Tom Ludt was sitting on top of the world. It was the morning of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and after I Want Revenge was scratched, Friesan Fire became the new favorite in the classic. Ludt is the general manager of Tom Simon’s Vinery, which owns Friesan Fire in partnership with Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Stable.
Above all else, Vinery, located near Lexington, is a stallion operation. Winning the Derby would certainly enhance any horse’s stallion potential (unless of course the winner was a gelding).
"We were so excited," Ludt said May 15 at the Preakness stakes barn. "We bred him, own him, had hats and pins done. The walkover was awesome."
Then the world came crashing down.
Friesan Fire beat one horse, came back with several small nicks and cuts, and was bleeding from his left front foot.
"I didn’t take it well," Ludt said. "You talk about the highs and lows (of racing). But I just wanted to make sure the horse wasn’t hurt."
Assured the horse would live to run again, the furthest thing from Ludt’s mind was the son of A.P. Indy performing in the Preakness.
"Our number-one thing is stallions, so I was thinking, ‘Where are we going to get him a grade I win?’ " Ludt said. "A few days after the race, I spoke with Cindy Jones (assistant to her husband, trainer Larry Jones) and she told me how well he was doing, so I flew to Delaware Monday morning, and he looked good so we shipped to Pimlico that afternoon and worked him Tuesday morning."
Interestingly, Ludt wouldn't be worrying about getting the colt a grade I win had he been more persuasive at the 2007 Keeneland September sale. And he’s glad he wasn’t more persuasive.
"The morning of the sale I told Tom we weren’t going to get what we had hoped for, which was $725,000. So I suggested we set the reserve at $499,000 and Tom said no. There was live money past the reserve and we bought him back for $725,000."
Part of the reason was Simon’s deep feelings for Bollinger, the dam of Friesan Fire.
"That is his big mare, his first grade I winner (in Australia in 2001)," Ludt said. "He had bought (champion) Bint Marscay and he wasn’t going to sell this colt (for less than $725,000)."
Ten-year-old Bollinger, by Dehere, produced a colt by Mr. Greeley this year and is in foal to Smart Strike.
Friesan Fire is now owned in partnership with Porter, who approached Ludt about buying into the colt.
"Rick and I go way back and I’m here to run the farm as a commercial business," Ludt said. "Rick made several offers and the amount finally got to a level we had to strongly consider."
Ludt has worked for Vinery since 1999, full time since 2004.
On May 16, he will be back on top of the world--he hopes both before and after the race is run.