Sons of Pulpit are all the rage these days—just ask Tapit . Another red-hot Pulpit stallion is John C. Oxley’s Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner Sky Mesa , currently 23rd on the leading sires list. Oxley, a Tulsa, Okla. resident, continues to prosper with Sky Mesa’s progeny. He bred two-year-old filly Ol' Fashion Gal, who won the Jimmy Durante Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Del Mar on November 29 for owners Bill and Vicki Poston. Oxley sold a yearling Ol’ Fashioned Gal for $60,000 at the 2013 Keeneland September sale.
Sky Mesa, whom Oxley bought for $750,000 at 2001 Keeneland September, has paid dividends. Other Sky Mesa-sired, Oxley-owned stakes winners in 2014 include Skyway, winner of the Best Pal (gr. II) at Del Mar, and Dynamic Sky , who captured the Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Aqueduct November 15. Oxley also owned Ol’ Fashion Gal’s dam, the Horse Chestnut mare Little Hussy, as well as the former’s stakes-winning full sister, Spirited Miss. Although Little Hussy has since died, her purchase brought together Oxley and his now-trainer, Mark Casse. Oxley, who also owned 2001 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Monarchos and 1999 champion older mare Beautiful Pleasure, raved about Casse’s operation, saying, “In fact, the whole organization…from top to bottom, [it] just couldn’t be better.”
From day one, Sky Mesa, of whom Oxley still owns 73%, was a looker. “I loved Sky Mesa from the day I saw him as a yearling and [trainer] John Ward and I purchased him at Keeneland,” said Oxley. He described the horse, who stands at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., as the “best-looking yearling I’d ever seen.” His babies do their sire proud. “I just like to be involved with him because I think he’s an extremely well-bred son of Pulpit and out of the Storm Cat mare [Caress], and I think he’s quite a bargain horse at $20,000, but that’s my opinion.”
For 60 years, Oxley, the leading owner at Woodbine’s recent meet, has loved racehorses. “Yes, I was always stimulated by the great pioneers in racing that had gone before me, and I fell in love with the Kentucky Derby in ’46 when Assault won. I listened on my little family radio,” he remembered. He became further enthralled eight years later when Determine took the Derby. “Ironically, you know, I won the Derby 47 years after Determine’s win in ‘54 with another gray colt named Monarchos, so that was kind of a fairy-tale event there.”
But such stars are hard to find. At sales, Oxley said, “we look at a lot of yearlings, and we probably start with 100 of them at each sale and we get down to our short list on inspection [by] not only Mark, but myself and one of two of his assistants, which are quite good, and then [comes] the vetting process. We do a very thorough job there, and we try to buy those, and often we are outbid, but often we are successful there, too.” At this year’s Keeneland September sale, Oxley purchased Tour de Force, a handsome yearling son of Tiznow out of grade I winner/producer Dream Supreme, for $1.35 million. “Sky Mesa was the best-looking yearling I’ve ever seen and I bought him, and this colt as a yearling was equally awesome, if not more so. This was one that we had to have.” Oxley owns two-thirds of Tour de Force with the colt’s breeder, Mrs. George Steinbrenner, retaining the remaining one-third.
What does Oxley look for in a prospect? “Pedigree’s all-important to me and I’ve been a student of that for many years, and I just really want a sire that has the good bloodlines and has produced…that kind of graded stakes winner that I’m looking for, as well as the dam, [who]’s so important,” said Oxley. “I like to see some stamina down below, and also, I like to see some speed down there somewhere in the pedigree.”
Oxley, a two-time Sovereign Award-winning leading owner, keeps most of his 30 to 35 broodmares at his Fawn Leap Farm near Midway. Despite his notable acquisitions, Fawn Leap is a business operation, first and foremost, for Oxley and his wife, Debby. “We try to sell all of our yearlings because we want the farm to operate separately and try to be successful as a breeding farm, so we’re just delighted to sell yearlings and see them do well as Ol’ Fashion Gal has,” Oxley said.
Adjacent to Fawn Leap is Nuckols Farm, where Monarchos stands. “He looks grand and we’re just hoping he can get some good mares this year,” Oxley said of his classic winner. The second-fastest Derby winner ever, Monarchos has inspired future dreams for Oxley, who observed, “I like to shoot for the prize, I’ll say.”
Congratulations to John, TOBA's December member of the month!