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When Brothers talks, buyers listen
As Big Brown rose to glory last spring, Paul Pompa Jr. was the story behind the story. Pompa had sold majority interest to the IEAH Stables while retaining a quarter-share in the colt.
But as the man who initially recommended that Pompa buy an unraced 2-year-old who eventually was named Big Brown, Jack Brothers is the story behind the story behind the story.
Brothers is a partner in Hidden Brook Farm, a multi-faceted equine operation now in its fifth year. Brothers will be prominent throughout the 15-day Keeneland September yearlings sale because Hidden Brook will have one of the largest consignments on the grounds - some 240 yearlings, including about 200 for the largest seller, the Adena Springs Farm of Frank Stronach.
Brothers and his Hidden Brook partners encouraged Pompa to go to $190,000 for the winning bid on Big Brown at the Keeneland 2-year-old in training sales in April 2007. It was the only purchase that Pompa made during the sale.
Pompa ultimately sold a 75-percent interest in Big Brown for a reported $3.5 million to IEAH after the colt won his career debut in spectacular fashion last September at Saratoga. Big Brown was undefeated when he won the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness before he failed to complete a Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes.
"Naturally, Big Brown is a source of a lot of pride for all of us," Brothers said. "Paul has been very generous with us. We attended all three races as his guest, and it was very exciting. Paul made us feel like we were a big part of everything that happened."
Since 2003, Pompa has relied on the advice of Brothers and Hidden Brook for his major transactions in the horse business. Besides Brothers, the other partners in Hidden Brook, which is headquartered on 600 acres in Paris, Ky., in close proximity to Claiborne and Stone farms, are Dan Hall, Sergio de Sousa, Mark Roberts, and Danny Vella.
"Jack has been very honest and professional with me," said Pompa, who built his fortune in the trucking business in Brooklyn. "He and his crew have always thought of me as the customer first and what's best for my program, instead of themselves."
After Big Brown, the next coup that Brothers engineered with Pompa was the pinhooking of Desert Party. Bought as a yearling last year for $425,000, the colt was sold in February at the Fasig-Tipton Calder sale for $2.1 million to Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum. Desert Party opened his career this summer with two easy wins, including the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga on July 24.
Pompa, who employs New York-based Pat Reynolds as his primary trainer, said: "We also have some really nice 2-year-olds right now that we expect good things from. With Jack, we've sold well and bought well, and we've folded some nice horses into our racing operation."
Brothers, 50, grew up in Elmont, N.Y., not much more than a stone's throw from Belmont Park, where his interest in racing was whetted in his early teens. "Initially I was drawn by the gambling aspect and the sport of it," he said. "If I had to credit one horse that really got me into the game, it was Forego. I saw Secretariat run at Belmont [in 1973], and I still have the program from the Ruffian-Foolish Pleasure match race [in 1975]. But the one horse that really got me was Forego. I followed him very closely."
At age 16, Brothers went to work for legendary trainer Woody Stephens on the Belmont backstretch. "I walked hots and was pretty much a swingman," he recalled. "I didn't travel south with the stable in the winter, but I was with Woody off and on for seven years. I learned a lot about the game during those years."
By the early 1980s, after attending Farmingdale State College on Long Island, Brothers said he was "flipping a lot of horses," buying and selling cheaper horses to help make ends meet. In 1983, trainers Frank Martin, P.G. Johnson, and Johnny Campo put together a Thoroughbred auction at Yonkers Raceway and asked Brothers to help run it. "That basically got me going in the business," Brothers said. "That lasted for three or four years, and in the meantime my bloodstock agency was growing."
In the early 1990s, Brothers began doing business with Stronach, and by 1992, he said, "Frank suggested a more formal arrangement."
Stronach hired him on a full-time basis, and when the Stronach stars Touch Gold, Awesome Again, and Wild Rush all came to stud in the late 1990s, Brothers said, "That's when things really took flight."
Brothers, who started Hidden Brook in 2003, continues to be closely affiliated with Adena Springs as a consultant.
During his early tenure with Stephens, Brothers befriended Phil Gleaves, a longtime Stephens assistant before leaving for a successful solo training career in the mid-1980s. Gleaves was close friends with Pat Byrne, who at the time was an exercise rider before training such greats as the 1997 Horse of the Year, Favorite Trick, as well as Awesome Again, Touch Gold, and Wild Rush during a brief tenure with Stronach.
"Jack is low-key and behind the scenes, never wanting to take the credit," Byrne said. "He's been around a long time, so he's seen a lot. He's not flagrant, in-your-face, like some bloodstock agents can be. He's just there to get the job done right."
Brothers, who is married with three children, travels extensively from his home in Breezy Point, N.Y., while the rest of the Hidden Brook principals are based in Kentucky, Florida, and Ontario. Brothers's oldest son, Chris, is the bloodstock and sales director in Kentucky.
Hidden Point essentially is "a nursery, with a strong emphasis on consigning," Brothers said. At the September sales, Hidden Point will be going full-tilt.
"We network very well, know who all the pinhookers are," he said. "Among the partners, we all have our own little network of clients, and we all have a good idea of what they're looking for. I'd like to think we have built enough credibility that if we take somebody by the arm and say, 'Make sure you take a good look at this one,' they'll listen. We're not shy about touting somebody on a horse."