One of the successful small consignments at the recently concluded Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale belonged to Nursery Place, which sold its three yearlings for a combined $825,000.
There were three generations of Mayers at Saratoga to represent the family farm, which covers about 500 acres in the Iroquois Hunt country near Athens, Ky. It has produced such runners as 1995 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) winner Pretty Discreet, who went on to become the dam of grade I winners Discreet Cat and Discreetly Mine. Alone or with partners, Nursery Place also bred graded winners Gotta Have Her, Island Bound, and Wiseman's Ferry, and classic-placed Steppenwolfer, among others.
The Nursery Place land has been in the Mayer family for more than two centuries, and it looks likely to continue breeding and raising Thoroughbreds for at least another generation, thanks to the involvement of John and Martie Mayer’s sons, Griffin and Walker.
The brothers were among the partnership that sold Hip 156, a $250,000 Lemon Drop Kid colt out of the Langfuhr mare Cukee. That colt, a half brother to grade III winner Humble and Hungry and to stakes-winner Hon de Leon, brought $250,000 from St. Elias (J. J. Crupi, agent).
“He was owned by me, my brother, and two of my really good friends that I’ve kind of slowly gotten into the horse business,” said Griffin, who manages the farm for his father. The partners paid just $25,000 for Cukee at the 2012 Keeneland January auction when she was a 12-year-old.
“She was empty, and she was already the dam of Humble and Hungry,” Mayer explained. “Since then he’s gotten some more black type for us, which is always helpful, and we decided to give the mare a real shot.”
That real shot was Lane’s End stallion Lemon Drop Kid.
“We love Lemon Drop Kid and probably breed to him two or three times a year,” said Mayer. “We wanted a two-turn turf horse, and, luckily, we got a good one. Most people up here want to win the Derby, the Travers, and it takes a little bit of imagination to look at a grass horse. But this colt, the thing I like the most about him is his walk. I’d have been happy to keep him.”
Turf influence is an asset, as far as the younger Mayer is concerned.
“We have about six horses in training at the moment,” he said. “We keep mainly well-bred fillies. The first thing I want to do is get those fillies running on the grass, because I think it’s a better surface to hold up on and gives you a lot of versatility. And with the currency being what it is overseas, it’s always nice to have grass influence. For us, we’d rather breed a two-turn type of horse, although we did sell a nice Trappe Shot here, and Trappe Shot was a sprinter.”
That Trappe Shot colt was Nursery Place’s highest-priced sale at the Saratoga select sale this year, bringing $400,000 from Matthew Schera; he’s from Trappe Shot’s first crop, is a three-quarter brother to stakes-placed Pull Dancer, and is out of a half sister to Wiseman’s Ferry.
“So it’s not to say we’re only about turf, but we like to do both,” Mayer said.
The third Nursery Place yearling at Saratoga was a Hard Spun filly out of the Scat Daddy mare Swaythisway, a half sister to Mutakddim and to grade I-placed Smooth Charmer. The Hard Spun filly sold to Crupi for $175,000.
Mayer started buying horses with his father less than a decade ago and now owns about a dozen broodmares in partnership with John Mayer and, in some cases, with friends, too.
“We did some stuff as kids, but nothing where I was taking a loan out with a bank to try to get into some of the better bloodlines,” Mayer said. “I really wanted to try to start out with some quality from the get-go. Walker’s been getting some pieces of some horses for about four or five years, too. He spent about three years with Charlie LoPresti, and he was there when Wise Dan started picking it up.
“Dad always wanted me to go out and start working at a racetrack, to see it all,” he added. “But I really never wanted to leave the farm, and now I work full-time there managing the farm for dad. But when I say ‘manage,’ Dad’s there 365 days, hardly ever take a day off. He’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever met. I still can’t keep up with him, but I’m not ashamed to say that. I learned from my dad that if you’re going to play the game, you’ve got to be there every day.
“It’s pretty special,” Mayer said of the multi-generational Nursery Place human family. “My dad’s side was the farming side, and my mom’s side had Hal Price Headley, people that started Keeneland and people that kind of built this business. I think a little bit of both definitely helps.”