There’s Gold in Them There Florida-Breds
HALLANDALE DEACH, FL., October 4, 2015—It began in earnest when a couple of oil wildcatters from the Midwest came to Ocala in the northern part of the state wanting to get involved with thoroughbreds in search of fame and fortune.
Not many fledgling horse people get into the racing business so successfully, so quickly. But, after being convinced by trainer Hugh Fontaine to take a chance on a sickly colt-- infirm enough to be named Needles--Bonnie Heath and Jack Dudley were on their way.
The colt grew out of his problems by the time he was 3 and by that summer of 1956 was healthy and talented enough to become the state’s first dual classics winner, taking that year’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
The fledgling program took off from there and 20 years later Louis Wolfson’s Harbor View Fam dropped a handsome chestnut foal they named Affirmed. In a span of two decades, Florida’s breeding program was producing runners that were competing on the national stage.
In between, William L. McKnight, who made the transition from mail room to board room at the 3M company, experienced great success with his own breeding operation at a nursery he named Tartan Farm.
During his tenure there two great champions were bred; the inimitable Dr. Fager and a filly sprint champion, a legendary weight carrier named Ta Wee. The scotch-tape king's Tartan operation also produced the highly influential sire, Intentionally.
South Florida racing grew right along with its program. Calder Race Course was born in 1971, constructed by developer Stephen A Calder, with the first synthetic track of its kind, the Tartan Track, developed by McKnight’s 3M Company.
Back in the day, the best of the Tartan string was sent up to New York with legendary Hall of Famer trainer John Nerud. The Florida division was placed in the care of the talented horseman Frank Gomez.
Such was the quality of the stock and Gomez’s handling of the Florida division that the tandem became the leading owner and trainer of the Florida-bred stakes program.
That is until Fred Brei, also from the Midwest, later established his Jacks or Better Farm .
What started as a local nursery, just as Tartan did, eventually became a national player. In 2010, their homebred Awesome of Course won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and was eventually sold as a broodmare prospect for $2.3 million to multiple Eclipse Award-winning breeder Adena Springs.
In addition to her, Jacks or Better bred, among many others, Jackson Bend, third in the 2010 Preakness before winning the Grade 1 Forego at 4 and the G1 Carter at 5. Both horses were developed early by the outfit’s South Florida-based trainer, Stanley Gold.
In Contemporary Racing, There’s No School Like Old School
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., September 29, 2015—When it comes to words and deeds, the two can often can worlds apart. Actions do speak loudest, of course, but the best actions are just good words put in motion.
Trainer-speak never lands gently, however: “The horse couldn’t be doing better.” “The work was just what we wanted.” “We’ll let the horse tell us,” etc.
All are well-meaning homilies. But the latter is more. Letting horses speak is the method that allows latter-day horsemanship to works best. Simply stated: Take care of the horse and the horse will take care of you.
On today’s NTRA conference call advancing Super Saturday prep weekend at both Keeneland and Belmont Park, the conversation and mindset of the participants was comforting, reassuring and instructive, decidedly “old school.”
Anyone familiar with the Jerkens family always knows what to expect; loquaciousness and guile? Never. Humility and honesty? Always. It was that way with the late, great Allen Jerkens; it's the same way with his son, Jimmy.
Compared to Tonalist, expected to rule as favorite in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Jerkens trainees Wicked Strong and Effinex do not enjoy the same high profile.
Effinex never seems to garner the respect he’s earned while Wicked Strong, a solid Triple Crown and Travers competitor last year, has not achieved what was expected from a top class three-year-old of 2014.
As for Effinex, Jerkens made the point that he disagrees with the notion that Tonalist had a bit the worst of it in this year’s Suburban Handicap and that Effinex somehow was the beneficiary.