01/13/2011 1:33PM

Valerio's got an eye for talent


LEXINGTON, Ky. − The Factor’s recent record-setting maiden win at Santa Anita opened a lot of eyes, but not Kim Valerio’s.

Valerio, 42, thought the War Front colt could be special much earlier, back when he was a yearling in search of a buyer. Valerio spotted him at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s July select yearling sale in 2009. When he failed to reach his reserve price in the auction ring, she bought him privately for $40,000.

Ten months later, Valerio and partner Michael Shustek topped the Barretts May 2-year-old sale with him when he sold for $250,000 to George Bolton; Bolton campaigns him in partnership with Fog City Stables. It marked the second time in just over a year that Valerio and Shustek had pinhooked a relatively inexpensive yearling into a juvenile auction star. In 2009, at the Barretts March select auction, she sold the Tapit filly Anchorage for $540,000, the auction’s highest price for a filly. Like The Factor, Anchorage previously had been a buyback at the Fasig-Tipton July select yearling sale, where Valerio bought her for $65,000. Coolmore Stud’s Demi O’Byrne bought Anchorage, now a winner with two stakes-placings.

FEATURE: New heart gives trainer Kathy Ritvo another shot at life

DRF WEEKEND: Handicapping roundupsQ&A with Eclipse Awards host Kenny Rice

Valerio said that in both cases Shustek, CEO of Las Vegas-based real estate lender and asset manager Vestin Group, bought the yearlings and gave her a significant percentage in them by way of commission.

Valerio isn’t yet a marquee name on the sale circuit, but she might be soon.

“I think a lot of people see her and know her, but they don’t know her name,” said Bob Baffert, The Factor’s trainer. “I always used to run into her at the sales, and we always seemed to land on the same horses. All of a sudden she started buying horses for people I knew, and she was doing a really good job.

“She knows her pedigrees really well, she knows what a good horse looks like, and she’s really good at finding talent,” he said.

Valerio grew up in the hunter-jumper show world around Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where she met Eutrophia Farm owner Elisabeth Alexander, for whom she later purchased Magna Graduate. Shustek and Alexander co-own another horse selected by Valerio, Wegner, who recently won a Jan. 8 maiden race by 3 1/4 lengths. A 3-year-old Dynaformer colt, Wegner cost $130,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale.

“I was a groom my whole life,” Valerio said. “I showed a little bit, but I was better at preparing them, so I would take care of the big jumpers for girls that would come and show over weekends or take care of horses for girls while they were at school.”

Later, Valerio worked for the Farish family, owners of Lane’s End Farm, and gave riding lessons to Bill Farish’s children.

“I used that as an opportunity to learn even more about racing,” she said. “Throughout my life in showjumping, most of my clients also had racehorses in their family. They were horse lovers.”

Her big break in pinhooking came when she teamed with Shustek.

“That man is awesome,” Valerio said. “He trusts my judgment and supports me mentally by believing in me. I’ve had great luck with him because of that. He usually lets me buy two or three, and all my intentions when I buy yearlings are to race them. But if I look at one and think it’s going to be precocious and fast, we usually put those in the sales.”

Valerio typically buys two or three yearlings each season with Shustek and a couple for Alexander. In 2010, her client list expanded.

“I got a great opportunity with Tony Dutrow, who let me pick out about eight,” she said.
One that Valerio and Shustek won’t be selling is a $20,000 North Light-Calico Flower colt.

“We’re going to run that one,” she said. “He’s from the family of Life Is Sweet.”

Plans call for the colt, an Ontario-bred, to head for Roger Attfield’s barn. For the moment, though, The Factor is their big hope.

“He reminds me of Magna Graduate,” Valerio said. “He has the same shape to him, which would make sense, because they’re both from the Danzig line. He has really good bone, and, like Magna Graduate, he’s got the same balance and size. And he’s an awesome animal, mentally.

“I don’t want sprinters,” she said. “I want to buy horses that can go two turns, and I feel the horse is bred to do it. That’s why I bought him. They’re all bought for Mr. Shustek with the intention of trying to get to the Derby.”

Valerio’s equestrian ties helped get her started in racing, and she said she is hopeful they can provide new fans and potential new investors for racing. These days, she is in South Florida, splitting her time between Gulfstream Park in the mornings and the show-horse community’s winter colony in nearby Wellington, Fla. She and others involved in Thoroughbred racing and sales, including Bluewater Sales owner Meg Levy and veterinarian Dr. Steven Allday’s LubriSyn and Re-Borne equine supplement companies, are planning to bring about 100 people from Wellington to Gulfstream Park on Jan. 17.

“They’re going to come to the races on a big bus and have fun for the day,” Valerio said. “These horses are bred to run, just like their horses are bred to jump. I know these people love horses as much as I do, but they never get to come racing because they’re too busy.”
Valerio looks likely to keep busy in 2011, too.

“I really want to buy some nice yearlings this year,” she said. “If I can get at least 12 to buy, I’ll feel really good. I’m after a Derby horse, like everybody else.”