In stature Vicar's in Trouble will be one of the smallest starters in this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), but he will carry big hopes for not just his connections but the state of Louisiana as well.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Vicar's in Trouble, bred in Louisiana by B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm, would be just the third Louisiana-bred to start in the Kentucky Derby and the first since Zarb's Magic, who finished 13th in 1996. The son of Spendthrift stallion Into Mischief will try to become the first horse foaled in the Pelican State to win the 1 1/4-mile classic.
"We're pulling for him," said prominent Louisiana breeder Jay Adcock of Red River Farms in Coushatta, La. "Anytime you can have a horse from your state breeding program win a race like the Derby, it always provides a boost. We're aware of the good horses we're breeding down here, but a Derby win would put it on a national level. You can't buy that kind of advertising."
While in racing Hughes is best known for his Spendthrift operation based in Lexington, the farm also stands a pair of horses in Louisiana where it also participates in the state's breeding program. Spendthrift general manager Ned Toffey said the farm has had a good experience in Louisiana, both with its stallion operation, which this year includes Flashpoint and My Pal Charlie, as well as its breeding operation.
Some prominent Louisiana-breds for Spendthrift have included P. Dale Ladner's Sittin At the Bar, a 4-year-old Into Mischief filly who earlier this month secured the ninth stakes win of her career; and Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence's Populist Politics, a 6-year-old son of Don't Get Mad who has won five stakes and placed in 13 others; and Vicar's in Trouble, a multiple graded stakes winner for the Ramseys.
Those three horses bred by Spendthrift combined have earned more than $2 million in purses, and with Louisiana's lucrative breeder incentive program, Toffey said the farm's program there has fared well.
Hughes purchased the dam of Vicar's in Trouble, Vibrant, for $85,000 at the 2007 Keeneland January Horses of all ages sale, from consignor Taylor Made Sales Agency. Toffey said Vibrant was purchased with an eye toward supporting Spendthrift's young stallions.
The Ontario-bred daughter of Vicar won five races and earned a total of $149,903 in three seasons of racing. Vibrant is a half sister to grade III winner True Direction.
"She was an attractive mare, respectable pedigree; not a stakes winner but showed some ability in her races," Toffey said.
Vibrant showed potential with her second foal, Don'tgetmadalexis, by Don't Get Mad, who won five of 15 starts and earned $105,620. Her third foal, Tarpy's Surprise, a full brother to Vicar's in Trouble, placed in five of his six career starts, winning twice.
Vicar's in Trouble arrived next for Vibrant but his small stature discouraged buyers when he was offered at the inaugural Equine Sales Co. of Louisiana's yearling auction in 2012. With buyers on the grounds showing little interest in the diminutive colt, Toffey said consignor Mark Toothaker, agent, contacted potential buyers by phone. One of those contacts, Clyde Taylor, landed Vicar's in Trouble for $8,000.
"We thought he was one of our better Louisiana-breds, but as a yearling he was extremely small." Toffey said. "And at that time, Into Mischief wasn't what he would become."
That purchase would prove profitable as Vicar's in Trouble would sell for ten-times that amount a year later when the Ramseys went to $80,000 for him at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale from the consignment of Pike Racing, agent.
Trained by Mike Maker, Vicar's in Trouble has excelled on the track, winning a maiden race at 2 and taking the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) in his 3-year-old season debut at Fair Grounds. He has earned $788,900.
"Equine Sales Co. is very proud to have a top Kentucky Derby contender come out of our first sale, and we wish good luck to the Ramseys and all the connections of Vicar's in Trouble," said sales director Foster Bridewell. "The Louisiana program has shown remarkable improvement in recent years, both in terms of purses and bloodstock, and this colt is a testament to that fact and also proves the great value in buying Louisiana-breds."
While Vicar's in Trouble garnered only a small purchase price as a yearling, his success has increased the value of Vibrant. She was bred to Spendthrift Louisiana-based stallion My Pal Charlie in 2012 and she is now back in Kentucky, sent to Malibu Moon last year.
Toffey said Spendthrift will enjoy carrying the Louisiana torch in the Derby.
"We've heard from several Louisiana breeders wishing us well," Toffey said. "There's a lot of pride in the Louisiana breeding program and they have such a great tradition of racing. We've tried to put some nice stallions down there and it's been a great program for us."
Vicar's in Trouble's Louisiana Derby (gr. II) victory is the first by a Louisiana-bred in that race since Heaven Again in 1990.
"That was the latest reminder that you can win a big race with a Louisiana-bred," Adcock said. "And the Ramseys have been great. You have an outgoing owner in Ken who talked about winning million-dollar races with a Louisiana-bred he purchased for $80,000. He's been great."