When Paul Saylor purchased Fleet Indian at the 2006 Keeneland January mixed sale, he had modest expectations and plans for the then 5-year-old mare. The Atlanta businessman hoped she could win some New York-bred stakes races and then be bred to Vinery stallion Purge, a grade I-winning son of Pulpit in whom he owns a part. What he was not expecting was that his $290,000 purchase would become a multiple grade I winner, a standout in her division, and be named champion older female for 2006.
For a solid year, the Indian Charlie mare was unbeatable. Her major wins came in the Personal Ensign and Beldame Stakes (both gr. I), and the Todd Pletcher trainee took an eight-race win streak into the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.
Hopes were high going into the Distaff, and Fleet Indian entered the starting the gate as a slight favorite over Pine Island, but neither mare would finish the race. Fleet Indian turned out to be the lucky one as she suffered an injury to her left front suspensory ligament, but survived, while Pine Island was euthanized on the track.
“I wanted a good race and a safe race and didn’t get either,” Saylor said. “I went from being on a high because I was confident she could win the race to an absolute low because when I reached her, the first prognosis was that there was bone damage, not just soft tissue damage. I was absolutely elated a half-hour later, after she was examined in the stall. I felt like I had won the race after that.”
Although Fleet Indian’s fairy tale season ended on a sour note, Saylor prefers to focus on the positives of the year. While proud of her front-running victories in the Personal Ensign and the Delaware (gr. II), Sixty Sails (gr. III), Next Move (gr. III), and Obeah Handicaps, which she won by a combined 31 lengths, Saylor mentioned his favorite race was Fleet Indian’s closest—the Beldame, which she won by a head.
“She broke poorly, was running fourth most of the way, had to go four wide on the far turn, passed horses like Round Pond, and then had to gut it out in deep stretch with Balletto,” Saylor said. “It just added a whole new dimension to her. I thought she had made her statement, created her value if you will, in the Beldame.”
Round Pond would go on to win the Distaff and finish second behind Fleet Indian in the Eclipse Award voting with 48 votes.
Fleet Indian ended her racing career with $1,704,513 in earnings and a record of 13-0-1 in 19 starts. After beginning her career with owner Stan Fulton and trainer Jimmy Toner, she never lost a race she finished for Saylor. Bred in New York by Becky Thomas and Lewis Lakin in the name of Thomas/Lakin, Fleet Indian is the last foal out of her dam, the Afleet mare Hustleeta, who died in 2001.
Having a champion race mare is not a new experience for Saylor, yet he never expected to have another so soon after owning Ashado in partnership with Jack and Laurie Wolf’s Starlight Stable and Johns Martin, the same partnership that raced Purge. Ashado, a daughter of Saint Ballado, was the 2004 champion 3-year-old filly and 2005 champion older mare. The partners decided to sell Ashado at the conclusion of her career, and she brought a then-record $9 million as a broodmare prospect at the 2005 Keeneland November sale to Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley at Jonabell.
Now Saylor is faced with another hard decision. Fleet Indian was originally scheduled to be sold at the Keeneland November sale, but was withdrawn following her injury. She is now being hand-walked at the Taylor family’s Taylor Made Farm near Nicholasville, Ky., and is expected to make a full recovery after having her left front fetlock fused Nov. 20. The now 6-year-old mare will be bred to Storm Cat this spring, and Saylor will use the following months to decide whether or not he can part with her.
“I am tempted to keep her now, and I would probably be tempted to keep at least her first foal and see what happens, but I think the chances are more likely she will be offered for sale,” Saylor said. “The thought process has always been to sell her because I am not in the breeding business except in a very minor way. That is the process, but the longer I keep her, the more I get attached, which is a dangerous thing in this business.”
(Article appears in the January 27, 2007 issue of The Blood-Horse)