearling
1997 Silver Charm $100,000 OBS April 2-year-old
    $16,500 OBS August yearling
1996 Louis Quatorze Homebred (Georgia Hoffman, w/William Condren and Joseph Cornacchia)****
1995 Timber Country $500,000 Keeneland July yearling
1994 Tabasco Cat Homebred (David Reynolds and Overbrook Farm)

*Shackleford was offered at the Keeneland September yearling sale but did not meet his reserve on a final bid of $275,000, so his breeders retained him to race. 
** War Emblem was bought back via trainer Frank Springer by original owner Russell Reineman as a yearling, and sold privately to Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp. after his Illinois Derby win and just prior to the Kentucky Derby 
*** Breeders Will Farish, Ben Roach, and Tom Roach sold Charismatic to Bob and Beverly Lewis in spring 1996 
****Louis Quatorze was offered at the Keeneland July yearling sale but did not meet his reserve on a final bid of $225,000, so his breeder, Georgia Hoffman, retained him to race, in partnership with William Condren and Joseph Cornacchia.

Belmont winners: 20-year history of homebreds vs. auction horses

Year Winner Sale info
2012 Union Rags $390,000, Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old; $145,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling*
2011 Ruler On Ice $100,000, Keeneland September yearling
2010 Drosselmeyer $600,000, Keeneland September yearling
2009 Summer Bird Homebred (Dr. K. K. Jayaraman & V. Devi Jayaraman)
2008 Da' Tara $175,000, Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling; $100,000, Keeneland January mixed
2007 Rags to Riches $1,900,000, Keeneland September yearling
2006 Jazil $725,000, Keeneland September yearling
2005 Afleet Alex $75,000, Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2-year-old
2004 Birdstone Homebred (Marylou Whitney Stables)
2003 Empire Maker Homebred (Juddmonte Farms)
2002 Sarava $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old
    $190,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling
2001 Point Given Homebred (The Thoroughbed Corporation)
2000 Commendable $575,000 Keeneland July yearling
1999 Lemon Drop Kid $200,000 Keeneland September yearling
1998 Victory Gallop $25,000 Keeneland September yearling
1997 Touch Gold $375,000 Keeneland July yearling
    $180,000 Keeneland November weanling
1996 Editor's Note $125,000 Keeneland September yearling
1995 Thunder Gulch $40,000 Keeneland July yearling
1994 Tabasco Cat Homebred (David Reynolds and Overbrook Farm)
1993 Colonial Affair $100,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling

*Union Rags was bred by his owner, Phyllis Wyeth, but she sold him as a yearling before buying him back as a 2-year-old.