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The Making of a Champion

January 26, 2018

Champions have special qualities from the beginning. In honor of the remarkable year of racing from each of these Keeneland sales graduates, those involved in the making of these champions reflect on their path to success.

Champion Three-Year-Old Female

ABEL TASMAN

"Abel Tasman was a large, correct filly. She wasn’t really flashy, but had a good mind – she was one of the easy ones that never caused any problems – and her disposition is a quality (trainer Bob Baffert) still notes about her to this day. We didn’t have any idea she would become the racehorse she did. She’s clearly the best of that year’s yearlings.

“We didn’t have any idea she would become the racehorse she did. She’s clearly the best of that year’s yearlings.” - Bernard and Eamonn Cleary

We feel very fortunate and know that luck has a big part to do with it. It’s really great for all the staff because we see the work they put in day in and day out, and they play a big part in raising some of these good horses, so it’s nice to see their effort being rewarded.

We get a thrill anytime any horse we’ve bred wins a race but the excitement is on another level when you have horses like that competing in some of the biggest races in the country.  

We’re only a small part in the success of these horses, so a lot of credit has to go to their other connections: owner, trainer, jockey, etc. We’re also lucky that we’ve got a great team of people working with us, as any organization is only as good as its employees." – Brothers Bernard and Eamonn Cleary, owners of breeder Clearsky Farms. Clearsky co-owns Abel Tasman with China Horse Club.

Teo Ah Khing, Abel Tasman co-owner
Abel Tasman

"2017 has been a year of immeasurable joy with Abel Tasman. The China Horse Club is very fortunate to have the privilege of racing her and of sharing her story with the people of China. Bernard and Eamonn Cleary bred Abel Tasman with their father, Eamon senior, at Clearsky Farms and the chance to race Abel Tasman with them has been truly memorable. They are exceptional partners and world-class breeders.

And in Bob Baffert and his team and in Mike Smith, Abel Tasman has a peerless team guiding her career, it has all of us at the China Horse Club and so many racing fans across China eagerly anticipating 2018. The Eclipse Awards recognize excellence and to have Abel Tasman shortlisted for this year’s awards is very rewarding in itself. She is a great filly and all involved with her are so proud of her and delighted that she has been recognized in this manner against such quality peers." – Teo Ah Khing, Chairman of co-owner China Horse Club

 

Champion Two-Year-Old Female

CALEDONIA ROAD

"Caledonia Road was a pretty yearling and like the Quality Roads, very leggy and scopey. You never know that (sales yearlings) will be that good, but she certainly has turned into a great filly." – Reiley McDonald, whose Eaton Sales, agent, consigned Caledonia Road to the 2016 September Sale

Caledonia Road wins the Breeders' Cup
Caledonia Road

"She was a big leggy, rangy filly who moved well and showed herself well. She covered a lot of ground and looked like she had quality. She had a lot of presence. When she got to Saratoga (the next summer) she started getting better every week.

At the September Sale, I look for athletes that fit our budget. We get outbid on some. Just because you like them doesn’t mean you can always get them. With her we were fortunate that she was within our budget.

“At the September Sale, I look for athletes that fit our budget. With her we were fortunate that she was within our budget.” - Trainer Ralph Nicks

It’s special to win a Breeders’ Cup race and have an Eclipse Award on my own as a trainer. When I first left my longtime position as an assistant to Bill Mott, I thought maybe it could happen but after 13 years, I sort of resigned myself to the fact that maybe it would not.

She trained really well leading up to the Breeders’ Cup so we decided to go. I didn’t really expect to win, but I knew she would make a good showing. I have worked with many Eclipse Award winners (including Cigar) but this is extra special." – Trainer Ralph Nicks, who purchased Caledonia Road for $140,000 at the September Sale

 

Champion Two-Year-Old Male

GOOD MAGIC

"Good Magic has always been first class and one of those rare horses that was gorgeous as a foal, weanling, yearling and 2-year-old. A very intelligent horse, he never shied away from anything we introduced him to.

Good Magic wins the Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Good Magic

He’s an exceptional mover, plus he looks a lot like his sire (Curlin). Despite being extremely busy at the September Sale, he showed as well at the end of each day as he did at the beginning – I think this attitude helped him top Book 2 and it helped him travel to California, gallop a couple times at Del Mar and then win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). He’s a horse who doesn’t need everything to go in his favor to win.

His grandam was one of the first mares (my husband) Jess (Jackson) bought when he started the farm and we raced his stakes-winning dam, Glinda the Good. As a commercial breeder, we are keenly focused on developing a broodmare band that produces yearlings that can perform. As someone who races, it is special that we were able to retain an interest with e5 and enjoy the ride." – Barbara Banke, whose Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings bred Good Magic and became a partner in the colt after he sold at the 2016 September Sale

"It’s always very rewarding to sell one good horse. You always dream that they can compete at the highest level. So to sell the first- and second-place finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile both at the same September sale is extremely rewarding. The fact that they’re by Curlin makes it even better.

All credit to Curlin and the Stonestreet program. They gave us a very good horse to sell. Chad Brown did a great job training the horse – peak performance on the most important day in racing. It all came together very well." – John G. Sikura, whose Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency sold Good Magic at the September Sale

“It’s particularly rewarding when you buy a top horse for clients, because that’s what your business is based on: success. When you buy a good horse, it’s a terrific feeling.” - Bloodstock agent Mike Ryan

"It’s particularly rewarding when you buy a top horse for clients, because that’s what your business is based on: success. When you buy a good horse, it’s a terrific feeling.

Bob Edwards (of e5 Racing Thoroughbreds) is a great friend of mine. For Barbara Banke to be partners with Bob is a great match because they’re wonderful people. All of Bob’s horses go to Stonestreet to be broke and they have since Day 1. There’s a great relationship between Bob and Barbara." – Bloodstock agent Mike Ryan, who bought Good Magic for e5 Racing Thoroughbreds at the September Sale for $1 million

 

Champion Turf Female

LADY ELI

"She was a very forward filly. When prepping her class of yearlings, she was our best walker and very well balanced. She was the alpha in the field, but pretty straightforward to work with in the barn. There is a video of a conversation between previous Runnymede manager Martin O’Dowd and myself and she was clearly our top pick of the fillies that year. We talked about keeping her, since we bred her sire, Divine Park.  That said, we thought she sold well at $160,000 at the September Sale." – Brutus J. Clay III, Chief Executive Officer of Runnymede Farm, which bred Lady Eli and sold her at the 2013 September Sale

Lady Eli wins the Diana
Lady Eli

"She was extremely athletic and had a real presence about her. My partner Eddie Woods (who resold her as 2-year-old) had seen her first and loved her. When we both went back to look at her I remember saying to him, 'You’re going to make me pay too much for this one, aren’t you?'

While I make a living as a bloodstock agent by buying, selling and trading horses the main reason I do what I do is to try to find exceptional equine athletes. In the end of the day, my job is to be a talent scout. So for me, Lady Eli is the fruition of my passion for this sport. She is one of the best of her generation." – Pete Bradley, whose Bradley Thoroughbreds bought Lady Eli for $160,000 at the September Sale

“I remember saying, 'You’re going to make me pay too much for this one, aren’t you?'” - Bloodstock agent Pete Bradley

"Jay Hanley and Chad Brown were at the Keeneland sale and they liked her breeze so they decided to buy her. A lot of good horses have come out of Pete Bradley’s and Eddie Woods’ pinhook ventures so we paid attention to that.

You always dream and hope and that is one of the great parts of this sport. But you never really know how good they can become.

I love her. We have been so lucky to have been associated with her. She has taken us on quite a journey. I am thrilled for her. She deserves it." – Co-owner Sol Kumin

 

Champion Male Sprinter

ROY H

"Roy H was foaled and raised at Claiborne Farm. He was a good-looking foal and progressed into a strong sales yearling. The team at Claiborne did a fantastic job prepping him for the September Sale and it’s been exciting to follow his success on the track.

Breeding a Breeders’ Cup winner and Eclipse Award winner is the pinnacle of our sport, and we couldn’t be more thrilled." – Breeder Ramona Bass

Roy H wins the Breeders' Cup Sprint
Roy H

"It’s a very proud moment and I am thrilled for the horse and his connections. We strive to raise champion racehorses at Claiborne, so Roy H being nominated for an Eclipse Award is one step closer to our goal that we have for every horse we foal and raise.

“We strive to raise champion racehorses at Claiborne, so Roy H being nominated for an Eclipse Award is one step closer to our goal that we have for every horse we foal and raise.” - Walker Hancock of Claiborne Farm

I will note the last champion we had, Blame, was the same kind of yearling. He too was overshadowed by some flashier, well-bred horses that were his pasture mates. Both horses were similar in their appearance and in a way flew under the radar while here at the farm but really blossomed once they got to the race track." – Walker Hancock, President of Claiborne Farm, which sold Roy H for $115,000 at the September Sale

"At the time of the Keeneland Sale, a partner of ours brought this horse to our attention. He really liked his physicality and athletic build. He felt this would be one we should consider. Little did we know he would be an Eclipse Award nominee years later.

Roy H has been the model of consistency for us this past year and is such a pleasure to be around in the barn. He is a very smart horse and we feel truly blessed to have him. We are forever grateful for trainer Peter Miller and his team for the attention and hard work they have put in with Roy H." – Brian Trump, racing manager for Rockingham Ranch, which purchased Roy H for $310,000 at Keeneland

 

Champion Three-Year-Old Male

WEST COAST

"Looking at him, I thought, 'If he keeps improving, he will be a fantastic racehorse'.” - Bloodstock agent Ben Glass

"West Coast was awkward and weedy at yearling inspection time. We put him in our second group of yearlings (for Book 2), and he sold very well. It was really good because we took the chance that he was going to improve and mature, and that’s exactly what he did." – Bill Landes, General Manager of Hermitage Farm of Goshen, Kentucky, where West Coast was foaled. Hermitage sold him at the 2015 September Sale.

West Coast wins the Travers
West Coast

"He was a dynamite-looking athlete. Looking at him, I thought, 'If he keeps improving, he will be a fantastic racehorse'.” – Bloodstock agent Ben Glass, who purchased West Coast for $425,000.

"Ben said he was a very athletic-looking horse out of a champion mare but because he was a late foal, we would have to be patient with him. We were and it has paid off.

His last three races, the Travers (G1), Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), were all very impressive. I believe West Coast had the three highest Beyer speed figures around two turns of any 3-year-old (during the) year, which says a lot about his quality and consistency.

We are both very appreciative and excited to be named among the top three 3-year-old colts in the country." – Gary West, who races West Coast with his wife, Mary