Recently, horseman Mike Ryan’s dreams have come up classic: He co-bred May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (G1) winner Always Dreaming and bought May 20 Preakness (G1) victor Cloud Computing as a yearling. “To me, this is on a different level,” Ryan said enthusiastically. “To win the Kentucky Derby—which is our greatest race—to breed the winner of the Kentucky Derby was beyond my wildest dreams.”
Bred by Ryan and Gerry Dilger as Santa Rosa Partners, Always Dreaming is co-owned by Anthony Bonomo and Vincent Viola’s Brooklyn Boyz Stable, Viola’s wife Teresa, MeB Racing (a.k.a. Bonomo’s wife Mary Ellen), the Violas’ St. Elias Stable, Siena Farm, and West Point Thoroughbreds. In 2013, Ryan and Dilger sent their In Excess mare Above Protection to Bodemeister, a stallion Ryan called an “exceptional physical specimen,” producing Always Dreaming. “He was a very stylish, striking individual,” Ryan said of the foal. “He was correct, he had plenty of leg, and he was a good mover,” adding, “He sold himself.” Dilger’s Dromoland Farm consigned the yearling colt to the 2015 Keeneland September sale, where agent Steve Young scooped him up for $350,000 for Bonomo and Viola.
Ryan grew up on a commercial breeding farm in County Meath, Ireland; his career “was osmosis,” he quipped, a soft Irish lilt underlying his voice. Meeting famed horseman George Blackwell - who imported the dam of Northern Dancer’s sire to Canada - changed his life. Recalled Ryan, “I came to America in the summer of ’73 and George Blackwell introduced me to E.P. Taylor at Saratoga and they offered me a job at the Canadian farm, at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario. It was a bigger farm; they had about 600 horses.” Ryan worked there until 1979, when he joined Canadian horsemen Jean-Louis Lévesque and his son at their North American Bloodstock Agency.
“I always knew that I wanted to be involved in the bloodstock industry as a participant just as much as a bloodstock agent,” Ryan said. Robert Clay of Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky, encouraged Ryan to relocate to America. “So they helped me come to Kentucky and helped me get my green card,” he said. “Robert and I set up a business from 1980 to about 1985 or 1986. The business was called Top Yield Bloodstock.” When Clay refocused his attentions on Three Chimneys, Ryan—who currently splits his time between Ocala, Florida, Lexington, Kentucky, Saratoga, and Ireland—went out on his own. He’s worked solo and with select partners ever since.
In the 1980s, Dilger teamed up with Ryan, who noted, “I was watching some of the big Irish pinhookers at the time…I said, ‘Gerry, we can do that...We’re as good horsemen as those. It just takes some capital.’” The standouts they’ve bought and sold include 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam and 2015 Derby winner Nyquist. In the Dromoland name, Dilger and Ryan purchased a yearling Nyquist for $230,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September sale; with Niall Brennan, they pinhooked him for $400,000 at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Florida Select March sale. In his own name, Ryan has bred grade 1 winner Laragh and millionaire Summer Front, among others.
When they branched out to buying mares, some of their first purchases came from the ClassicStar dispersal at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale. They acquired grade 3 winner Above Perfection in the name of Keats Grove Farm for $450,000. At the time, she was carrying future grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick. Ryan said Above Perfection “was a very impressive specimen...a big, strong mare.” Just beaten a neck by eventual champion Xtra Heat in the 2001 Prioress (G1), Above Perfection is an outcross to most popular stallions; she carries just one strain of Northern Dancer and no Mr. Prospector in her pedigree. One of the six mares Ryan and Dilger own together, she’s boarded at Dromoland in Lexington; Ryan also has about 25 mares, alone and in partnership, at Indian Creek Farm in Paris.
And then there’s Cloud Computing—purchased by Ryan at the 2014 Keeneland September sale for $200,000—who won the Preakness for owners Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence, with Always Dreaming eighth. Cloud Computing “was always in the top tier of the crop at the farm,” Ryan said, “and we liked him all winter long and when he started breezing, he was impressive.” Ryan noted, “He’s a horse that we’re confident there’s still some upside to him, that we haven’t quite seen his best.”
Ryan appreciates what TOBA offers newcomers. He said, “TOBA does a fantastic job of trying to educate and bring new people to the game.” In particular, he cited the inaugural Thoroughbred Owner Conference in 2014 as “extremely helpful to people that were interested in participating in the horse industry.”