Partnership flush with seven-figure successBy FRANK MITCHELL
LEXINGTON, Ky. - With the first two books of the Keeneland September sale complete, one of the success stories of the first part of the sale has been Liberation Farm and its partners, which have sold a pair of yearlings for more than $1 million apiece.
The first was Hip No. 317, a dark brown colt by El Prado out of the Clever Trick mare Swift and Classy, who brought $1 million on Tuesday from Legends Racing.
The second yearling to pass seven figures for Liberation Farm was Hip No. 1084, a dark bay or brown filly by Medaglia d'Oro out of the Forty Niner mare Amizette, who topped Thursday's session at $1.1 million on a bid from trainer Paul d'Arcy for the account of Karen Sanderson.
Rob Whiteley is the man behind Liberation Farm, which he founded after working as director of operations for Carl Icahn's Foxfield, building up and developing the breeding, racing, and sales business from 1987 through its dispersal 17 years later. During that time, Foxfield bred more than 140 stakes horses, all mated by Whiteley, and the operation showed a profit before depreciation every year.
Using his experience with Foxfield as a model, Whiteley believed he could do the same thing for himself. "Working for Carl Icahn was great preparation for surviving in this marketplace," Whiteley said, "because my assignment with Foxfield was only to purchase breeding stock at 50 percent of my estimated fair-market value. Therefore, I was always under the gun to identify great value and bring it home."
Over the past two decades, nobody has done this like Whiteley, who purchased yearlings such as champion Meadow Star and future broodmares such as Lilac Garden, dam of Kentucky Oaks winner Blushing K.D.
In searching for value, Whiteley's modus operandi has been to look where others turn away, especially believing in quality bloodlines and elite racing ability. He created success by picking up middle-aged mares who had disappointed their previous owners, and among the mares he purchased for Foxfield was Kentucky Oaks winner Blush With Pride, to breed to Deputy Minister, a mating that produced Better Than Honour, the dam of two Belmont Stakes winners - Jazil in 2006 and Rags to Riches last year - and this year's Peter Pan winner, Casino Drive.
Whiteley used this approach in purchasing the dams of his two seven-figure yearlings.
He said, "I was approached by Bert Welker, general manager of Stonewall, in January 2006 to look for and purchase mares under a co-ownership arrangement that could be bred to Stonewall's stallions. I found Amizette in the first group and Swift and Classy in the second at the Keeneland November sale in 2006."
Liberation Farm and Stonewall Farm purchased Amizette for $90,000 at the Keeneland January sale in 2006. The mare was in foal to Irish-based One Cool Cat, and the owners resold Amizette in January for $75,000 while she was in foal to A.P. Warrior.
All the co-owned mares are based at Trackside Farm with Tom Evans. Whiteley said, "The luckiest thing that happened to me in the horse business starting out was not purchasing Meadow Star and seven other eventual stakes winners to be the core of the Foxfield broodmare band, but finding Tom Evans and basing our operations at his farm. Tom and his crew have done a fabulous job over the years of raising the horses that I bred, and they should get most of the credit."
Both yearlings were consigned for Liberation Farm and associates by Trackside Farm, which is owned by Tom Evans and Pam Clark.
Evans said, "I worked for Lee Eaton for seven years when he was proving what an outstanding producer Courtly Dee was, and we had about five foals out of the mare before he sold her to Helen Alexander. That family has done well for anyone who has touched it."
Amizette was the last foal out of Broodmare of the Year Courtly Dee and "to get a filly from this family by a promising young stallion is a good investment," Evans said. "The filly had a great walk, and she was out all the time, but she had the same energy every single time she was out. She enjoyed the scrutiny."
The yearling filly out of Amizette also came to the September sale with a good update from her half-brother King of Rome (by Montjeu), who had won a Group 2 and a Group 3 stakes since the catalog went to press.
Furthermore, the yearling's sire, Medaglia d'Oro, has had 10 winners from his first crop of 2-year-olds, many of them coming in the last 30 days, including C.S. Silk, winner of the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie.
Whiteley said, "My assessment of Medaglia d'Oro was the main reason I jumped in with the Stonewall project. He's a magnificent individual, his tremendous race record speaks for itself, he is stamping his foals with his physique and quality, and I'm as surprised as everyone that he's having great success with his runners at 2.
"C.S. Silk was so impressive, going 45 and change for a half and then galloping away from the others, which stamps her as my early pick for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. If Medaglia d'Oro continues in the way he has started, he will be at the top of the stallion ranks shortly."