Bob Brady of Kentuckiana Farm, Art Zubrod of Brittany Farms, Steve Jones of Cameo Hills and Senena Esty of Spring Haven Farm foresee good things ahead for a deep group of talented yearlings.
by Melissa Keith
It’s time to shine for the colts and fillies of the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. Ready for their moments at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion tonight through Friday (with a mixed sale session on Saturday), the blue-blooded youngsters are the class of 2020. Pandemic or not, their breeders and consignors foresee good things ahead for a group highlighted by the first crops of Walner and Huntsville.
Bob Brady, manager of Kentuckiana Farm, sent the sport’s first-ever million-dollar yearling through this very sales ring in 2019. Brady said that it’s difficult to single out a few must-see horses from the 97 (after two outs) consigned by Kentuckiana this time around: “We have a very good consignment, from top to bottom. As outstanding as last year’s crop was, this year’s probably has more depth to it,” Brady said.
He’s also very aware that all eyes are on a perfectly-named day one trotting colt, hip #64. “Obviously, I’m very high on the half-brother to Greenshoe,” Brady said. “Bonanza’s a super colt: very athletic, got a great head. He’s what everyone is looking for at a yearling sale. He’s got size and conformation, a ton of pedigree, so we’re very happy to have him in our consignment. He’s just exceptional.”
Bonanza is the Muscle Hill half-brother to Maverick, who topped the 2019 sale with a record-breaking $1.1 million final bid from Brad Grant and partners. All three sons of Designed To Be were bred by the Al Libfeld and Marvin Katz Partnership — Canada’s 2019 Armstrong Brothers Breeder of the Year — and sold by Kentuckiana as agent.
” We have several more Muscle Hills, but I’m also excited about the first crop of Walners,” said Brady. “As a group, they’re very nice. They have a lot of size, leg, conformation, and they’re really very easy horses to work with.” Asked to single out another highly-anticipated yearling, the farm manager noted hip #37 Knights Guard, a Katz/Libfeld colt by Muscle Hill out of Stubborn Belle. The full brother to Ms Savannah Belle (2,1:52.4; $239,618) is a “very, very powerful colt with a tremendous amount of quick speed,” said Brady. “He can shift gears whenever he wants to and just seems to keep going faster, when I turn him out. He has exceptional speed.” He’s also the full brother to Really Fast, who brought $700,000 at last year’s Lexington sale.
On the pacing side, Brady said colts #93 Outwit Outrun (Captaintreacherous—Deception) and #108 Colby Jack (Always B Miki—Katie Said) were attracting attention. But a trend was clear: “Right now, what’s hot is the top-end trotters, both the colts and the fillies. They’re all getting lots of looks. Not just one horse; it’s the real high-end trotters that are getting the most attention.”
Brittany focusing on quality, not quantity
Art Zubrod, general manager of Brittany Farms LLC, said that with just 20 yearlings consigned this year, buyers can look at them all. “It’s the smallest that we’ve sold since the mid-’80s, something like that. We’ve been in reduction mode,” Zubrod said, adding that this gradual downsizing long predated COVID-19.
Quantity is offset by quality.
“I’ve got quite a few really nice trotting yearlings this year,” he said. “If I had to pick one, it would be hip #47, Local Honey, by Chapter Seven out of Honey Honey — just a spectacular colt. I’ve got three Walner trotting colts and they’re all very, very nice; a couple of Muscle Hills; a Father Patrick; I’ve got a very loaded consignment this year.”
Hip #3 Captain Cook (Captaintreacherous—Fresh Look) leads the Brittany pacers. “He probably improved more than any other yearling that we consigned, from the time we brought him in, in late July, until now. He’s improved every day, basically, maturing,” said Zubrod, also noting a filly by the same sire. “Hip #303, Queen of Success, out of Cashaway. That mare has got several ‘Captains’, but this is the first one that’s acted like they want to be a real racehorse. She’s very impressive in the paddock.”
Jones excited about Huntsville
Steve Jones owns and operates Cameo Hills Farm, which consigned 32 colts and fillies to the Lexington sale. “We’re excited to sell the first crop of Huntsville, because we stand the horse, so we’re sort of partial to him and I’ve got several nice Huntsvilles to sell,” Jones told HRU. “Specifically, fillies out of Big Mcdeal [Hip #288 Max Contract] and Divine Caroline [Hip #86 Just Divine], and a colt out of Happy Hannah [Hip # 239 Pop the Cork].”
Cameo Hills is sending out a trotting yearling who is already turning heads: “We’re selling the first colt from Check Me Out [3,1:51.2; $1,903,795), a Walner colt,” said Jones, calling hip #59 King of the North “an outstanding individual” bred by Ray Schnittker. “He’s very correct and racy-looking. He’s one of the best horses that we videoed this year, if not the best.” Another royally-bred trotting colt, hip #95 Klau (Muscle Hill—Bonnie Lou), is out of the sale, due to injury. “I waited until the day our truck was leaving to make a decision on him,” said Jones. “He’s not a hundred per cent sound yet, but he’s the first foal out of a nice mare, so hopefully down the road I can figure out something, sell him privately, maybe.”
Senena Esty brimming with enthusiasm
Spring Haven Farm owner Senena Esty is brimming with enthusiasm for both her own yearlings and those of other breeders for whom she is agent. There are 52 colts and fillies consigned by Spring Haven, which is based in Ohio. When asked about the roster of the ones Spring Haven bred, Esty singled out the first foal of Yankee Glide mare Mounds: “I am so in love with the #121 colt, Seven Mounds. He’s a Chapter Seven, and he’s probably one of the nicest trotters that I’ve ever raised, very comparable to another colt we raised, Fourth Dimension.” She said the farm’s hilly terrain helped develop the powerful hindquarters of her beautifully-made “pick of the litter.”
Among pacers, hip #9 stands out. “I really am high on our Captaintreacherous colt Poetic Captain,” said Esty, who is selling the son of Western Ideal mare Poetic Lady for breeder Doug Millard of Woodstock, ON. “I think he’s just conformationally-perfect… We sold Somebeachsomewhere for my sister back when he was a yearling, so we can see a lot of resemblance as far as the character of this Captain colt. He’s really laid back, but he looks very racy.”
The Spring Haven consignment represents the work of multiple breeders, some of whom like to attend the sale and show their own yearlings. “We have a pretty tight group of Ohio folks we sell for and with, so it makes for a lot of fun too. We’re all friends. They all come together under our umbrella, and we feel so fortunate for that,” said Esty, who is also grateful for the Ontario connections she represents at Lexington, including Millard and Stonebridge Farm.
There is a sense of cautious optimism among the four consignors, each of whom mentioned that the 2020 sale is in the historic shadow of last year’s epic event, which featured not only million-dollar-milestone-shattering Maverick, but also the sport’s second seven-figure yearling, Damien. Esty looked at the recent Ohio sale as a bellwether for 2020: “It was one of the earlier sales, and we all said a lot of prayers about how it might turn out. It was a really good sale; I believe it was up 17 per cent from the previous year. So I’m optimistic, and I think that with these tools that you mentioned, the online bidding, it will be as good as in years past. Maybe not as good as last year, that is tough to beat, but I think it’s going to be a strong sale.”
New York-based Jones shared that perspective. “We just came from the sale at Goshen that was a regional sale, but that was well-attended and the average of the sale was the exact same as it was last year,” he said. “This is a different dynamic down here. There’s a lot of horses in the book, so I would think the tail end of the sale would be affected, maybe some other parts as well. But I think if you’ve got well-bred fillies in particular, with a lot of pedigree, I don’t think there’s going to be any problem at all there. People are probably coming down here hoping they can steal them, but I think that is unlikely to happen.” He’s confident that virtual participation will lead to “more people who are comfortable buying a horse from their living room.”
Brittany’s Zubrod said he will assess the value of the sale’s new virtual aspect after the final horse has left the ring. He expects a decline from the sky-high prices of 2019, in part because of international travel difficulties during the pandemic. “We’re definitely going to see an effect, but I’m confident going in that we’re going to be okay.” Live bidding from outside the USA serves a purpose, but he added that “there’s something to be said for being at the sale and seeing the horse. The owners — the potential owners, the bidders — fall in love with one. I don’t think you can fall in love with one over the Internet.”
Kentuckiana’s Brady said that interest in buying young standardbreds had held up this year, despite COVID-19 concerns: “I think that we’re making the best of the situation that we’re given. There’s a lot of buyers here, a lot of horses. We started in the middle of the summer, showing horses from August on, and people came to the farm. We had lots of visitors.”
A growing comfort with online shopping has been an unintended side-effect of coronavirus restrictions on travel and public gatherings. Brady said the Lexington sale will likely reap the benefit of technological improvements that have paved the way for virtual transactions, allowing a safe and profitable experience for consignors and buyers alike. “I think the market’s going to be fine,” he said. “We’ve shown a lot of horses, a lot of people are looking at them, and they aren’t looking for bargains, they’re looking to buy horses, and they want to buy something good. I think the top end is going to be really strong, and I think that just tends to filter down. You know, things have been picking up in the economy, and I think people realize that you have to buy this year to race next year, so I think we’re going to be okay.”