West Point Thoroughbreds founder and president Terry Finley figured he would have to reach deep into his wallet to acquire Preakness Stakes (gr. I) contender Ring Weekend, a strapping son of leading sire Tapit , at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale.
He was right.
"This is a big money game... if you want to play with those kinds of horses you're going to have to step up, especially at the yearling sales," said Finley, who teamed with St. Elias Stable to land Ring Weekend for $310,000 from breeder Gainesway's consignment.
West Point has had an especially exciting Triple Crown season thus far, as the group additionally campaigns Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) runner up Commanding Curve, who is now targeting the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Ring Weekend, this year's Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) winner and Calder Derby runner-up, was carefully selected as part of the same crop by West Point's team, bloodstock agent John Sparkman, and the digital video technology company DataTrack.
"He was a good-bodied, balanced colt, correct, with a good walk," said Michael Hernon of Gainesway, where Ring Weekend was also raised. "He looked an early type."
The chestnut gelding was bred from the winning stakes-placed Cryptoclearance mare Free the Magic, who was acquired privately by Gainesway following her race career. A daughter of Sweedish group II victor Pompoes and a half sister to English group II winner Forest Wind, Free the Magic is the dam of four other winners, including stakes-placed runner Bamboo.
"(Breeding Tapit) to Free The Magic allowed for a pick-up of the Fappiano blood from Tapit's dam (Tap Your Heels), who is by Unbridled," Hernon said of the mating that produced Ring Weekend.
"(Ring Weekend) had a nice pedigree and was a nice-balanced, athletic horse," Finley added. "Everything seemed to flow with him. He really carried himself the right way and looked like a very good prospect. Tapit (sire of nine 2014 stakes winners, including grade I Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable) was very hot back then and he's even hotter right now."
Ring Weekend's connections were initially concerned when it took him five starts to break his maiden, but after he was gelded, the horse's career took off.
Should he win the Preakness, the Graham Motion trainee would become just the eighth gelding to do so (geldings were barred from the middle jewel of the Triple Crown from 1920 through 1934). Funny Cide was the last gelding to win the Preakness in 2003, following up his Kentucky Derby victory with a 9 3/4-length romp in the Baltimore classic.
"He was quite a tricky horse to be around," Motion said of Ring Weekend. "We also felt that perhaps he was showing more in the morning than he was in the afternoon. It gave us reason to think there was more there and perhaps getting his mind more focused would help. Also, he had one testicle that was not properly descended. We had in the back of our minds that it could be bothering him."
Ring Weekend made a good showing in his 2014 debut, finishing second in a Gulfstream turf race on Jan. 18, before breaking his maiden on dirt on Feb. 8.
"The first time we ran him he was still green, a little cheeky, perhaps, when he ran on the grass at Gulfstream that day. The second time he really put it together. That was a big transformation for him," Motion said. "Even this morning, we were commenting on what a different horse he is in the morning and how he is a more professional workhorse. I think it's an ongoing thing for him."
The improving chestnut followed up his maiden victory with his wire-to-wire triumph in the Tampa Bay Derby and that second-place finish in the Calder Derby. He was knocked out of a trip to the Kentucky Derby by a fever that cost him a few days of training, but showed he was ready to roll on to Maryland the morning of May 10, when he breezed six furlongs in 1:13 1/5 before galloping out a mile in 1:41 at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md.
Ring Weekend, who will arrive at Pimlico Race Course from Fair Hill May 15 before the noon deadline set for Preakness entrants, enters the race with a 2-2-2 record from seven starts and earnings of $305,660.
West Point and St. Elias have already experienced considerable success in the racing game, so a victory in the Preakness would be icing on the cake.
West Point manages equine portfolios for nearly 400 clients, has a stable of more than 80 horses, and has been represented by grade I winners Awesome Gem, Flashy Bull, Dream Rush, Irish Smoke, Lear's Princess, and Macho Again. St. Elias is comprised of New York financier and Florida Panthers National Hockey League franchise owner Vincent Viola and his wife, Teresa. In partnership with Spendthrift Farm, West Point and St. Elias are also represented by 2013 Peter Pan (gr. II) winner Freedom Child .