When Starlight Racing needs to replenish its stable of runners, its buying team heads to the yearling auctions. The venture's efforts at the sales are paying off handsomely this year as several Starlight 3-year-olds are candidates for the 2012 classic events or other big races.
Algorithms , a $170,000 graduate of the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale, captured the Jan. 29 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) and is scheduled to compete next in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 26.
Thunder Moccasin, a $95,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July select yearling sale graduate of 2010, won the Feb. 11 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) and is being pointed for the March 10 Swale Stakes (gr. II).
Those colts are nominated to the Triple Crown, as is Late Night Action, a $230,000 graduate of the Keeneland September sale who was unplaced in his career debut earlier this year.
Heavy Breathing, a $150,000 Keeneland September sale graduate, romped by 7 3/4 lengths in his career debut Feb. 8. And Bridge Loan, a $300,000 Keeneland September sale graduate, finished third in an allowance race Feb. 11.
“We do the same thing every year,” said Jack Wolf of Starlight’s shopping strategy in a recent interview. “We’ve been doing it since 2000 and we’re very consistent with it. We target three specific sales: Fasig-Tipton July, the Fasig-Tipton August (Saratoga select yearling) sale; and Keeneland September. We try to buy moderately-priced horses; we spend $25,000 to $250,000 (apiece), something like that. We also try to get enough of them – historically 10 to 15 each year -- so we have a good shot; this is a numbers game.”
Starlight emphasizes conformation and balance in its selection process. Pedigree is a lesser consideration, but the suggestion genetically that a horse will be able to cover a route of ground is important. The contributions of trainer-turned-bloodstock-agent Frankie Brothers also are invaluable, according to Wolf.
“He has so much experience and he’s as honest as the day is long,” Wolf said. “The main thing Frankie is looking for is the athlete. He puts a lot of emphasis on balance and the walk and he has a tendency to gravitate toward certain sires like Giant's Causeway . Frankie will come up with a short list and then he will give it to Dr. (Foster) Northrop (who is a veterinarian). He and Frankie narrow it down further. Then we decide our favorites and go after them.”
If a bidding war erupts, Wolf and his Starlight colleagues strive to remain disciplined.
“We’re very strict about how much we’ll pay for a horse,” Wolf said. “You don’t want to get in there and spend $500,000, $600,000, or $1 million. This game is enough of a crap shoot as it is. When you starting throwing out those kinds of numbers, you’re really asking for trouble. When we’ve gone over (our pre-established) limit, it hasn’t usually worked out. If you can buy 12 horses and get one or two runners out of them, it’s a miracle. You also have to be awfully lucky when you do this, too, and we’ve been fortunate.”
Starlight must be doing something right. Its racing stars of the past include champion Ashado, Harlan's Holiday, Octave, Purge, and Take the Points.
“If you look at our record, we’ve consistently come up with graded winners,” Wolf said.
With Alogrithms (by Bernardini ), “we got blessed with a nice pedigree on top of how athletic the horse is.” Wolf said.
Algorithms was in the consignment of Catherine Parke’s Valkyre Stud at the Keeneland September sale. When he objected strenuously to having his throat examined endoscopically, Parke told prospective buyers they would have to rely on the results of an exam done at her farm and that she would take the colt back if problems were found after he was sold. Some people walked away, but Wolf remained interested.
One reason why was that Starlight had enjoyed success with Algorithms’ half brother, 2006 Hutcheson (gr. II) and 2007 Deputy Minister Handicap (gr. III) winner Keyed Entry. Valkyre consigned Keyed Entry to the 2004 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale, where Starlight’s then advisor, Barry Berkelhammer, purchased him for $145,000. Oakbrook Farm bred both Keyed Entry and Algorithms.
“We like them (Parke and Oakbrook’s Pat Klussman) and we trust them,” Wolf said. “I think we were the only live money on the horse (Algorithms).”
In Thunder Moccasin, Starlight has a colt that might be more suited to the shorter distances even though he is nominated to the Triple Crown.
“When you look at Thunder Moccasin (by the A.P. Indy stallion A. P. Warrior), you would certainly think that this horse would go two turns,” Wolf said. “But Todd (Pletcher), who is training him, thinks he’s a one-turn horse and you’ve got to trust his instincts. He’s with the horse every day, so that’s where he’s coming from.”
Wolf added that he isn’t expecting Thunder Moccasin to wind up in the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) “unless we get a bad case of Derby fever. But (my wife) Laurie and I were just having lunch and she mentioned the Preakness (gr. I). She’s smarter than all of us, so maybe that would be a possibility. If it doesn’t work out, there’s nothing wrong with having a good sprinter even though what we really want is a route horse when we buy.”