On Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, Wilburn will try to stand out on an even bigger stage. The 3-year-old bay colt is at 4-1 on the morning line for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I). Only favored Trappe Shot (3-1) and The Factor and Shackleford (both at 7-2) have lower odds.
Wilburn comes into the World Championships with a three-race winning streak. Those efforts included a 1 3/4-length victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing Sept .5 and a 4 3/4-length triumph in the Oct. 1 Indiana Derby (gr. II) at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino.
Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables owns Wilburn. Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan signed the sale ticket for Stonestreet when the bay colt was offered at Keeneland and Banke’s late husband and Stonestreet founder, Jess Jackson, was still alive. The colt worked three furlongs in :33 4/5 during the under tack show for the auction.
Wilburn was the only horse in William M. Helmbecht’s Keeneland consignment. During the 60 days prior to the juvenile sale and its under tack show, the Kentucky trainer worked the colt three furlongs once and a half mile six times at Turfway Park and Keeneland, according to Equibase records. In three of those efforts, Wilburn broke from the starting gate.
The pre-sale preparation was unusual because 2-year-olds offered at public auction usually work no farther than an eighth or a quarter of a mile and don’t break from the gate while doing so.
“He went beautifully on the track and what they’ve done with him is kind of amazing,” said Moynihan after signing Wilburn’s sale ticket. “He’s been working every week – hell, he’s been working half miles out of the gate – so you know he’s sound. We like Bernardini, and the dam has produced a good horse with the same cross, so we figured we would take a shot.”
Out of the 2002 Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (gr. III) winner Moonlight Sonata (by Carson City), Wilburn is a member of his sire’s first crop. The colt is a half brother to Beethoven (by Sky Mesa ), who captured the 2008 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II). Beethoven’s sire is a grandson of A.P. Indy and Wilburn’s sire is a son of A.P. Indy.
“He’s the type of horse that moves like a big cat,” said Helmbecht prior to the Keeneland auction. “I’ve never had a colt like this is my life, and it’s a thrill. It’s been almost like looking in a box on Christmas morning. Nothing was ever too much for him.”
At the time Wilburn was sold, Helmbrecht’s brother, Mike, served as president of the corporation that operated Woodbridge Bloodstock, which bred the colt in Kentucky. Central Kentucky-based Woodbridge Farm, which Mike Helmbrecht owned with Bill Geist, bred Wilburn’s dam and she carried the nursery’s colors to victory in the Lassie while being trained by Bill Helmbrecht.
Fasig-Tipton reported that Wilburn was sold by Paramount Sales, agent, to Arch Bloodstock, agent, at the company’s 2009 Kentucky October yearling sale. But according to Mike Helmbrecht, the colt was bought back.
“He had some little issues then, nothing serious,” Helmbrecht said. “He had a little scar on his hock when he scraped it getting up and down as a foal and some other stuff.”
The Helmbrecht brothers nominated Wilburn to the Keeneland juvenile auction so they would have another option besides racing the colt. But when Dr. Gary Lavin, who inspected horses for Keeneland, saw Wilburn and praised him highly, the Helmbrechts decided to consider the sale more seriously. They thought about racing Wilburn prior to the auction to show that his minor physical ailments of the past hadn’t made him unsound. But potential buyers started expressing their interest in the colt as the Keeneland sale drew nearer and asked the Helmbrechts not to run him, according to Mike Helmbrecht.
“You always dream and it’s a real treat when something like this happens,” he said after Wilburn was sold to Stonestreet. “He had gotten to be worth so much that I couldn’t afford not to sell him.”
The colt has won five of his eight career races and has earned $586,515.