Nothhaft finds thrills in the Thoroughbred Industry

 

INTERVIEW Bloodhorse Daily “MarketWatch” 

Sept 28, 2018

By Meredith Daugherty

twitter  @BH_MDaugherty

Ten years ago, Hank Nothhaft founded HnR Nothhaft

Horse Racing and dove into the world of

Thoroughbred breeding, racing, and sales. Blood-

Horse MarketWatch spoke with Nothhaft about what

sales mean for his operation, how the state of the market

affects breeders, and what the industry can do to

help ensure continued success at all levels.

MarketWatch: How did you get your start in the

industry?

Hank Nothhaft: After graduating from the (U.S.)

Naval Academy and serving in the Marine Corps, I

became a startup technology executive. I ended up

as the CEO of five venture-backed, high-tech-based

startups in the telecommunications business. It’s a

high growth environment; I call it adrenaline-driven.

Looking over the horizon and going from being

the young bull to the old bull, I realized that even if

I wanted to go on forever, I had to be realistic. So I

systematically decided to start a business that would be

a viable alternative to being a CEO that I could run in

retirement and have a lot of fun with. To have the same

sort of thrills I experienced in the business world. So

in 2007-08, I stuck my toe in the water of the industry

and have proceeded from there via the school of hard

knocks, trying not to make the same mistake twice.

We’ve had a lot of tumult in a short period of time

because of the significant financial recession that

occurred in 2008. I got started just before that, and

I had made some calculations that turned out to be

not very accurate, but because I was a financial expert

when the collapse occurred, I took advantage of that

situation to do what I call a “restart round” and push

aside the things I had done incorrectly to try and have

a more successful path. I certainly had the satisfaction

of enough good things happening that my adrenaline

addiction has been satisfied.

MW: Were you familiar with the industry at all

when you made your transition?

HN: I had no direct connection with the horse

racing industry whatsoever when I started, but I get up

most mornings very thankful that I made that fateful

decision to get involved. My wife and I were very casual

fans, so that was certainly part of it. The other part was, I

went to Europe frequently and I was addicted to reading

Dick Francis novels, and I would carve a day out here or

there to go to tracks within easy rail distance from London.

I had a romanticized view of the British horse racing

industry, but as silly as that sounds, it 

did play a part in my decision.

 

Hip 91, 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale

The American Pharoah colt consigned as Hip 91 at the

Keeneland September Yearling Sale

 

MW: Ten years after forming HnR NothhaftRacing, how did you feel

about watching the American Pharoah—Kindle colt that you sold

as a weanling for $400,000 sell for $2.2 million as Hip 91 at this year’s

Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

HN: It was a great time. I derive a lot of satisfaction from those

moments, and it doesn’t have to be a big monetary achievement. I think

the sale was fantastic. I think it was like a Hollywood script that we had

the first yearlings from a Triple Crown winner, and we

had Sheikh Mohammed there for the first time in 10

years. We also had the Coolmore/Godolphin détente in

place and a phenomenal stock market going, a new tax

bill, new players in the industry, a global marketplace …

what could be better than that? The results of the sale

are unequivocally outstanding.

MW: What was special about that colt that you

remember from your time with him?

HN: I paid $50,000 for his dam, Kindle. I had a

tremendous relationship with the horse, spent a lot of

time with her when she was racing, and she was our

first stakes winner. She has the greatest disposition.

The reason I was able to buy her was that she was a

bit short. I moved her to Kentucky because regional

sires are not really commercial, but I breed all my

Pennsylvania mares in Kentucky, and they’re all foaled

out in Pennsylvania.

With Kindle, and a handful of really commercial

mares, I’ve been producing Kentucky-breds, but

mostly I have Pennsylvania-breds. No one knew with

her what kind of foal she’d produce, but she’s a robust

mare. With American Pharoah, I was lucky to have a

couple mares that were good enough to be accepted, so

I bred Kindle to him. From the get-go, she produced

an exceptional foal. Almost perfect. He’s the proudest looking,

most balanced horse, and I love the streak of

lightning blaze on his face. He was the prime candidate

to sell as a weanling. My reserve was $400,000, and it was exactly on

the nose.

I’m so excited for the horse, because I’ve heard rumors that they’ll

ship him to the United Kingdom.  Assuming that’s the case, the top

folks in the Sheikh’s operation will get a good look at him and then

put him in a position somewhere in the world to be as successful as

possible. My great hope would be that he works out as a dirt horse and

that maybe he could be the Sheikh’s Kentucky Derby (G1) horse.

The one thing I realized by selling horses is that they

end up in better hands than mine. People with better

contacts, more money, and better resources than my

own. There couldn’t be anyone that meets that criteria

better than Sheikh Mohammed. When you sell them,

you set in motion a chain of events that could never

have occurred had you retained ownership yourself.

I bred Kindle to Pioneer of the Nile, and I have this

phenomenal Pioneer of the Nile colt. He’ll be in Book

1 of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale.

I also had Hip 1 in the (September) sale. She was an

RNA, so I have entered her in the Fasig-Tipton October

Yearling Sale (as Hip 624). I want to try to capitalize

on the current market demand for quality American

Pharoah bloodstock. I am confident that given a better

position, she will be a standout in this sale. If not, we

are certainly prepared to keep and race her, as she is a lovely filly.

“When you sell them you set in motion a chain of

events that could never have occurred had you

retained ownership yourself.”

—HANK NOTHHAFT

 

MW: From a breeder’s perspective, what did you

think about the Keeneland September sale and the

quality of the yearlings being offered?

HN: In terms of the sale’s success being a mark

of our industry turning the corner from the market

downturn, the thing that I really look at as a breeder

is, how many horses are being bred? The last numbers

that were available are not super encouraging. We kind

of flattened out more or less three or four years ago,

and we haven’t really turned the corner. Kentucky has

gotten back to where they were 20 years ago, but if

you look at what percentage of horses that represents,

they’ve gone from being 35% of the horses bred in the

industry to somewhere around 55%. That means, likely,

if you look at each state, all the other states have had

significant declines.

I look at those bigger states that have had a tradition

in the horse racing business, and some of them are

at a third of where they were, some have all but

disappeared. So coming out of the sale, I think the thing

is that the industry will have really turned when the

horse population responds or we reduce the amount of

racing that is taking place, because there aren’t enough

horses to feed the engine we currently have.

I think you have to look at the sales and look at the

later books and see how many horses are being sold at

a loss. You have to ask yourself, “Why and how could

this sustain itself if there are people who are breeding

and losing money?” And they can’t continue to do that

indefinitely. I think one of the bright spots can be state

incentive programs like in Pennsylvania, where I’m

involved. You can breed a reasonably competitive horse

there, keep it, race it, and make money and have fun,

or take it to a sale and maybe it sells at a loss, but if

the owners race it, then you can actually break even or

make a profit.

What’s kept me happy and in the game is that I’m

treating this like a startup. I’ve been bootstrapping and

reinvesting what I have back into the business to grow

it, and one of the big things that has helped me do that

is the state incentive program. Relative to my needs,

it’s generated a lot of cash that’s helped keep me in

the game. I can tell you without breeders, there is no

industry. Period.

If the industry wants to maintain the broad racing

schedule they have, they’re going to have to inevitably

produce more horses. Eventually, it has to be profitable,

or at least help people break even, for breeders and

enthusiasts to get into the game. I do know a lot of

people took mares out of service in smaller states, so we

need those to come back in.

MW: Do you think the market can continue the

trajectory it has taken this year?

HN: There are hard-core, central players in the

Thoroughbred industry, and those non-newcomers

are not that affected by the stock market and non discretionary

income. They are to a certain extent, but I

think the U.S. economy is in a sweet spot, and the only

thing that could upset the apple cart in my mind would

be the federal reserve  increasing interest rates too

fast and somehow cutting off this really perfect scenario

we’re seeing in the economy.

My view right now is that we’re solid in the U.S.

I think other countries will adopt more pro-growth

strategies (for) their economies, and that will provide

even more underpinning to the industry. The other

side of the coin, however, is that with breeders, some

other countries have the same problem I proposed that

we have. I think they’re thinking, for example in the

U.K., of putting together a type of incentive program.

Hopefully, breeding numbers start reflecting that

programs are working here in the states.

The top end and the middle market are much higher

than they were. People have got to bid higher for horses

than they would have had to previously. I think what is

true is that people had to bid more money because you

have more money chasing the same number of horses.

The thrill of owning a horse and being involved in the

industry is fantastic. If people were more exposed to it,

many people would want to do it. BH

 

Finest City is Newest PA-Bred Breeders’ Cup Winner

City Envy (AKA Finest City) and Hank Nothhaft Keeneland November 2012

By Nikki Sherman

Originally published in PHBA February, 2017 Newsletter published in Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Magazine

Photos HnR Nothhaft Media Library

 

Other than the Kentucky Derby, winning a Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championship race is the dream of every breeder in the United States. It often takes decades-if it happens at all-to reach that pinnacle, but for Henry “Hank” Nothhaft, it took just a few years.

“I have not been involved in horse racing very long, “ Nothhaft admits. “I became directly involved in a very limited way around 2008, with the idea to create a business I could run and enjoy while I was moving into retirement from my business career in the technology world.”

Nothhaft, who breeds and races under the name HnR Nothhaft Horseracing LLC, wanted to go through a hands-on learning experience in the Thoroughbred industry and was able to purchase the promising young stallion, Silver Train, in 2011. That November, he and agent Carl McEntee attended the Keeneland November mixed sale to look for mares that would cross well with the son of Old Trieste. There, they found a Lemon Drop Kid mare named Be Envied, who was in foal to the popular sprint stallion City Zip. Nothhaft purchased Be Envied for $37,000 and shipped her to Northview PA in Peach Bottom to foal. That foal was a lovely chestnut filly he decided to name City Envy.

The filly was entered in the 2012 Keeneland November sale as a weanling after colleagues convinced him that she should easily bring $150,000. However, early interest in City Envy, who Nothhaft had named before his decision to sell came about, fizzled out when on-site veterinary inspections discovered an existing OCD on X-rays. She just barely met her reserve of $50,000, selling for that price to Cobra Farm, who in turn pinhooked her at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2013. Seltzer Thoroughbreds purchased the filly for $85,000 and the father-son team of Wayne and Tyler Seltzer decided to rename her Finest City after their hometown of San Diego.

“She was a knockout from day one” remembers Nothhaft. “Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons I decided to sell her, as I thought we were going to be able get six figures for her and I was focused on building a broodmare band for Silver Train to race in Pennsylvania. She was one of the first two or three PA-BRED horses I bred and was the first horse I bred who sold commercially at auction.”

The Seltzers’ trainer Ian Kruljac clearly had great hopes for their new filly from the beginning, as Finest City made her career debut at the prestigious Del Mar summer meet in July of 2015. The filly finished a solid second behind eventual graded stakes winner Gloryzapper. Her next start would be a different story-Finest City ran off to an impressive 8 ½ length score in a $70,000 maiden special weight at Del Mar. After an unsuccessful stakes debut over Santa Anita’s downhill turf course in her next start, Finest City returned to the winner’s circle with an easy 3 ¼ length score in a $53,000 allowance at Del Mar.

Finest City competed against some of the top female sprinters on the West Coast throughout the winter of 2015-16, and by April she finally broke through becoming a stakes winner when she captured the $200,000 Great Lady M Stakes-G2 at Los Alamitos. That race earned Finest City a chance to compete in the Breeders’ Cup, where she nearly faced off against Nothhaft’s own multiple graded stakes winner, millionaire Living the Life (IRE).

Living the Life with Flavien Prat up

Living the Life (IRE) Flavian Prat up

“We originally had fairly elaborate plans to attend the Breeders’ Cup, but when Living the Life came up lame before the race, I canceled our reservations. I came to regret this decision,” Nothhaft admits. “So, my wife and I were glued to our TV watching the race. I must be honest, I thought Finest City could win, but was really more confident in a top-three finish. When she did win, we were cheering and literally jumping for joy. Within seconds, my cell phone exploded with texts and calls beyond anything we had ever experienced.”

On the first Saturday of November 2016, Finest City joined an elite group of just three other PA-Breds who have captured a Breeders’ Cup Race when she crossed the wire first in the $1,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint G1, holding off defending champion Wavell Avenue by three-quarters of a length under heavy urging from Hall of Fame Jockey Mike Smith.

Those other Breeders’ Cup-winning PA-Breds are some of the most talented athletes to grace the Breeders’ Cup. Alphabet Soup won the 1996 Classic in a thrilling stretch battle with Louis Quatorze and Cigar. Go For Wand captured the 1989 Juvenile Fillies as part of a campaign that culminated in her being crowned that year’s Eclipse Award champion 2 year-old filly, and Tikkanen, wh set a couse record at Churchill Downs in the 1994 Breeders’ Cup turf.

Finest City enjoyed a short break following the biggest race of her life, but has since returned to Kruljac’s Santa Anita Barn. She is steadily working towards a 2017 campaign that would ideally give her the opportunity to defend her Breeders’ Cup title, this time in her owners’ hometown of San Diego at her favorite track, Del Mar.

Finest City 6

Finest City making her winning Breeders’ Cup move with Mike Smith up

She was also named a finalist for the 2016 Champion Female Sprinter, along with Haveyougoneaway and Paulasilverlining-both whom finished behind Finest City in the Breeders’ Cup.

Win or lose, nothing will compare to the thrill of winning a Breeders’ Cup race. Tyler Seltzer said it best when the NBC Sports camera crew caught up with him immediately following the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. The excitement was overwhelming, and all he could think to say was an emphatic, “She’s pretty great.”

Finest City Captures Eclipse Award-Best Female Sprinter

Bred by HnR Nothhaft Horseracing LLC,  Finest City, a PA_BRED, not only proved the best distaff sprinter of 2016, but acquitted herself around two turns on dirt and turf as well.

It illustrated the mare’s versatility, though in the end, she demonstrated her keen sprinting ability by beating the best in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) to clinch the Eclipse Award as top female sprinter.  Graphics courtesy of Keeneland and the PHBA.

Making of Champion KeenelandFinest City PHBA congrats

 

High Mark “HnR’s Breeders’ Cup Win”

Nothhaft ranks Finest City score in Breeders’ Cup among top achievements  

Article Written by Tom Law

Published in Mid Atlantic Thoroughbred Magazine Dec, 2016  

Breeders’ Cup Photos courtesy Racing Heart Photography

Photos from HnR Nothhaft Horseracing Library who holds rights to utilize on HnRRacing.com

Henry R “Hank” Nothhaft got involved with racing toward the tail end of a career in the high-technology industry knowing he’d need a challenge and something to feel passionate about as retirement loomed.

“I’d gotten into the horse racing business because I knew that being in high tech, that I’d retire, the inevitable cycle of life,” Nothhaft said.  “I’m still very interested in it, but I don’t have the overwhelming passion that I had when I first got in it, so I was looking for something else to do.  So approximately 10 years ago I got involved. “

“I didn’t know anything to tell you the truth.  I didn’t know how little I really knew.  I thought I knew about it, but after a while I realized how naive I really was.” Nothhaft, a first generation American who grew up in Western Pennsylvania and runs his operation HnR Nothhaft Horseracing, admits he’s still got plenty to learn, but he also knows now what it feels like to breed a winner at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.  Nothhaft found that out Nov. 5 as Pennsylvania-bred Finest City upset the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint G1 at Santa Anita Park.

Ironically Nothhaft’s first Breeders’ Cup victory came in a race he was expected to be represented as an owner, with Living the Life (IRE), who missed the race due to injury.  Nothhaft watched the Breeders’ Cup from his home in Saratoga CA, with his family, and Finest City’s three-quarter-length win over 2015 Filly and Mare Sprint winner Wavell Avenue factored heavily in a huge weekend for her breeder.

The day after Finest City’s victory, Nothhaft was on hand at Golden Gate Fields to see her 2 year old half-sister, the Pennsylvania-bred Tale of the Cat filly Grand Prix, break her maiden in her fourth start.  Nothhaft relished those victories, along with several other on Breeders’ Cup weekend that bolstered his breeding program.  “Given my horses and who I’m planning on breeding to, it couldn’t have been any better,” he said.  “I have a Gio Ponti and a Gio Ponti won (the Sprint) with Drefong.  I haves a Pioneer of the Nile and I’m considering him as the breeding choice for Living the Life and Kindle, another mare I own.  He won (the Juvenile) with Classic Empire.  I have a Tiznow colt on the ground and Tourist won (the Mile).  I’m a City Zip maniac and Finest City won.

“So how could you have a better day than that, short of Living the Life not having won the race?  And not to mention Navy beat Notre Dame for the 13th time in 90 years Saturday.  How could you haves a better day than that?”

smallNV.Hank_.Nothhaft.23

Henry R. “Hank” Nothhaft @Northview PA

The seedlings of Nothhaft’s memorable weekend were planted back in 2011, when he and bloodstock agent Carl McEntee worked the Keeneland November breeding stock sales in search of broodmare prospects.  Nothhaft met McEntee, formerly of Ghost Ridge Farm and Northview PA in Pennsylvania and now with Darby Dan Farm in Kentucky, during the re-syndication of champion Smarty Jones.  The two also worked on the purchase of Pennsylvania stallion Silver Train and were shopping for mares to breed to the son of Old Trieste when Be Envied went through the ring at Keeneland.  “My goal was to support Silver Train,”

Nothhaft said.  “I had a really strong belief in the Pennsylvania incentives, both the breeding and owners’ awards.  I had a little bit of an emotional attachment to the State considering I was born there.”  “I started to develop a broodmare band to support the sire.  We set a budget, had criteria we were looking for and we were buying in foal mares at auctions.  Considering a guy like me getting involved at such a late stage you’ve got to buy mares in foal if you’re going to accelerate your entry into the industry, unless you’re just writing blank checks and giving all your profits to somebody else.  Having been a a high-tech entrepreneur I was thinking about building a business from scratch, putting capital in, doing a lot of boot-strapping of the business.  That was my mentality.”

Nothhaft bought Be Envied for $37,000.  She was sold in foal to City Zip and the resulting foal born at Northview PA in Peach Bottom in 2012 was Finest City.  Understanding the realities of running  his breeding program like any other business and looking to generate cash flow, Nothhaft entered the weanling City Zip filly, then named City Envy in the 2012 Keeneland November sale.  “I’d named the horse so I wasn’t planning on selling, but after looking at the foals on one of my trips to Pennsylvania and some casual conversations, we said, “Let’s seriously consider selling this foal if we can get enoughmoney for it,” Nothhaft said.  “Enough money would be over $100,000 for a weanling out of a mare we paid $37,000 for.  She was vetted, she was beautiful, we moved her to Northview Maryland to do sales prep and everything was rolling.  We hired Hunter Valley Farm, which is a high-end and reputable consignor.  They’re great for a guy like me.  We got her down to Kentucky, prep her and we’re all very optimistic.  At the sale she’s getting a lot of looks and scopes.  She was on fire.”

Be Envied 12 Finest City Hunter Valley Keeneland

City Envy (now) Finest City and Hank Nothhaft Keeneland November Sale

Nothhaft, McEntee and Hunter Valley’s Fergus Galvin hoped the filly would bring as much as $150,000 after all the presale action, but were conservative in putting her reserve at $50,000.  “When she sold I went in the room–this was the first horse I ever bred that I sold–and there was some bidding initially but it started slow; ran up in small increments,” Nothhaft said.  “The last bid was $50,000 and she sold.  I couldn’t understand it, Fergus couldn’t understand it, Carl couldn’t understand it.  Well, we go back and it comes to our attention that we thought the X-rays were clean, but it turns out the last set taken weren’t completely clean.  She had a small OCD issue, and selling as a weanling basically to pinhookers, that’s tough.  The people that were looking at her were flunking her and moving on to somebody else, but we didn’t know it at the time.” Cobra Farm bought the filly, and resold her for $85,000 at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale to Seltzer Thoroughbreds, which celebrated her victory in the Filly and Mare Sprint with trainer Ian Kruljac.

Finest City 6

Finest City with Mike Smith up makes winning Breeders’ Cup Move

Nothhaft bred Be Envied to Silver Train and she produced a filly, subsequently named Move in 2013.  Nothhaft sent Be Envied to Tale of the Cat in 2013, the resulting foal being the winner Grand Prix, and Silver Train died after standing in the Southern Hemisphere in December 2013.  Be Envied was bred to Tale of Ekati and later in the year was entered in the Keeneland November sale.  She failed to meet her reserve on a final bid of $24,000, but was sold privately after going through the ring to representatives of breeders in India.

GRAND PRIX ACT 2

Grand Prix Wins Maiden with ease

Nothhaft said he doesn’t regret selling Finest City or Be Envied.  “I race, maybe if I was only a breeder I would have second thoughts, but I know the racing risk, and how these animals are,” he said.  “I’m so happy for these people and the success they had.  They did all the right moves.  During all of this I’ve been nothing but elated for the horse, the connections and everybody involved.  They bought an animal that had some known issues at that time, but were willing to take the risk.  On top of that you still had all the racing luck issues you deal with anyway.  Plus I own the two half sisters so I’m ecstatic.”

Though he was the only winner, Nothhaft wasn’t the only Mid-Atlantic breeder at the Breeder’s Cup.  Six horses bred in the region competed in the 13 races-four in Pennsylvania, one in Maryland and one in Virginia.

City Envy Mar 30 2012

 Finest City day old foal @Northview Stallion Station PA

Grand Prix Yearling

Grand Prix Yearling

Be Envied 2014 Sep 10 2014

 

Grand Prix Weanling

Move TBD Jan 20 2016

 Move by Silver Train out of Be Envied

Be Envied

 Be Envied by Lemon Drop Kid