2017 is coming up roses for Bill Betz. This year alone, the Kentucky horseman has co-bred three graded stakes winners, including J Boys Echo, a three-year-old son of Mineshaft who registered a 3 ½-victory in the March 4 Gotham Stakes (G3). In the process, J Boys Echo stamped himself as a Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (G1) contender. Betz consigned the colt to the 2015 Keeneland September sale, where he sold for $485,000 to current owners Albaugh Family Stable.
“This business is a rollercoaster, you know,” Betz mused of J Boys Echo, whom he co-bred with James Blackburn, J. Betz, Ramsby, and CNHHNK. “It has a lot of ups and downs. Right now, we’re on one of the crests, so hopefully it will continue a little while longer.” Along with former partner Phil Needham (the pair bred and raced under the name Needham/Betz Thoroughbreds), Peter Lamantia, and Blackburn, Betz also bred 2009 Derby winner Mine That Bird, a 50-1 shot. “So, to have that horse have that kind of day, it was surprising to say the least,” he recalled. “And you never count on that really. You hope that it’s your time to get lucky, but you don’t really expect it--at least I don’t. But, when it happens, it sure is a thrill.”
On February 18, High Ridge Road, whom Betz co-bred with Kidder, Blackburn, Lamantia, J. Betz, Graves, and Davidson, won the Barbara Fritchie (G2) at Laurel Park. Betz consigned the five-year-old daughter of Quality Road to the 2013 Keeneland September sale, where she sold for $180,000; at OBS the following spring, bloodstock agent Eddie Woods pinhooked a juvenile High Reach Road to her eventual owner Martin S. Schwartz.
Along with D.J. Stable, Kidder, J. Betz, and Robenal, Betz bred Hoppertunity, a multiple grade 1-winning son of Any Given Saturday who captured the February 4 San Antonio (G2). The six-year-old horse, whom Betz sold for $300,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September sale, has earned over $4 million for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. He remembered a young Hoppertunity as a “cool horse” whose consistency on the track has shown “his mental ability to handle adversity.” Betz and partners also co-bred Hoppertunity’s half-sister, multiple grade 1 winner Executiveprivilege.
Betz has spent his life in the horse business. The Pennsylvania native, who has lived in Kentucky since the 1970s, said, “I was sort of raised with Quarter Horses, showing them around the country.” After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, he took classes towards his master’s degree while simultaneously working for breeder Lee Eaton, founder of Eaton Sales Agency, and Dr. William McGee of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Next, he managed Edgar Lucas’s Helmore Farm in Brooklandville, Maryland, then returned to Kentucky and eventually bought Dr. McGee’s property, which became Betz Thoroughbreds.
Occupying just under 300 acres in Lexington, Kentucky, Betz’s nursery is currently home to about 25 broodmares, including a number of Mine That Bird’s family members, like his pensioned 27-year-old granddam. Betz also still owns number J Boys Echo’s dam, the Menifee mare Letgomyecho, who has a Broken Vow yearling filly; she foaled a “very lovely” Speightstown colt this year, and is booked to Candy Ride. Over the years, Betz and his partners have gotten lucky with the progeny their broodmares have produced, the likes of which include grade 1 winners Madcap Escapade, Dubai Escapade, El Corredor, and Roman Ruler. Silvery Swan, dam of the last two named horses, also foaled Maimonides, who fetched $4.6 million at the 2006 Keeneland September sale; one year prior, a full sister to El Corredor went under the hammer to Bob and Beverly Lewis at Keeneland September for $2.7 million. In 2011, Silvery Swan’s yearling filly by Unbridled’s Song sold for $1 million at that same sale.
One of Betz’s best broodmares has been Refugee, dam of Hoppertunity and Executiveprivilege. Needham/Betz acquired the Unaccounted For mare, in foal to Not For Love, for $65,000 at the 2006 Keeneland January sale. “Refugee, first off, is a beautiful mare physically. She had a lot of talent at the track,” Betz recalled, also making note of her pedigree--her second dam was the great racemare Davona Dale. He added, “And as a commercial breeder, you look for those attributes in a broodmare and hope that they pass that onto their offspring, so she had a lot of things going for her in my mind that I’m not surprised that she’s turned out as good as she has.”
Betz sold Refugee, in foal to Cowboy Cal, at $480,000 at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November sale. “Being a commercial breeder, you have to clip coupons occasionally to keep the whole program operational,” he said. “When you’re able to get lightning strike like that sometimes, you have to take advantage of it.”