After buying a just-turned yearling daughter of Street Sense for the huge sum of $1.45 million Jan. 8 at the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale, Canadian Nat Rea declined interviews with the media horde assembled inside the Lexington sales pavilion.
The decision by the newcomer to Thoroughbred ownership was a rarity within the high-profile realm of buying seven-figure Thoroughbreds at public auctions. After all, most newly minted horse owners come in with a splash, usually with bold pronouncements of grandiose plans for their new-found avocation.
Rea, 47, is taking a low-profile and cautious approach to his investments in the Thoroughbred industry, which include the purchase of the 300-acre Silver Springs Farm near Paris, Ky.
"We like to be quiet," said Rea during an interview shortly after purchasing the filly who is a half sister to grade/group I winners Cry and Catch Me and Certify from the consignment of Alfred Nuckols Jr.'s Hurstland Farm. "We don't like to make a splash. We want to keep it simple. It's not about me. It's not about the farm. It's all about the horses. Let the horses speak for themselves."
Rea, who resides on a ranch in Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada, with his wife and five children, retired last year from Martinrea International, an auto parts company he founded and later sold. The company grew into a multi-billion dollar entity that manufactures fluid systems assemblies, tubing products, stampings, and welded assemblies.
While Rea is making his first foray into the Thoroughbred industry, he grew up on a farm in Canada and considers himself a lifelong horseman and cattle rancher.
"Horses and cattle have always been my passion," said Rea, who has about 20 Quarter Horses and 100 head of cattle at his Regis Farms in Canada. "I love horses and I have always been in the Quarter Horse business. I thought I would take the next step and get into this business. When I wake up every morning the first thing I see are horses. I trail ride and I love to get in between the cattle and the trail on horseback."
Accompanied by veteran Canadian consultant Richard Hogan, Rea began buying yearlings last fall and is continuing at the Keeneland January sale. In addition to the Street Sense filly, Regis Farms also purchased a Distorted Humor colt for $300,000 from the Cara Bloodstock consignment Jan. 7.
"It's all about quality, not quantity," Rea said of his business plan. "A lot of people believe it's about the numbers but I believe it's about the quality of horses first and having the right people around your horses. Keep it simple."
Rea and Hogan said there was no trepidation about paying so much for a just-turned yearling filly, noting that her pedigree provides long-term value.
"The way we look at it, when you have an opportunity to buy a half sister to two grade I winners, there is enough residual value there that if she goes on to become what we hope she will be as a racehorse it's a good value," Hogan said.
"She is beautiful," Rea said of his recent acquisition. "I love the way she walks."
Just as he is low-key about the horses he purchases at public auction, Rea is also reluctant to make any bold predictions about his racing stable or farm.
Rea said he has some of the same aspirations for racing success as most other owners, but does not list the classics either in the U.S. or Canada as being among his goals. He said it would be up to the horses and their success on the track to determine his ultimate goals.
"I will go wherever the horses lead me," he said.
Rea said he visited a lot of Central Kentucky farms before deciding to purchase Silver Springs, which has a strong history within the industry. Among the horses raised there was top sire Elusive Quality and group I winner Elusive City. He plans to retain the name of the farm managed by Randy and Judy Roberts.
Rea said Silver Springs most recently had been used primarily as a cattle farm and he plans to continue to raise cattle on the property along with horses.
"I plan to give it life again," he said of the farm. "It's always had the bones—had the karma—there's just something beautiful about it."
At this point, Rea said Silver Springs will not be a commercial operation, but that the farm would sell horses from time to time.
"We're not commercial but at the end of the day you have to look at each horse...you can't just say we will sell them all or we'll race them all. You've got to understand what that horse brings to you. If you have a horse that doesn't have the heart to run, then maybe it's a horse you would only want to use for breeding or maybe it doesn't fit in your barn.
"We want to keep them and watch them race, but it's about keeping a good quality horse," he said.
Rea is also in the process of interviewing potential trainers for his stable, noting that he would like to find an old-school practitioner.
"I saw that movie Seabiscuit and I want a trainer like him," Rea said of Tom Smith, portrayed in the movie by Chris Cooper.
The newcomer to racing also said he is opposed to the widespread use of medications and does not support the use of the anti-bleeder medication furosemide.
"Treat the animals with the love and compassion like people and the rest is magical," Rea said. "Let them be horses."