Hank Nothhaft builds a top breeding program from scratch
BY LENNY SHULMAN
PHOTOS COURTESY OF HANK NOTHHAFT
ELEVEN YEARS AGO VENTURE· TECHNOLOGY COMPANY CEO
Hank Nothhaft looked at himself in the mirror and realized that, after three decades, he was losing his passion for his work. He needed a new challenge, one that satisfied his all-encompassing, adrenaline-driven, compulsive lifestyle.
Hello Thoroughbred breeding and racing.
A decade of immersion into every thing horses has yielded significant results for the 74-year-old Nothhaft, a native of Pennsylvania who has traveled the world in both his military and civilian lives. Under HnR Nothhaft Horse Racing (the “R” coming courtesy of wife Randie) Nothhaft has bred Breeders’ Cup Champion Finest City, multiple graded stakes winner Daddy ls a Legend , and multiple stakes-winning homebred Grand Prix. He has also campaigned multiple graded stakes winner Living The Life and multiple grade 2-placed stakes winner Kindle, and has specialized in purchasing modestly priced stock that has gone on to perform on the racetrack and in the breeding shed.
There were no horses or racing in Nothhaft’s youth in Sharon, Pa ., between Erie and Youngstown, although today that area is littered with race tracks that didn’t exist decades ago. Nothhaft graduated from the United States Naval Academy and served in Vietnam , achieving his MBA in information systems technology after he exited the military. He assumed ownership of a series of tech companies, which
took him from Washington D.C., to Dallas, and eventually to Silicon Valley in Northern California. There, the racing bug bit him on friends-and-family outings to Bay Meadows.” We loved that place, and I developed a positive view of horse racing,” noted Nothhaft. “I was going back and forth to England quite a bit , and read all the Dick Francis novels on those trips, and began going to race tracks like Lingfield, near London, and really enjoyed it. ”
Those good feelings persuaded Nothhaft to take up the challenge of trying to survive in the horse industry, initially as an owner .
“I analyzed a bunch of different industries, and I ended up with Thorough-hred racing,” he said. ” I do look back and chuckle at my naivete in thinking I could do what has subsequently occurred. I love the competition and the immediate feedback you get on your decisions .
“What I find appealing is you can immerse yourself in the data side of it. I always had a dashboard on any company I was running and loved to throw myself into the statistics and analyze the company in as many ways as possible. So when l started looking at pedigrees and bloodlines, I thought, ‘Wow, that amount of data is perfect for an insatiable appetite like mine.’ ”
Nothhaft did his homework. He attended seminars put on by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, watched BloodHorse videos on conformation, read books, and then went out and raced some cheap claimers in Northern California, seeking to have fun, enjoy the competition, and hopefully break even. ‘The plan didn’t work well, and Nothhaft used the economic meltdown of 2009 to liquidate his stock, learn from his early mistakes, and start over again.
With the benefit of advice from Gary Mandella and Mary Knight, he began buying better Cal-breds. Chalking it up to “dumb luck,” he bought Randie’s Legend at auction for $ 43,000 in 2008 .
She would go on to produce Daddy ls a Legend. But Nothhaft turned the corner when he decided that Pennsylvania offered more opportunity than did the situation in California. He enlisted Carl McEntee to help buy bloodstock and the operation clicked. Nothhaft grabbed Kindle for $50,000, Be Envied for $37,000, Living The Life for less than $50,000, and Halljoy, who would become group stakes -placed. for $150,000 . All became valued members of his broodmare band, with Be Envied producing Finest City and Grand Prix.
“Hank came to realize that buying more-commercial broodmares was the most productive place to be, and safest to work within,” McEntee noted. “We’ve had good success and have made smart decisions on our breeding selections, which we both spend a lot of time on. ‘There’s luck involved, because this is the ‘Thoroughbred industry, and there are no certainties. But the harder you work, the luckier you seem to get.”
‘Today, Nothhaft’s 10 broodmares produce Pennsylvania-breds after being bred to Kentucky stallions, and he himself is on the board of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association.
“One of the side benefits of getting into horses is that I’ve reconnected with my home state,” he said. “I’ve traveled the world, lived for three decades in California (today he lives in Austin, Texas) , and came back to my roots; in Pennsylvania. I’ve won the Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes (G2) twice. Where other guys have Kentucky Derby fever, I want to get a PABRED to win the Masters,” which has never happened . It takes all kinds of people, right?”
Most of the mares Nothhaft owns today either raced for him or were bred by him, the notable exception being Sulis, whom he bought specifically to breed to Silver Train, a stallion Nothhaft bought and stood in Pennsylvania, hut who died after just two years. Having paid $105,000 for Sulis, a daughter of Maria ‘s Mon, Nothhaft proceeded to sell weanlings out of her for $250,000, $130,000, and $ 220,000 within four years.
As legendary Kentucky horseman Robert Courtney used to say, that’s how you make money in this business.
Because the Pennsylvania incentive program is going well, Nothhaft said he might increase his mare population to 15, but generally he is concentrating on improving the quality of the band rather than increasing its number.
“Carl and I made a decision not to take the risk of raising them to be yearlings .” Nothhaft said of his early preference for selling weanlings . “At least until now. The yearling market is crazy right now so I’m not unhappy to hold onto them another year because the financial advantage is shifting that way. That hasn’t always been true.” That updated strategy comes in part from the American Pharoah-Kindle weanling colt Nothhaft sold for S400,000 who was pin hooked by Peter O’Callaghan and sold for s2.2 million at last September’s Keeneland yearling auction.
Nothhaft supported McEntee during the latter’s time at Darby Dan Farm and has helped bankroll McEntee’s move to open Ballysax Bloodstock, which now consigns the Nothhaft-breds.
“Carl is all energy and is a hard worker,” said Nothhaft. “In his first year in 2018 he’s had good-quality consignments and gotten good results.
“Hank is an incredibly passionate man who has to have something to d rive him and I’m the same way,” noted McEntee.”He’ll call me at 4 or 5 a.m. his time to talk. He knows only one speed, and that’s 100 mph .”
Nothhaft’s single most notable day in the business came on Nov. 5, 2016. when the Breeders Cup Filly & M are Sprint (G 1) was run at Santa Anita Park. The Nothhaft-owned Living The Life, who had won the Presque lsle Downs Masters in 2014 and 2015 and the All American Stakes (G3) in 2016. was slated to compete against the Nothhaft-hred Finest City, whom the breeder had sold as a weanling in 2012 for $50,000. ‘·My wife and l and other family members were planning to go from our home in Saratoga. Calif. Nothhaft stated. “Then a week before the race, Living the Life came up lame and had to be retired. I was so bummed out I had a knee-jerk reaction to give my tickets away. So we watched from home. I bet heavy on Finest City and when she won. there was an eruption . My phone started going crazy, so there was a lot of recognition of our connection to the horse. But l felt silly watching Gary Mandella accept our trophy.”
In the past, Nothhaft annually compiled what he now calls a “fantasy list ” of stallions for his mares, where he and McEntee would generate a roster of studs that fit his mares although they knew they wouldn’t he able to get to those stallions. Today, it is a different story.
“Now that I have better mares. we know we’re able to get to all the stallions on our list this year.” said Nothhaft. “So we’re not playing fantasy football anymore.” Nothhaft bought back a Pioneer of the Nile-Kindle weanling colt in November 2018 on a final bid of $375,000. He .also kept an American Pharoah-Halljoy yearling filly who RNA’d for $335.000. Those babies are indicative of the quality of stallions to whom he now sends his mares.
“This is a very faddish industry in my opinion,” he stated. “So going to American Pharoah in his first year-if you pick the right first-year stallion it can be a bonanza when you’re selling the progeny. Certainly American Pharoah was a good pick. So we do use some select first-year or young stallions, we call ‘Living the Dream stallions.’ They don’t have anything running yet, or at least won t before (the progeny) sell.
“As far as more proven stallions, we’re not generally going to the heavy hitters such as Tapit, Candy Ride, Into Mischief, and so on. When I was starting out, I bred to Tizbud. a full brother to Tiznow. Now, I love Tiznow, who is one of the less expensive studs I go to today, so that highlights where I started and where I’m at. But I’m also smart enough to know the minute you think you’ve got it all figured out, you’re actually really stupid because the gods are about to come down and chop your knees off. So I keep my feet on the ground.”
Said McEntee, “Hank is unlike most business people who come into the horse industry, where they tend to lose all of their previous business acumen. Hank has maintained the smart decision-making that got him to where he is.”
Nothhaft has worked diligently to try and help ensure that the Pennsylvania incentive program remains on sound footing, although that has proven to be a tricky enterprise in the past. ”Pennsylvania has had a great program for years,” said Nothhaft, “except that the state (government) kept coming up short on funds and taking money away from the breeding program for the general fund. As a breeder, you never knew what was going to be there going forward. What we’ve done is put the program in a trust; while that can still be broken, there is a significant penalty for the state if it decides to take funds away, so we feel more comfortable going forward.
“The number of foals is increasing in the state. There are new sires and brood mares showing up, and the quality of the talent you need is increasing. We know New York-bred and Cal-bred races are tough, but Pennsylvania isn’t a lay-up, either. But it does run between 400 and
500 races a year for state-breds, and if you have a decent horse, you can find a level at which to race and have a good chance of earning some money which is attractive.” ‘ The man on the street- which I consider myself- who doesn’t have 200 horses can realistically breed Pennsylvania-breds and sell or race them with the anticipation of a reasonable financial outcome. That’s the world I thought I was getting into way back at the start.”
A dose of naivete represent standard equipment for those seeking entrance to the Thoroughbred industry as a business proposition . And the addition of successful business people such as Hank Nothhaft to its ranks swells the legitimacy as well as the feasibility of this world of horses. He has embraced a challenge far too puzzling for most; entered on the ground floor and built a sturdy operation upward despite knowing nothing about its workings when he started. That horses can rekindle this sort of passion in a person of substance such as Nothhaft is a huge positive.
“l have been retired from the tech world for three or four years now, and I thank God every morning that l got involved in the horse business because it so satisfying,” he said. “It is extremely difficult, so when things do go right, the satisfaction and the adrenaline and the good feeling you get is so significant that it’s worth all the effort. “For a small guy like me, you have to work really hard to have something good going on, and when it does, it keeps you in a good mood for a while and you really have to inhale the happy fumes and the success . You have to ride over what I call th e Valley of Despair to keep your self going and motivated if you’re passionate about it.”■
INTERVIEW Bloodhorse Daily “MarketWatch”
Sept 28, 2018
By Meredith Daugherty
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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 (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 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.”
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.
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?”
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.”
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 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 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.
Finest City day old foal @Northview Stallion Station PA
Grand Prix Yearling
Grand Prix Weanling
Move by Silver Train out of Be Envied
Be Envied by Lemon Drop Kid
Pictured Sulis 2013 Filly by Harlan’s Holiday bred by HnR Nothhaft Horseracing LLC