Finest City-Beats the Odds Becomes 1st PABRED Breeders‘ Cup Champion in 20 Years
Finest City-Beats the Odds
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.
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.
Planning for Success-Businessman Nothhaft Breeds a winner with Pennsylvania Breeding Program
Henry R “Hank” Nothhaft Photo Anne Litz Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred
This Article Originally appeared in the June 2014 Issue of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred
It appears here in its’ entirety with Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred’s permission.
This article authored by Cindy Deubler
Click on Photos for larger image and captions. Supplemental videos added to this article.
Henry R “Hank” Nothhaft knows business. Studying spreadsheets, business plans and bottom lines is second nature to the Pennsylvania native who resides in California and made a career of taking hightech start-up companies in California’s Silicon Valley and nurturing them into multi-million-dollar businesses. Nothhaft applies his business acumen to Thoroughbred racing and breeding and has his plans in place. Locking onto the Pennsylvania breeding program, the affable and energetic CEO has leaped in with both feet, building a broodmare band he boards at Northview PA in Peach Bottom, investing in stallions, and creating a racing stable on both coasts. And he’s enjoying every minute of it.
“As a lifelong entrepreneur I knew I’d be bored out of my mind when I retired, so I thought ‘I’m going to have to start a business to run before retirement occurs,’ ” said Nothhaft, 70, during one of his trips to Pennsylvania over the winter to visit his growing broodmare band. “So I did an analytical approach. . . the competition, the data-driven aspects, the massive amounts of bloodlines. It had always appealed to me – it’s very competitive, instant feedback, outsourcing model, no employees, and so on. I put together a bunch of factors and I chose horse racing and breeding.”
Nothhaft (pronounced note-off) was born and raised in western Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border, and had no previous background with horses. His earliest introduction to live racing came at the Standardbred tracks near Columbus, Ohio,as a teenager. It was a fun diversion. Nothhaft went the military route early in his career – he graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and was a Marine captain who served in Vietnam – and followed that with graduate school, which led to his introduction to the technology world, which led to sales for high-tech companies in the 1970s. “That’s very close to being an entrepreneur,” said Nothhaft, who is quick to admit that he always wants to succeed in anything he tries to do. “Next thing you know, I wanted to be more than the guy selling the stuff, I wanted to be more involved in the company and running it.”
Nothhaft’s passion for the American dream is boundless. The loss of business in recent decades in the Silicon Valley prompted him to write the highly acclaimed book Great Again, which came out in 2011 and explores solutions to return the United States to prominence as an innovation leader in the world. More than ready to speak out about the political climate in Pennsylvania and its adverse effect on the breeding industry when discussions come up about taking away incentives.
Photo Anne Litz Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred
“People who are serious about making significant investments in any industry, including Thoroughbreds, like to have a long-term horizon. And some predictability,” said Nothhaft. “So if the landscape is negative, you can take that into effect and decide whether you want to be in that business. If you have a positive environment and positive incentives, which Pennsylvania certainly has, but you think they are fleeting and may be taken away at any time, it’s very hard to make multimillion-dollar long-term investments in the industry.”
Nothhaft slips easily into using corporate-world terms when describing his Thoroughbred operation. “The goal is to breed to race and sell and get quality to the point where it becomes self-sustaining or grows from the reinvestment of the profit.” He owns approximately a dozen broodmares, has a stable in California with trainer Gary Mandella and another string at Parx Racing with trainer Keith Nations, who had been based in California. “My commitment to Pennsylvania racing is bolstered by Nations’ move to Parx as my exclusive [East Coast] trainer,” he said. As with any business plan, adjustments are often necessary. Nothhaft initially started purchasing horses in California in 2006, but when the financial market experienced its setback in 2008, he sold off all his California assets (although he still has one broodmare in production in the state) and decided to relocate to Pennsylvania because of the strength of the state-bred program. Nothhaft had already done a lot of homework. “In 2006 I started scratching the surface of studying pedigrees,” he recalled. “I wrote a business plan. This was part of that analysis I did. I went to a couple of seminars that the Thoroughbred Owners of California ran, learning the ins and outs of horse racing, what all the rules were, tax implications and record keeping, breeding. Then I plugged into The Blood-Horse [magazine]. I bought all the books in their library, from breeding theories totaking care of mares. Even though I don’t run a farm, I read all those books and watched all their videos on how to evaluate horse flesh.
“I spent a lot of time self-educating, and then I started meeting people in the business through these seminars and asking a lot of questions. I’ll be quite honest – some of the people I got involved with initially, I made poor choices. They weren’t terrible people, they just weren’t effective and not the right people for me. It’s good I got started to breed to race in California and we had the massive setback. It hit me in the face.”
Photo Hank Nothhaft Jr.
One solid connection Nothhaft made in California was Mandella, his trainer since 2010. Purchasing yearlings for Nothhaft under the HnR Nothhaft Horse Racing banner, Mandella and bloodstock agent Mary Knight selected the Indian Charlie filly Kindle at the Keeneland September Yearling sale in 2009 for the novice owner,
Kindle has overcome numerous setbacksto win or place in nine of 11 starts, take two stakes and hit the board in four graded races. She even pushed two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint-G1 champion Mizdirection in last year’s Grade 2 Monrovia Stakes at Santa Anita, losing by a half-length. Destined for Nothhaft’s broodmare band, the 6-year-old once again went to the sidelines in January following a solid second in the 2014 Monrovia, her first start in nearly a year. Back in training, she is being prepared for the Royal Northern Stakes at Woodbine in late July. Should all go well, a trip to Parx for the Grade 3 Turf Monster in September is on the agenda before returning to California.
Kindle Duels Mizdirection in 2013 Monrovia Stakes
Another significant accomplishment for Nothhaft came through his association with bloodstock advisor Carl McEntee, formerly with Ghost Ridge Farm and Northview PA before leaving for Darby Dan in Kentucky. The two met in the fall of 2010, and McEntee has advised Nothhaft on purchases of broodmares and European-based fillies at the track. Among the broodmares was Sulis, a young winning daughter of Maria’s Mon who cost Nothhaft $105,000 at the 2012 Keeneland November sale while carrying her first foal. Three months later, Sulis delivered a filly by Harlan’s Holiday at Northview PA. In November, the filly was in the sales ring at Keeneland, selling for $250,000, the top price for a Pennsylvania bred weanling last year.
Photo Henry R “Hank” Nothhaft
Sulis 13 Harlan’s Holiday Keeneland Sale
“Carl has an uncanny eye and a willingness to have a discipline in bidding for horses when buying mares, yearlings or whatever,” said Nothhaft. “We set very specific goals and budgets. . . I go to all the auctions now that I’m retired – even beforeI was retired I went to most of them. Carl and I will sit there and agree on a price before we walk into the room. We haven’t chased the horses – we’ve passed on hundreds But because of our good planning and discipline, we ended up buying a horse like Sulis. A fantastic buy.
“Our goal has always been to buy the mare in foal, and have the first foal cover the purchase. And so far, other than a couple I kept myself that we could have sold for that, we’ve accomplished that.” Another rising star found by McEntee is the 4-year-old filly Living The Life (Ire), a daughter of Two Thousand Guineas-G1 winner Footstepsinthesand out of a Machiavellian mare. Purchased in February in England for $60,000 and transferred to the Newmarket training yard of McEntee’s brother Phil, Living The Life has since
won twice in four starts over the all-weather track at Lingfield.
Photo Becky McEntee
Her final start before shipping to California came in the $252,000 All-Weather Championship Fillies and Mares Condition Stakes April18, which she won easily. She will be pointed to the Del Mar meet this summer. “Part of my plan is to buy pedigreed fillies in the U.K. for value prices equal to their U.S. residual value and then try to step them up by succeeding on the track in the U.S.,” said Nothhaft. Two other fillies following that path are Macaabra (Ire), a 4-year-old daughter of the hot international sire Exceed And Excel out of a Sadler’s Wells mare, and the Irish-bred Halljoy (by Halling), Group 3 placed in England last year at 2. Macaabra joined the Mandella barn in 2013, and won an allowance race at Santa Anita this year. Halljoy shipped to the U.S. with Living The Life and is awaiting her first start in the HnR Nothhaft Horse Racing colors.
Photo Ian Headington
Living the Life Wins All Weather Championship 2014
All Weather Championship Post Race Interview
Those silks have special meaning to Nothhaft – they are Navy blue and gold. “I have the same relationship with the Naval Academy as I have with horses, I love it,” he said. And while Nothhaft’s wife Randie and sons Hank and Ryan and their families enjoy the horses and going to the track onthe West Coast, he said it “has turned into more of a business for them because it’s isolated from them.” But Nothhaft can’t help naming horses for family members. One of his most prized broodmares, somewhat to his wife’s chagrin, is Randie’s Legend. Nothhaft laughed when he said, “My wife said I could continue in horse racing as long as I
didn’t name another horse after her.”Another was named First Blue Angel (in honor of his father-in-law Capt. Roy Marlin “Butch” Voris, who founded the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron). And when he had two grandsons born a month apart this past year, Nothhaft named a California-bred yearling using their first names, Sawyer and Jett. “When Sawyer’s Jett goes to the track, we’re all going to go. I had named her something else, but when we had the two babies, I wanted to name a horse after them that they could see.” Nothhaft supports numerous stallions, but connected immediately with two. Smarty Jones was among the first horses he invested in when launching his Pennsylvania operation. Nothhaft not only owns shares of the Pennsylvania-bred star, but revealed “I have a poster of a movie they’ve done on Smarty Jones. I have a Moneigh by Smarty Jones. I’m a true fan of Smarty Jones.”
Photo Henry R “Hank” Nothhaft
He also had a special connection to Breeders’ Cup Sprint-G1 winner Silver Train. Standing a stallion in the region was an integral part of Nothhaft’s initial business plan and his analysis led him to look for a horse who could stand at a fee to suit the region, throw winners at distances up to a mile, and produce durable runners. Silver Train checked every box he moved to Pennsylvania for the 2012 season. The millionaire and A.P. Indy grandson was well received during his two years in the state and provided Nothhaft an opportunity to experiment. Soon after his arrival, Silver Train had a website and Facebook page.“I feel horse racing is an under-covered sport,” said Nothhaft. “So we had our own website, and we could put up any information on Silver Train that we wanted instantly. I had a blog, I wrote a lot of the articles that were there. We had a very active Facebook page. We had really core, true followers who were following the horse. I did a lot of that activity personally. So I learned that social media can be a powerful force.”
The use of social media remains important to Nothhaft, whose mare Kindle has a Facebook page (HnR’s Kindle) and a section on the Silver Train website.
Photo Henry R “Hank” Nothhaft
“It’s amazing when we put a note on there, the interest levels we’ve got on her,” Nothhaft said. “We’re trying to create value, and Kindle is a brand. She’s got a following. People want to know when she’s racing. I’m going to try to have some of my horses as the HnR brand. Hopefully that [Harlan’s Holiday] foal we sold will go to Saratoga. I hope they get a million dollars and I won’t have any regrets. I own Sulis,
and I sold the horse for good money, and it would help our brand. That’s how you have to look at it.”
The loss of Silver Train, who colicked while in quarantine in Brazil after standing in the Southern Hemisphere last fall, was an emotional blow to Nothhaft. And it was a blow from a business point of view. “I do insure myself, so it wasn’t a nearterm loss of capital, it was the business momentum,” said Nothhaft, who owned 87.5 percent of Silver Train. “It takes years to get this pipeline going and we had two years worth of getting him going and we were ready to press on the accelerator. It was a setback.”Nothhaft has moved away from stallion ownership.
Photo Anne Litz Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred
“As far as being an entrepreneur you have to assimilate that, reassess your plan, look at your strengths and weaknesses, see where you are and go forth,” he said. “I’ve definitely shifted the emphasis very heavily to high-quality mares, with some ownership of seasons as it makes sense. I found I really don’t need to own the stallion and it gives me more flexibility.” In addition to his interest in Smarty Jones, Nothhaft has shares in Northview PA stallions Jump Start and El Padrino. Nothhaft also uses stallions in Kentucky, this year sending mares to, among others, Scat Daddy, Gio Ponti, Tale of Ekati and Dunkirk. Nothhaft plans to keep his Silver Train offspring to race. He has five yearlings by the stallion, including a colt named Thepennsylvaniakid. The final Silver Train foal bred in his name, a filly out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Aloft born April 19, will be named Silber Zug, which is German for Silver Train. “I’m German by heritage. . . I generally don’t name horses that I might sell – so that one’s a keeper.” This year’s Pennsylvania foal crop for the breeder numbers nine, including a Scat Daddy filly out of Sulis, a Stormy Atlantic colt out of Randie’s Legend and a Ghostzapper colt out of Canary Diamond, one of Nothhaft’s more recent purchases, out of the Adena Springs consignment at Keeneland last November.
Photo Anne Litz Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred
“The thing I do like about horse racing, it’s a constant, instant feedback on your decisions and how you are doing,” said Nothhaft. “Between the racing stock, the ones in the pipeline, the broodmares, the foals and everything we’ve got going, there is constant feedback on your decisions and how well you are doing and how well you are managing your business.
“It’s just exciting, I just have a passion for it. Everything I have ever been involved with I’ve had a passion for it. I don’t have many regrets, if any, but one is I wish I would have gone into this business 20 or 30 years ago, because it’s a long lead-time business. To do it yourself, and bootstrap it, and create the success yourself takes time.”
Photo Anne Litz Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred
Nothhaft appears to have found the formula of mixing business with pleasure. “Having a long-term plan, and setting achievable stretch goals, and managing that plan – that could work in any business. So you get into the horse-racing arena – I’m sure this is true of startups in technology too – some companies have very concise goals, very well thought out plans, they execute, they review their results, they adjust accordingly and so on. Those outfits sometimes can succeed without having the best technology. That certainly applies to the horse industry. “[The racing industry] has a variety – big companies to the individual participant. But at any level, the person who has the appropriate plan will be the most successful. I really believe this.”