While they are far and few between, certain success stories in the history of Thoroughbred racing prove dreams really do come true. Just ask a bunch of folks in Lexington that are part of Livin the Dream Stable.
Put together by Kelly Colliver, the 26-member strong partnership group owns one horse in training. That horse is Dream Empress, who figures to be a strong contender for Friday’s Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) based on her big win Oct. 3 in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.
Colliver, a real estate appraiser in Lexington, had been in other racing partnerships prior to starting Livin the Dream with Hal Burge and Ron Holmberg a year a half ago.
Colliver grew up in Lexington, learning about racing while hanging out at Keeneland and the Red Mile with her family. Her father taught her the finer points of how to handicap and read the Daily Racing Form.
Her first venture as an owner was with a group, and their horse, Wild as Elle, “won at Keeneland in our backyard,” she said. “I’ve been spoiled ever since.”
In putting together Livin the Dream, she wanted to make it fun and not overly expensive to get in. A lot of those in the group head out to Keeneland to see the filly work out, and then all head out to breakfast together. With Dream Express, they spent $60,000 among 40 shares. There are 26 individual shareholders, according to Colliver. All of the principles are Kentucky products.
And they wanted a Kentucky horse.
“We specifically wanted a Kentucky-bred filly so she’d be qualified for KTDF money and hopefully she’d be racing around here,” Colliver said. She contacted trainer Kenny McPeek and gave him their budget.
McPeek found Dream Empress, a daughter of Bernstein, out of the Nijinsky II mare Chinese Empress, for $60,000 in the early stages of Book 3 at last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale. She was bred by Hopewell Investments, Glencrest Farm, and Bryan Cross.
“She had a chip in one ankle,” Colliver said. “We knew that at the point of purchase. Kenny bought her on Saturday and called us on Sunday. He said the chip was a non-issue. He told me, ‘Without the chip, she’s a six-figure filly.’”
Dream Empress made her debut at Ellis Park in a mile maiden race on the grass July 17. Breaking from the rail, she raced in mid-pack throughout, finishing fourth in the eight-horse field. Looking for races with more ground, McPeek asked her step it up by shipping her to Saratoga. She ran the day before the Travers (gr. I), going 1 1/16 miles on the grass.
“Kenny was so confident before the race,” Colliver said. “He told me, ‘This is going to be a big win for you today.’” Dream Empress came from off the pace and battled to the wire, winning by a nose over Dynaslew. “She went eye-to-eye with her and didn’t back down.”
Livin the Dream came to Keeneland en masse for the Alcibiades. At the first flash of odds, Dream Empress was the 6-5 favorite in the seven-horse field, with more accomplished runners in the lineup. She eventually went off at 2-1. Moving from fifth over the Polytrack, she cruised up to the leaders on the turn and blew them away in the lane, drawing off by 4 ¼ lengths under Robby Albarado.
The ever astute handicapper, Colliver is cognizant of what they are up against in the Juvenile Fillies, including the likes of two-time grade I winner Stardom Bound and New York stakes winners Sky Diva and Doremifasollatido.
“I’ve watched Stardom Bound’s races – they’ve given me chills,” she said. “It doesn’t look like (jockey) Mike Smith has asked her to do anything yet.”
Dream Empress will be asked to break from post 12 in the 13-horse field for the $2-million Juvenile Fillies, but her running style should suit most any post.
“At Keeneland, she basically galloped at the end,” Colliver said. “Robby said, ‘She basically doesn’t know what she’s doing yet.’”
Dream Empress will get a true test on Friday. A big contingent of Kentuckians will be on hand at Santa Anita to root for her on racing’s biggest stage, and Colliver will be right in the middle of the mix, living the dream…and not wanting a wake-up call.