‘Whale’ of a Start for Miller, Elser & Partners With NZ Venture

Joe Miller | kernlillingston.com

Courtesy of the TDN
By Alan Carasso

Joe Miller and Kip Elser are no strangers to success in the American bloodstock business. In a 15-year stint with Kern Thoroughbreds, Miller has helped manage the racing and breeding operations of Tracy Farmer and Len Riggio’s My Meadowview Farm, while Elser’s Kirkwood Stables’ graduates include GI Kentucky Oaks winners Plum Pretty (Medaglia d’Oro), Keeper Hill (Deputy Minister) and Gal In a Ruckus (Bold Ruckus); the top-level winning half-siblings Sharp Cat (Storm Cat) and Royal Anthem (Theatrical {Ire}); and GI Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Alphabet Soup (Cozzene).

Always ready to embrace a new challenge, Elser jumped at the opportunity to attend the 2018 New Zealand Bloodstock Yearling Sales at Karaka. The South Carolina-based horseman, along with Miller–the North American representative for NZB–Justin Casse and consignor Sam Beatson of the New Zealand-based Riversley Park agency teamed up to purchase a pinhooking prospect by the since-departed Tavistock (NZ) (Montjeu {Ire}). The team’s efforts bore fruit when the 3-year-old gelding, now named Beluga (NZ) graduated at second asking at Sha Tin in Hong Kong Mar. 14.

“I wanted to figure out a way to get more involved in New Zealand,” Miller said, just after getting Frozen 2 set up for his daughter to give her a break from distance learning. “I met [NZB Bloodstock Services Manager Danny Rolston and I know that the trade is very good from New Zealand to Hong Kong and he was looking to figure out if there was a way to get more Americans involved in New Zealand. There are obviously plenty of Americans involved in Australia and he asked if I’d help him out with that project.

“Kip loves doing stuff all over the world–he’s been involved in South Africa–and this was sort of a natural fit for him,” he continued. “His wife, Helen, has been to New Zealand several times, has friends there. They came, we decided to raise a little bit of money and put up some of our own money and go buy a couple of horses, with the ultimate goal of playing at the top of the market and pinhook a couple of horses on to Hong Kong.”

Miller explained that he got hooked up with Beatson through fellow bloodstock agent Andrew Williams, who launched his own agency in March 2017.

Hip 491 was consigned to the Book 1 of the 2018 Karaka Sales on the account of Curraghmore and hailed from the sixth crop of Tavistock, whose early successes included 2016 Hong Kong Derby hero Werther (NZ). The Oct. 30 foal is out of a multiple group-placed dam who was a half-sister to Group 3 winner Cassini (Aus) (Reset {Aus}).

“We decided that we wanted to buy something in our first year that was by a proven stallion that could be at the higher end of the market,” Miller explained. “We found a lot of horses we liked, but we weren’t really ready to take a shot with a first-year stallion. We thought that bringing something a little more proven was what we wanted, with some black-type under the first dam.”

The team gave NZ$150,000 for the colt, who Miller categorized as “very straight-forward.”

“Beluga was an October foal and he maybe wasn’t as mature as some of the others, but that was going to be OK, because we had 10 months to the 2-year-old sale,” he said, referring to NZB’s Ready To Run Sale which takes place fully 10 months hence in late November. “We had a lot of things we were looking for, but really, we just wanted to find a horse we thought would make a really good racehorse. A horse that would be sound, vet very clean. Size is kind of a factor when you’re selling to Hong Kong–they don’t really buy small horses–so we knew we wanted to buy a horse that was going to be about 16 hands.

He continued, “He just had a great frame to him, though he was still a little bit immature. But he had a great walk to him and he had a great brain. He just hadn’t quite filled in or muscled up yet into that frame, he was just a baby. We thought he had a ton of improvement in him. Tavistock had done well in Hong Kong–at the time, Werther was one of the best horses in Hong Kong. Physically, he was not the finished product, he was something we thought could develop into a really nice horse.”

Whereas there is often a preference for speed and horses that will be “early” at American juvenile auctions, Miller and partners were taking a longer view when they signed the ticket at Karaka.

“Kip and I really want to buy milers, we’re really not trying to buy a precocious horse,” he said. “We’re actually trying to stay away from things that look like they’re going to be 2-year-olds. That does us no good. We want a horse that’s going to breeze well, but when people go and look at it, they think it’s going to make a good 3-year-old and 4-year-old.

“We’re not looking for the sharp 2-year-old and that’s sort of the same thing Kip and I are doing with our gallop-only consignment,” he added. “We’re not looking for a 2-year-old that’s going to win in May or June or a horse that’s going to breeze in :10 flat. We’re looking for a late-year 2-year-old or 3-year-old sort of horse.”

The gap between the yearling and 2-year-old sales in New Zealands affords horsemen the opportunity to bring their horses along at a more leisurely pace that ultimately does the animals a world of good, Miller opines.

“They have a bit of a different way of training their horses,” he said. “What Sam does is break the horse and then turn it out for 30 days. Get back on it, get it up to a good gallop and then give it another 30 days off. And then once you get into June, you go on from there, but the horse gets two or three breaks from the time it starts. If he feels he needs 10 days in the paddock at some point, there’s really no pressure.”

The team’s purchase went his 200 meters in :10.45 ahead of the Ready To Run Sale and caught the eye of noted judge John Foote, who gave NZ$400,000 for the athletic bay.

“We were very happy with that for sure,” Miller affirmed. “For our first venture down there, to even make a profit was great. Kip and I were both pretty green when you go down to the Southern Hemisphere–you don’t know the pedigrees and you’re not familiar with the farms you’re buying off of. It’s a really different landscape. But it is the least-intimidating landscape. People are so helpful and friendly and now after doing it once or twice, it’s second nature now.

Miller continued, “Sam liked him all along. He thought he was one of his top two or three horses and I thought he breezed really well. He had his head down, breezed really easy. The goal isn’t to get him to go :10 flat, the goal is to try to get him to go just fast enough doing everything the right way. The horse kind of did that on his own.”

Beluga is off to a promising start, having built on a debut second Mar. 1 to graduate by a measured half-length Mar. 14 for G1 Melbourne Cup-winning trainer David Hall (video). This season, the Ready 2 Run Sale has tossed up the likes of 2019 G1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint winner Beat the Clock (Aus) (Hinchinbrook {Aus}) and Golden Sixty (Aus) (Medaglia d’Oro), who landed the BMW Hong Kong Derby Mar. 22. Miller hopes Beluga can be the next good thing in Hong Kong.

“I am hoping that this is just the beginning of a successful career over there,” said Miller. “He couldn’t have won more easily, he’s got tactical speed and I’d have to think he wants to go significantly farther than six furlongs. Any time that they’re successful this early in their career, you have a lot to look forward to. Things don’t really get going for another six or eight months for a horse like him.”

This past January, Miller and Elser teamed with Kilgravin Lodge’s Eion Kemp to purchase a colt by Ocean Park (NZ) for NZ$50,000 at this year’s Book 1 and, in partnership with Beatson, gave NZ$75,000 for a Per Incanto colt during Book 2. In partnership with Kilgravin, they also purchased a No Nay Never colt for A$80,000 at Inglis Melbourne Premier Sale in February. All three are headed to the RTR sale in eight months’ time.

BUSY DAY at GULFSTREAM !

SHE’S MY TYPE (FR),(Dunkerque (Fr) winner of the GINGER BREW S at Gulfstream added to her resume with a 3rd in the Sanibel Island S also at Gulfstream. It was an exciting and close stretch run. The filly is owned by Ghislaine Head and was bred in France at the Haras Du Quesnay (FR). She is trained by Christophe Clement

The winner has a juvenile full-brother named Sensible (Fr) and a yearling half-sister by Anodin (Ire). Her dam is a half-sibling to MGSW Blacktype (Fr) (Dunkerque {Fr}), who was also trained by Christophe Clement.

Christophe Clement appeared in the winner’s circle again with Stone Farm homebred TRAIPSING who traipsed to an 8 1/2 length win in allowance company.

ALONZO  MOSELY second by a whisker in a MSW at Gulfstream

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3 year old ALONZO MOSELY (Tonalist) was  part of the Kirkwood Gulfstream Gallop contingent last March. He hit the board in his first start last month running 3rd in a MSW at Tampa Bay at a mile on the turf.  He broke greenly from the gate but closed well in the stretch. Starting again in a very salty MSW at Gulfstream and stretching out to a mile and a sixteenth, he overcame a check and then charged from off the pace to miss the win by a whisker.  Watch for him next out!

MGSP CHESS CHIEF takes allowance at the Fair Grounds

Courtesy of the TDN

7th-Fair Grounds, $46,000, Alw (NW1X)/Opt. Clm ($17,500), 2-24, 4yo/up, 1 1/16m, 1:43.57, ft.
CHESS CHIEF (c, 4, Into Mischief–Un Blessed, by Mineshaft), second in last year=s GIII West Virginia Derby and third in the GIII Oklahoma Derby, was most recently second over this track and trip in a Jan. 4 optional claimer. The prohibitive 1-10 favorite settled within striking distance along the rail through a quarter in :24.45 and a half in :48.42. Tipped out three wide at the top of the lane, the bay colt forged to the lead in upper stretch and powered clear to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Irish Wind (Daaher) was second. Chess Chief RNA’d for $145,000 as a FTSAUG yearling.

Morgan’s Ford Farm purchased Un Blessed, in foal to Sidney’s Candy, for $110,000 at the 2014 Keeneland November sale. Her Ghostzapper colt sold for $150,000 as a weanling at the 2018 Keeneland November sale and for $430,000 at last year’s Keeneland September sale. The mare, a daughter of Grade I winner Plenty of Grace (Roberto), also has a yearling filly by Gun Runner and was bred last year to Ghostzapper. Plenty of Grace also produced the dam of multiple graded stakes winners Diabolical (Artax) and What a Name (Ire) (Mr. Greeley), as well as the dam of Grade I placed Grace Anatomy (Aldebaran).
Lifetime Record: MGSP, 15-2-3-2, $314,830
O-Estate of JamesJ. Coleman, Jr.
B-Morgan’s Ford Farm (VA)
T-Dallas Stewart

Sadly MGSW, Millionaire and GS producer KEEPER HILL died at 20. Proud to have been associated with her early training and to have sold her at Keeneland April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale 1997 for $250K. Today the BloodHorse
looks back at her shocking Las Virgenes win.

Keeper Hill wins the 1998 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs
Keeper Hill wins the 1998 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs

Anne M. Eberhardt

BackTrack: Keeper Hill Shocks in Las Virgenes

Each Thursday, BloodHorse.com presents historic race stories from the magazine.

Ummmmmm. Good tasting canary. Bobby Frankel had everything but yellow feathers sticking out from the corners of his grin after John and Alice Chandler’s Keeper Hill paid $114.20 in winning the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G1) at a mile on Feb. 15. The daughter of Deputy Minister, fresh from her maiden win, effectively drove a stakes through the heart of the California 3-year-old filly division with a 5 1/2-length victory that discouraged the idea that anything out West would be catching her soon.

“I wanted to see if we had an Oaks-type filly,” Frankel said, explaining his jump to a grade 1 race. He found out he had a Guineas filly in the bargain.

Michael Tabor’s Love Lock, winner of the Starlet Stakes (G1) and Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3), had a throat-hold on the local division, but she got sick and went to the farm. Wayne Lukas tried to replace her with Star of Broadway, the Broad Brush filly who was 3-for-3 in the Midwest. The fans went along for the ride, making her 8-5, while Career Collection went off at 9-5.

Keeper Hill raced three times in the East last year for Shug McGaughey and was never embarrassed. She finished second to Ninth Inning, subsequent winner of the Astarita Stakes (G2). McGaughey, who owns a piece, and the Chandlers, decided Keeper Hill could get more chances on the grass in Southern California than in Florida. Since John Chandler works with Frankel through the Juddmonte Farm horses, Bobby was their man. She broke her maiden first crack on the grass Jan. 14.

“I looked at this race,” Frankel said of the Las Virgenes, “and it looked like there were nothing but sprinters going in there. She’s bred for the dirt, and she had that good race to the filly who won the Astarita. My only real worry was that it might be too short for her. But the Chandlers kept urging me to go ahead and enter her. They gave me the confidence to try.”

Frankel also added blinkers. “The jock had to ride her hard last time,” the trainer said. “The last time I breezed her, with the blinkers, she went much better. I think that made the biggest difference.”

Keeper Hill also got one of those trips sent straight from racing heaven. Breaking from post one, under David Flores for the first time, she hugged the rail behind a fast pace around the turn and onto the backstretch. Up front, Star of Broadway was being pestered by Mishill, whose unbeaten record from Portland Meadows was worth 32-1 in the tote, compared to 56-1 on Keeper Hill.

Flores was able to stay inside without effort as his filly gradually gained on the leaders. Around the final turn, Star of Broadway shook loose as Mishill gave way. Career Collection put in a run on the outside, but it was Keeper Hill on the rail who had the momentum. Flores pulled alongside Star of Broadway to make a race for it. Then suddenly, it was over. Keeper Hill galloped away in the final sixteenth of a mile to win by 5 1/2 lengths, as Star of Broadway saved second over Occhi Verdi. The winner was timed in 1:36.94 and lit up the board.

“Leaving the paddock she was 90-1,” Frankel said with a shake of his head. “I said to myself, ‘If you’re ever gonna bet, now’s the time.'” So, how hard did he play?

“Not a dollar.”

Baffert Relishes Mucho Gusto’s Pegasus Win From Afar; Colt Earns Invitation To Saudi Cup

Mucho Gusto after his win in the Pegasus World Cup
COURTESY OF THE PAULICK REPORT

Idle since fourth in the Grade III Oklahoma Derby Sept. 29, Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita-based Mucho Gusto ran the race of his life in yesterday’s Grade I, $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream, winning by 4 ½ lengths while getting a mile and one eighth in 1:48.85.

Ridden for the first time in his 11th career start by recent Eclipse Award winning Jockey Irad Ortiz, Mucho Gusto was hustled from the gate, soon found the rail and had a 2 ½ length advantage turning for home.

“Irad Ortiz did a pretty masterful job,” Baffert, who opted not to travel to Gulfstream, said yesterday from Santa Anita. “He had me a little worried the way he was down inside like that, but he knew what he was doing. When he tilted out at the quarter pole, all I could say was ‘Damn, I wish I would have flown down there.

“I am really happy, I was really surprised because it was a last minute thing,” Baffert told XBTV yesterday at Santa Anita. “I just thought about (the Pegasus) and I was watching the race closely. I gave him a good work and I was going to run him next week in the San Pasqual (Grade II, 1 1/8 miles Feb. 1) and I thought, ‘You know what, he worked so well today (Jan. 16), I think I’ll take a shot at it and he hadn’t gotten an invite from the Saudi Cup…So I thought maybe if he runs well (in the Pegasus), he’ll get an invitation.”

As expected, the Saudi Cup invitation has been extended and Baffert said that both Mucho Gusto and McKinzie would depart from Santa Anita on Feb. 18.

“The race is $20 million at a mile and one eighth on Feb. 29,” he said.

Mucho Gusto Fires Another Bullet in Pegasus World Cup

Mucho Gusto wins the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes at Gulfstream Park
Mucho Gusto wins the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes at Gulfstream Park

Coglianese Photos

Baffert-trained Mucho Macho Man colt worked sharply leading up to first grade 1 win.

The mood was light and the spirit even lighter as horses and riders waited to enter the gate for the $2.94 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by Runhappy (G1) Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park.

Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano stood on the sideline dressed in a sharp suit, having lost his mount when Pegasus hopeful Spun to Run scratched two days before the race. Castellano called out to his fellow jockeys as they waited to load, heckling them with jibes and jokes that drew smiles from all.

Dressed in the silks of Prince Faisal Bin Khaled astride Mucho Gusto, Irad Ortiz Jr. waved and laughed at Castellano. Less than two minutes later, the two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey blew past the crowd with astounding ease as he and Mucho Gusto claimed the fourth running of the Pegasus World Cup by 4 1/2 lengths.

“Those are the most exciting ones, when you don’t expect it,” trainer Bob Baffert said via phone after the race. “He just showed up. We’ve always wanted to see him run a race like that, but he got beat by Maximum Security and he’s been chasing some really good horses. It was a different field today.”

Leaving from post 8 in the 10-horse field, Ortiz and Mucho Gusto broke on top before the veteran jockey shifted his mount sharply to the rail to occupy third behind Mr Freeze and Bodexpress, respectively. Despite being crowded by Bodexpress after the break, Mr Freeze set the pace, clicking off easy fractions of :23.77 and :47.78 through the half-mile.

Mucho Gusto dropped back to fourth briefly at the half-mile mark and swung out three wide. Favorite Higher Power moved in to take over the open position left by Mucho Gusto but soon found himself blocked out of the running and began to drift back.

Within striking range of the leaders, Mucho Gusto found another gear and surged forward to overtake Bodexpress and then Mr Freeze. At the top of the stretch, Mucho Gusto held sway by 2 1/2 lengths and increased his margin from there. He blew past the wire with a flourish, completing the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.85 on a track rated fast for his first grade 1 victory.

“I had a great trip,” Ortiz said. “He got a great start and felt good. He relaxed so well, and we were able to save ground. At the three-eighths pole, I tipped him out and he took off. He was much the best. I think he just took off and opened up easy. He’s a nice horse.”

The hard-running Mr Freeze never wavered and held for second to the delight of trainer Dale Romans.

“That was the plan (to go to the front). He didn’t break as clean as I would have liked, but he got there and he had a good pace and ran a good race,” Romans said. “He was training as good as a horse can train, and he ran huge. I thought he ran a beautiful race. We’ve had confidence in him, and he ran the way we thought he would.”

“He never gave up,” said Mr Freeze’s jockey, Luis Saez. “He was brave. He was trying very hard. I thought we were going to win for a second. He never gave up. He missed the break a little, but then when he saw the clear, he went pretty nice. I felt like he was very comfortable.”

War Story, who broke slowly from the gate, made a late rally to get up for third. Diamond Oops saved ground in the backstretch and had enough in reserve to overtake Bodexpress for fourth. TenfoldSeeking the SoulTrue TimberTax, and Higher Power completed the order of finish.

Mucho Gusto paid $8.80, $5, and $3.80 on a $2 wager.

Bred in Kentucky by Teneri Farm and Bernardo Alvarez Calderon, Mucho Gusto is the third foal out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Itsagiantcauseway. The 4-year-old has made several trips through the sales ring, the last when he was purchased by Michael Lund Petersen for $625,000 from the consignment of Kirkwood Stables to the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale. 

Mucho Gusto impressed off the bat at 2 and has been remarkably consistent ever since. The Mucho Macho Man colt broke his maiden on debut for Baffert and then-owner Petersen before taking the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) at Del Mar next out. He ran second in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity (G1) at Los Alamitos Race Course and followed with another victory at 3 in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park.

After running third in the Sunland Park Derby (G3) at Sunland Park, Mucho Gusto scored back-to-back wins in the Lazaro Barrera Stakes (G3) and Affirmed Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita. He placed second in the TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park behind champion 3-year-old Maximum Security before hitting the board once more in the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course. He closed his sophomore season with a fourth in the Oklahoma Derby (G3) at Remington Park.

Before making his start in the Pegasus World Cup, Mucho Gusto was purchased privately by Prince Faisal Bin Khaled, governor of the Asir Region of Saudi Arabia and a member of the House of Saud.

With new connections and a new goal to start his 4-year-old campaign, Mucho Gusto trained well leading up to the Pegasus, posting four bullet works at Santa Anita between Dec. 29 and Jan. 16 ahead of shipping to Florida.

“He has just been training so well,” Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes said. “After that freshening, he really seemed to grow and get back to the way he was when we first got him. Did I think he was going to crush them like that? No. That was impressive.”

“The horse shipped really well and I wasn’t really planning on taking him there, but he worked really well the other day,” said Baffert, who also won the inaugural running of the Pegasus in 2017 with Arrogate . “I loved his work, and I was going to run him in the San Pasqual (G2) next week. But after he worked so well, I thought, ‘You know what, I’m just going to take a shot at the mile-and-an-eighth and maybe that gets him ready.’ He didn’t get an invite to the Saudi Cup, so I thought if he runs well enough, he’ll get an invitation, and who would know that the race fell apart there at the end (with the scratch of Omaha Beach  and Spun to Run), unfortunately.

“That’s the best he’s ever looked. He looked great in the warm-up, and Irad Ortiz did a pretty masterful job. He had me a little bit worried when he was down inside like that, but he knew what he was doing. When he tilted out at the quarter pole, all I could say was, ‘Damn, I wish I would have flown down there!’ But it was pretty exciting.”

Mucho Gusto’s win boosted his earnings to $2,579,800. He has a 6-2-2 record from 11 starts.

VIDEO: PEGASUS WORLD CUP INVITATIONAL S. PRESENTED BY RUNHAPPY (G1)