Breeders Alfonso and Nora Figliolia of Westbury Stables had seven foals in their crop of 2005. From that small group emerged two horses that are scheduled to run this weekend in Churchill Downs’ premier races. Awesome Chic is entered in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), and Denis of Cork is in the field for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I).
“Our goal originally was to have a small, 15-20, broodmare band with quality mares that we would breed to nice stallions, and they hopefully would produce some nice racehorses,” Nora Figliolia said Thursday morning while waiting for Denis of Cork to go to the track to gallop. “Never in a million years did we ever think that not only would we be at the Derby, but that also that we would be at the Oaks. For us, it’s just a huge blessing, and it’s absolutely the Lord who has brought us to this. We’re just going along for the ride.”
The Figliolias have homes in New York and South Florida, and they also own a 250-acre farm near Reddick, Fla. Nora, who was a senior executive with a Fortune 500 company before her retirement, is hands-on, taking care of all of the foaling. Her husband is an industrial developer.
“I’ll give you the short version,” said Nora, when asked how she and her husband got involved in the horse breeding business. “About 15 years ago, I became very ill. I had gone through the normal physical therapy and it just wasn’t working. We went to Ocala (Florida) to a friend’s farm to kind of sort things out and decide what to do. Our friend was a physician as well as being a horse person, and he said to my husband, who was at the end of his rope, ‘Why don’t you buy her two Quarter Horses for therapeutic riding?’ Sure enough, my husband went out and he bought two horses. The next morning I was up, and they ‘Velcroed’ me into a saddle and that was the beginning.”
Their eventual decision to focus on Thoroughbreds came about, Nora said, because “we know so many people who have a primary business but love the Thoroughbreds and have farms. When we bought the original 47 acres of property for our farm, we said, ‘Thoroughbred breeding is something we would love, with the mares and the foals, and the peace of the whole thing.’ ”
Francis and Barbara Vanlangendonck, who operate Summerfield sales agency in Florida, are the Figliolia’s advisers. When making decisions about which stallions to send Westbury’s mares to “Barbara and Francis and I worked on it together as a team,” Nora Figliolia said. “We try to get our contracts done around Thanksgiving to decide where we’re going to go. We sit down with our ideas, we talk some things out, and we come up with suggestions and try to go ahead with them.”
Summerfield, as agent, consigned Awesome Chic, then a weanling, to the 2005 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, but bought her back for $47,000. The following year, she was in Nick de Meric’s consignment at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. (OBS) April juvenile auction, where Aurora Springs Stable purchased her for $100,000.
Denis of Cork is a $120,000 graduate of the 2006 OBS August yearling sale. Summerfield, as agent, sold the son of Harlan’s Holiday to Sea Gull Stable for $120,000. Scanlon Training Center then consigned Denis of Cork to the 2007 Barretts March select sale of 2-year-olds in training. Mike Ryan, as agent for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren Jr. bought the colt for $250,000.
Awesome Chic captured this year’s Florida Oaks (gr. III) and Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Denis of Cork scored in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) in February at Oaklawn Park.
“Every single day, I walk into the barn and go ‘I’m here!’ so it’s great,” said Nora Figliolia of the Thoroughbred lifestyle. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”