The Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA) hosted Its’ 38th Annual Iroquois Awards Banquet on June 9 at The Hershey Hotel. PHBA members, the board of directors, and top Pennsylvania breeders and owners were present for a great night of dinner, cocktails, and conversation.
Brian Sanfratello, Executive Director of the PHBA, served as Master of Ceremonies for the gala evening. Roger Legg PHBA President offered his greetings and welcome to the assembled group, while the Honorable Russell Redding, Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture provided insightful comments on the current status and support by PA for the thoroughbred industry.
Henry “Hank” Nothhaft provided the Keynote address describing his journey to breeding Finest City, one of four, and the first PABRED Breeders’ Cup Champion in 24 years, and Eclipse Award Winner as Best Female Sprinter.
Click on the link below for the full script of Hank Nothhaft Keynote.
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.
Becomes 1st PABRED Breeders‘ Cup Champion in 20 Years
by Hank Nothhaft
Those who participate in thoroughbred horse breeding and racing know that it can be unbelievably exhilarating or an unforgiving, unpredictable arena. Just the minute you think you have it figured out, some humbling occurrence ensues making you wonder how on earth you got into such a tough business (sport). So when events take a benign, favorable turn, one tries to enjoy the glow for as long as possible to blunt the inevitable future valleys of gloom.
The finalists for the Thoroughbred industry’s Eclipse Awards, equivalent to Hollywood’s Academy Awards, were announced this week. Finest City, a four year old, PABRED filly by City Zip is one of the three finalists for the Female Sprint Category. Given her accomplishments and victory in head to head competition over her rivals, Finest City has an excellent chance to add an Eclipse Trophy to her growing list of honors.
As her breeder, it was thrilling to see Finest City win the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November at Santa Anita Park. Though the exhilaration of the moment has faded, a quiet, enduring and sustaining satisfaction remains as a reminder of why involvement with thoroughbreds can be so rewarding.
The breeding of Finest City was the direct result of my efforts to create a well pedigreed, race proven, black type broodmare band for Breeders’ Cup Champion Silver Train., who I purchased from Vinery in Kentucky to stand at Northview in Pennsylvania. I was ably assisted in this quest by Bloodstock Agent Carl McEntee, then of Northview PA, now of Darby Dan Farm in KY.
It also was not a “fluke” in the sense that a great deal of thought and effort was applied to the process of acquiring the mare Be Envied in foal to City Zip that produced Finest City. Be Envied’s enviable resume—she’s a half sister to grade I winner Burning Roma— is full of class, flawless, elegant, impeccable top and bottom complimented by her sire, Lemon Drop Kid. In my opinion, Lemon Drop Kid, an emerging leading broodmare sire, should get credit for producing horses that can run extremely well on all surfaces at classic distances.
Due to many hours pursuing various mares, Be Envied was purchased at the bargain price of $37,000 at the 2011 Keeneland November Sale. This was the result of spending several days analyzing pedigrees of mares in the catalogue, inspecting them, assessing physical fit with Silver Train, creating our short list, bidding on our top picks, often getting out bid or hitting our budgetary limits. We ultimately purchased three mares in foal during the Keeneland November 2011-mixed stock sale. However, no more or less effort went into the decisions, preparations and care of Finest City than any of our preceding or subsequent breeding decisions. Our goal was to buy mares compatible with Silver Train whose foals could be kept for racing or sold for at least what we paid for the mare in foal, thus recouping our investment in the first twelve months. We actually exceeded this goal by a wide margin. On the other hand, winning the Breeders’ Cup was never discussed, not to mention that the odds of this occurring are lottery like. More discussion on Breeders’ Cup odds later. Therefore, when Finest City won the Breeders’ Cup, it was not fulfillment of a dream, because this was not a dream we ever dared dream.
Be Envied by Lemond Drop Kid Bargain Purchase $37,000
From the time of her birth, Finest City was a beautiful, well-balanced athletic filly. The fact that Finest City looked very commercial and could command a handsome price influenced my decision to sell her rather than keep to race. As a technology entrepreneur trying to transfer his skills to the “Horse Business”, I viewed this as a good opportunity to generate some cash flow, nothing more or nothing less. This was a change of heart, since I already named her City Envy to honor her Sire and Dame, in anticipation of racing her. As a result, Finest City (AKA City Envy) became the first horse that I bred and sold at auction, highlighting my status as a novice breeder.
After our decision to sell her at the Keeneland November 2012 Mixed Sale, we hired Hunter Valley as our consignor, prepped her at Northview Maryland and sent her to Lexington. Ultimately, though she showed well, was very popular, some minor stifle issues kept the price well below our expectations and sold right on our reserve for $50,000. We were very disappointed with this price as we expected to get well over a $100,000 for her. She was purchased by Cobra Racing who pin-hooked her and sold her as a yearling at the September 2013 yearling sale at Keeneland. to Seltzer Thoroughbreds of San Diego, CA, hence the name Finest City,
Subsequently, we’ve had the good fortune of selling several additional weanlings at Keeneland for six figure sums up to` $250,000. All their pedigrees are similarly attractive as Finest City and were nearly flawless physical specimens. So far, none have come close to Finest City’s accomplishments though some have shown promise. We also bred a number of horses from the Silver Train program who are just plain average and have produced results within industry norms, not to mention a few who had physical issues that precluded any racing career at all. I mention this only to highlight the obvious, that a powerful pedigree and physical perfection don’t necessarily correlate to racing success. Soundness, the intangible competitive fire of the horse, intelligence, timing and luck all play a role.
So how long were the odds for a PABRED Breeders’ Cup Winner?
First there have only been four PABRED Breeders’ Cup Champions, including Finest City, since the Breeders’ Cup’s initial races in 1984 at Hollywood Park, CA. The other three are Go for Wand, Tikkanen and Alphabet Soup.
The great two times Eclipse Award winning Go for Wand is the initial PABRED Breeders’ Cup winner, having won the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Gulfstream Park. A Christiana Stable homebred by Deputy Minister, she entered the Hall of Fame in 1996, fueled by 7 Grade 1 wins in 13 career starts. Harry Lunger and his wife Jane DuPont Lunger founded Christiana Stables, named for the community of Christiana, Delaware, in 1937. Having campaigned at least 45 stakes winners, these are the type of breeders and owners that you expect to win a Breeders Cup.
Oddly, I have a personal connection to the Lunger family that strikes me as at least a strange coincidence. While serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1968-1969, one of the officers I worked closely with was Lt. Brett Lunger, Jane and Harry Lunger’s son. Brett, a very dynamic and energetic leader, went on to be one of the first American drivers in Formula 1 in 1975. Maybe some good karma got passed via this relationship.
Tikkanen is the 2nd PABRED Champion via his win in the 1994 Breeders Cup Turf at Churchill Downs in KY with Mike Smith up. Tikkanen, a homebred like Go For Wand, sired by Breeders’ Cup Mile Winner Cozenne, was bred and campaigned by George Strawbridge, Jr., a perennial leading breeder in PA and a person who you would expect to win a Breeders’ Cup Championship Race.
The third PABRED Breeders’ Cup Champion is the beloved Alphabet Soup who won the Classic in 1986. He was also sired by Cozenne and became one of Cozenne’s 14 millionaire offspring including Tikkanen. Southeast Associates, headed by Roy S. Lerman, bred and sold him privately to Californian Georgia B. Ridder as a two year old. In a 24 Race career that netted him earnings of $2.990,270, Alphabet Soup only raced twice outside of California. In the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine, ON, Cigar, tried to become the first horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in consecutive years, but fell short by a half-length, finishing third in his farewell race, behind 20-1 shot Alphabet Soup under Chris McCarron, who bested Preakness Stakes winner Louis Quatorze by a nose. Alphabet Soup went on to stud duty until his retirement to “Old Friends” in Lexington, KY.
After a twenty-year hiatus, Finest City became the 4th PABRED Breeders’ Cup Winner with Mike Smith up, giving him claim to riding 50% of PA’s Breeders’ Cup Winners. Like Alphabet Soup, owned by a Californian, Finest City has never raced outside of CA. Speaking of 50%, Finest City ended up with an up and coming young trainer (28 years old) Ian Kruljac, whose total career starts total 24 of which 14 are Finest City. Always in the hunt after breaking sharply from post 12 in a field of 13, Finest City and jockey Mike Smith held off the oncoming Wavell Avenue to prevail by three-quarters of a length. Paulassilverlining was third, another 1 1/4 lengths back. Paulassilverlining is one of Finest City’s chief protagonists for this year’s Eclipse.
Let’s take a look at some of the raw numbers involved in winning a Breeders’ Cup Race with a PABRED to see how daunting a task it is. Since its’ inception, there have been 288 Breeders’ Cup Champions, 4 from PA (no adjustment for repeat winners) or 1.4%. These 288 champions had to vanquish a total pool of horses estimated to be around 3000 of the best horses in the world. Since 1996, the last time a PABRED won, there have been 214 winners including one by Finest City or about .5 (1/2) a percent.
Let’s look at the numbers from a PA perspective. Since 1995 there have been approximately 23,000 foals born and registered in PA. Of this pool, roughly 14,500 made at least one start in a race. This makes Finest City 1 of 23,000/14,500 respectively. The percentages are obviously miniscule: less that one ten thousandth in both categories (0.00004/0.00006). Assuming the foal crop is 50% fillies, the percentages remain less than a ten thousandth.
From a national level the odds are even longer since PA generally produces less than 3% of the registered crop (Range 1995 to 2015-2.2% to 5.4%) Then of course, globalization means that horses from 19 other countries were entered in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup. This makes the mountain even higher.
The long and short of these numbers is that PABRED Finest City winning the Breeders’ Cup was a tall order overcoming stratospheric odds. Then again, to be a thoroughbred breeder is playing the DNA lottery, though breeding the “best to the best” reduces the odds a bit, the odds remain extremely long. There’s always the real possibility for inexplicable magic to occur. One look no further than the amazing California Chrome, the result of breeding a mare by a regional sire who won an $8,000 maiden claiming race in a 6 race career that netted $7,000 and an E number of 64, to a sire standing for a $1500 stud fee, and two guys who dreamed the big dream. As long as the chance exists to create the wonder of the “next big horse” the art, science and mystery of thoroughbred breeding and racing will continue to produce the inexplicable and attract a large, broad range of optimists.