The first foals of 2016 will be here before we know it, and with them they carry untold amounts of hopes, dreams and finances.
Horse races might be quick, but the process of getting a horse to the races is not. To help put it in perspective, the breeding that resulted in 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was decided in 2010.
This year, I went from sympathizing with those associated with the Thoroughbred breeding industry to empathizing with them. The following is the "Tale of Top Ten List or Why I Received More Texts at Breeders' Cup about Nyquist Winning than American Pharoah."
In January, Lucas Marquardt, a friend and work colleague, approached me about buying into a broodmare. Her pedigree would never wow anyone, but she was an honest and successful racehorse. During her time on the track, she won four stakes, more than $410,000, and was a Sovereign Award finalist in Canada in 2005.
The mare, Top Ten List, had missed a few years in the breeding shed due to issues unrelated to her, but had successfully begun her breeding career by visiting the likes of Unbridled's Song and Elusive Quality. Unfortunately, both of those foals were sold overseas, so following them was not easy, but the fact the Unbridled's Song colt brought $150,000 at auction was promising. Plus, she had some younger foals who would be of race-age soon.
Beyond that, I knew Lucas was gathering a great group of people to buy into the mare. She was never meant to be a cash cow. Rather, she was a way for us all to have fun together while taking part in a sport we love but whose expenses can run high.
The plan was to breed her to an up-and-coming stallion and sell the resulting foal as either a weanling or a yearling. A few stallions made the short list for our new partnership group, but ultimately, thanks to Lucas, we settled on Uncle Mo.
In fact, to quote Lucas at the time, "That's the direction I'm leaning right now. His yearlings averaged $110,000 last September and he had 41 bring six figures. Nothing's ever a sure thing; but tons of fire power out there for him this year."
Part of the fun of owning the mare is getting to visit her. The first time a large portion of our ownership group went to see her coincided with the beginning of a huge (for Lexington) snowfall. It was freezing, but we were thrilled and she was tolerant.
As flakes began to fall, we all gave her a final pat and headed for lunch. Although we are all very realistic about how things can go, we also dreamed big for our future foal -- which we took to calling Little Pot of Gold -- during the course of that meal. He, of course, was going to be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed (no offense intended to American Pharoah, who had not yet made his historic run).
We began following all of Uncle Mo's offspring at sales, since they hadn't started to race yet. I remember burning my dinner one night because one of his colts ended up selling for $725,000, and it was impossible to turn away from the live feed. When they did start running, we were cheering for them. The success of Uncle Mo's 2-year-olds in 2015 would have a big impact on when we sold Little Pot of Gold at the end of 2016.
To say they ran well is an understatement. Uncle Mo is the leading first crop sire and the leading 2-year-old sire. He is the only American-based stallion to ever have 2-year-old earnings of over $3 million in one crop, and he sired two Grade 1 winners in his first crop with Nyquist (the presumed 2-year-old male Eclipse Award winner) and Gomo. Not surprisingly, his fee went from $25,000 this year to $75,000 next year.
All of the figures are amazing. What is not is that Top Ten List failed to get in foal.
It was no one's fault. She received excellent care from all parties involved. It just wasn't meant to be. And we tried, believe me, we tried. She visited Uncle Mo multiples times, and at one point in the breeding season when he wasn't available and she was ready and willing, she visited Verrazano instead. No dice.
One of the times we were waiting for news was Kentucky Derby week. Hopefully, anyone who over heard me asking Lucas "Is she pregnant? Is she pregnant?" realized I was asking about Top Ten List, not Lucas's girlfriend.
We have learned a lot about Top Ten List though. She can't stand teasers (the unfortunate wingmen-esque horses who check to make sure a broodmare is in the mood before she gets near the valuable stallion) but likes the actual stallions. How she can tell the difference, we don't know. She loves treats, but only if they come in the form of hard peppermints or carrots. She is not the boss mare in her field, but she isn't at the bottom of the totem pole. She is probably the most visited and photographed barren mare in all of Kentucky thanks to her large, enthusiastic ownership group.
My phone lit up with messages of apologies from friends around the world when Nyquist won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Top Ten List's vet apologizes when he sees me. It has almost become funny at this point. Almost.
There are no guarantees in this game though. We did our best, and now we are working on finding a suitable mate for Top Ten List in 2016. Not surprisingly, Uncle Mo's dance card is now beyond our resources, but we think we have her next date lined up. Every step with her is a chance to learn, grow, and appreciate the game.