The star of Anstu Stable is Balto Star, one of the Subotnicks' first homebred runners and the first foal out of the unraced mare Miss Livi. As breeders, he was a second lightning bolt in their bottle.
Lightning struck first Jan. 15 when the first foal out of their first winning racehorse, Irving's Girl, also became their first homebred stakes winner. Irving's Baby won the Holly Beach Stakes at Laurel Park by 5 1/4 lengths. She captured her second stakes nearly a month later in the Maryland Racing Media Handicap, which she won by 6 3/4 lengths. The filly by Quiet American seemed to be the stable's standout for the year.
The Subotnicks had no such expectations for Balto Star. The son of Glitterman made a bad impression last September in the Belmont Park paddock for his first race where he tried mounting one of the lead ponies. He finished last in that race by 161?4 lengths and was soon gelded.
Subotnick said the decision to geld Balto Star was easy.
"To me, you're not going to have a racehorse because of the problem, so you may as well see if you've got a racehorse or you're wasting a lot of time and money," he said.
The change put Balto Star's mind back on racing. He broke his maiden on New Year's Day by 11 lengths at Aqueduct. Subotnick and Pletcher, however, thought the race might be a fluke because he went on to finish third in a $44,000 allowance race.
"We didn't think we had much of a horse," Subotnick said.
Balto Star then won by 12 1/4 lengths in a subsequent $44,000 allowance race at Aqueduct.
"I thought, 'Wait, do we have something here?' " Subotnick said. "My first question to Todd was: 'What does it take to get to the Kentucky Derby?' He said, 'Stakes purses. Graded stakes purses.' "
They started looking for a race.
At first, Pletcher leaned toward the Rebel Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park. He thought the competition would be easier, and they would get a chance to see if Balto Star was the real deal. As they started talking about shipping, Pletcher noted that Turfway Park had two potential races--the Turfway Spiral Stakes (gr. II) and a $100,000 stakes on the undercard. As the Spiral drew closer, Pletcher didn't see any heavy competition so he recommended entering the race. If a big gun did jump in at the last minute, he reasoned, they could drop Balto Star into the supporting stakes race.
Subotnick had not initially planned on attending the Spiral. But the family was flying to Florida that weekend, and he convinced them to take a side trip to Florence in Northern Kentucky.
"Everyone kept saying, 'You're crazy,' " Subotnick recalled. "They weren't very excited because they didn't expect much out of this horse. I had the grandkids with me and they didn't want to get off the plane." His granddaughter Livia is the namesake of Balto Star's dam, Miss Livi, and his grandson Ian named Balto Star after the canine hero of an animated Disney movie based on a running of the Iditarod.
Spiral Stakes Day was cold and windy. The weather was so miserable, Subotnick and Pletcher were the only ones standing with Balto Star in the paddock. The rest of the family stayed warm in the dining room.
After Balto Star wired the field and won by 12 3/4 lengths, the entire family was in the winner's circle posing with their new star.
"We were delirious and quite surprised," Subotnick said. "So now I say to Todd, 'What do you need to do now to get to the Kentucky Derby?' He said, 'No, you got it. You'll qualify for the Kentucky Derby.' "
Balto Star sealed his trip to Churchill Downs by winning the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) three weeks later. Subotnick said the Derby experience was remarkable.
"The excitement, day in and day out, and the anticipation of what this is all about kept us nervous and crazy for weeks, but in a good way," he said. "We didn't win, but that's fine. It was fun going through all that, being there, and having a horse that deserved to be there."
Even more meaningful to Subotnick is that their Derby horse was a homebred.
He said he used to think racing was the most exciting aspect of the sport, but he has discovered the rewards of planning a mating, raising a horse, following its training, then watching it win.
"That is the ultimate excitement," Subotnick said. And he doesn't understand why racing industry leaders aren't doing a better job selling the sport's adrenaline rush and business opportunities.
"I do a lot of things in business over a long period of time. Some good, some bad, and some pretty successful," Subotnick said. "It is nothing like your horse coming down the lane toward the finish line. I guess because it's your horse, your colors. That experience when the horses are finally coming home, there is nothing more exciting."