06/23/2013 8:00AM

Whitham succeeds on her own terms

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Fort Larned, a homebred for Janis Whitham, won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap by 6 1/4 lengths June 15 to push his career earnings to $4.03 million.

Owning and breeding Thoroughbreds is supposed to be fun. If it wasn’t, Janis Whitham wouldn’t be doing it.

It’s fun to watch a horse you own and bred, out of a homebred mare at that, break his maiden at Churchill Downs on the undercard of the Stephen Foster Handicap, as Lent did for Whitham in the evening’s fourth race.

It’s even more fun to see one of your own homebreds, out of the same dam, win the Grade 1 Stephen Foster four races later. The ease with which jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. guided Fort Larned as the pair raced virtually unchallenged to a 6 1/4-length victory only made it sweeter.

That pair of impressive wins made for a splendid evening under the lights at Churchill Downs. Maybe it was the silks – the scarlet and silver colors that entered the winner’s circle six months ago in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. After Lent’s win, the positive energy in the garment might have carried on later into the night.

“Brian came back, and we were in the winner’s circle with Lent,” Whitham recalled. “I said, ‘Brian, you got your silks all dirty, but we have a new pair,’ and he said, ‘Oh no, I’m going to wash these and wear these [again]. I’ve got to wear winning silks.’ The new ones were still in [trainer Ian Wilkes’s] car, I noticed [the next] morning.”

Superstition aside, the evening was a capstone moment for Whitham’s breeding program, and in particular the broodmare career of the winning Broad Brush mare Arlucea, the most successful daughter of two-time champion older female Bayakoa. Bayakoa is out of an Argentine-bred mare also named Arlucea.

Whitham’s breeding philosophy is simple: She doesn’t have one. Just breed good runners.

Whitham’s broodmare band consists of eight or nine mares at a time, mostly homebreds, whom she boards at Maple Lane Farm in Lexington, Ky. Most of the foals go on to run under her colors.

While a handful of her yearlings do sell at auction, Whitham said the commercial market is of little interest to her breeding strategy. She also is not concerned with breeding to get a specific type, such as a surface or distance specialist.

Instead, Whitham focuses on finding stallions who complement her mares. If it’s a “name brand” sire, great. If it’s a less fashionable stallion, that’s fine, too – as long as the foal runs.

“We don’t need another business, so we’re not going to take those nine mares and breed them to the new, hot studs and try to get the foals to the yearling sales,” she said. “That’s a whole other game. The horse is why we’re doing it. You can tell by our breeding program – ‘Do you like Stroll? Go breed to Stroll.’ ”

The strategy has worked for Whitham, 81, a resident of Leoti, Kan. Other successful runners from her breeding program include Grade 1 winners Affluent and Mea Domina; Grade 2 winners Beautiful Noise and Mud Route; and Grade 3 winners Fiscally Speaking and Summer Symphony. Combined, Whitham-bred runners have earned in excess of $13 million.

Fort Larned represents the third generation of horses to run under the Whitham colors from his family, beginning with Bayakoa, who was purchased privately after a Group 1-winning campaign in her native Argentina.

The Consultant’s Bid mare went on to win 12 Grade 1 races in North America, including consecutive editions of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Santa Margarita Handicap, Spinster Stakes, and Milady Handicap, and the Grade 2 Hawthorne Handicap in 1989 and 1990. The two similar campaigns earned her two championships.

Bayakoa’s broodmare career was short-lived and somewhat unspectacular, with just four foals and one winner from two offspring to race. Her final foal was Arlucea, who won once in seven tries. Bayakoa contracted laminitis two days after the foaling in 1997 and was euthanized, while Arlucea was sent to grow up with a nurse mare.

Arlucea was one of three fillies out of Bayakoa, two of which became producers. The other, Trinity Place, was bred to Triple Crown winner Affirmed and produced multiple Grade 1 winner Affluent. Trinity Place died in 2008 at age 16, leaving Arlucea as the last remaining producer from Bayakoa’s direct progeny.

Arlucea has held up her end of the bargain admirably, producing six winners from as many foals to race. In addition to Fort Larned and Lent, she is the dam of the multiple Grade 1-placed Izarra and the stakes-placed Moonport. She has had three fillies to carry on the female line.

“We don’t have much of a family,” Whitham said. “Bayakoa’s family is down to this mare, and she’s getting some age on her, so we’ll just have to keep some fillies and hope something works.”

When planning the mating that produced Fort Larned, Whitham drew inspiration from Maryland breeder Robert Meyerhoff, the owner and breeder of Broad Brush, who laid out the blueprint on how to make his multiple Grade 1 winner a successful broodmare sire. Arlucea, a daughter of Broad Brush, continues that tradition.

Her search led her to E Dubai, a son of Mr. Prospector who stood the 2007 season at Darley’s Jonabell Farm in Lexington. He now stands at Northview Stallion Station in Peach Bottom, Pa.

“If you look back and do a little research about Mr. Meyerhoff, who had all those Broad Brush mares, there were a lot of runners by that son of Mr. Prospector, Not For Love,” she said. “He made his Broad Brush mares work with Mr. Prospector, so we decided if that works for him, we’ll [breed to] some from the Mr. Prospector line. We bred to Cape Canaveral and then E Dubai. The [direct sons of Mr. Prospector] are getting harder to find now.”

Fort Larned, like most of Arlucea’s foals, was a late bloomer, starting only once in late November of his 2-year-old season and finishing fourth in a seven-furlong maiden special weight race at Churchill won by eventual Preakness winner Shackleford. Fort Larned was good but not great during his sophomore campaign, winning three of nine starts, mostly in allowance company, but then hit his stride as a 4-year-old. It was par for the course, according to Whitham.

“When they’re 2-year-olds, they’re still pretty lackadaisical,” Whitham said about Arlucea’s foals. “I don’t know if it’s because of Broad Brush or whoever, but they’re not really wound up physically to be 2-year-old racehorses, so we don’t make them try to be 2-year-old racehorses. This big guy [Fort Larned], when he was 2, he was probably still dragging his back feet because he was a pretty good-sized colt.

“If they have one thing in common, no matter who they’re out of, it’s slow maturity,” she added. “They’re not early bloomers, and we’re fine with that.”

The only exception to the pattern was Izarra, who twice placed in Grade 1 races as a juvenile. However, she only raced once as a 3-year-old before she was retired.

Arlucea, now 16, produced a Stroll filly in April and is in foal to Street Cry – another sire from the Mr. Prospector line.

While she waits for those foals to pick up the torch from the likes of Fort Larned and Lent, Whitham is having plenty of fun with the runners she has on the track now. Her friends and neighbors in Leoti are enjoying the ride as well.

“I won’t go anywhere, from the filling station to the post office, where somebody won’t say something about Fort Larned,” she said. “He’s a hometown horse.”