“Could this really be happening again? There’s no way.”
That is how Fred Brei responded when asked how it feels to be going back to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships for the second straight year, not with one homebred horse this time, but with two. And, all by the same sire.
With an infectious, bellowing laugh, Brei also reminds us he is no Darley or Adena Springs; he only breeds about 15 horses per year. Brei owns Jacks or Better Farm near Ocala, Fla., with his wife, Jane.
“It’s just unbelievable," Brei said. "I’m a small breeder; it’s not like I breed 100 horses per year. To have three of the top 150-plus horses going to run in the Breeders’ Cup is just crazy. If one or all of them win this year, I need to retire on top."
The three horses to which Brei is referring are Awesome Belle, Fort Loudon, and Jackson Bend. Awesome Belle and Fort Loudon are homebred juveniles trained by Stanley Gold, and Jackson Bend, one of the favorites for the Dirt Mile (gr. I), was bred and raced by Jacks or Better before being sold to Robert LaPenta early in 2010.
The good fortune dates back to 1996 when Brei and his wife bought their 89-acre farm, but it reached a national stage in last year’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs when their homebred, Awesome Feather, won the Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) by 2 1/4 lengths and was eventually named champion 2-year-old filly. A short time after the Breeders' Cup, Brei sold her for $2.3 million at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale.
Fast forward a year, and Brei and Gold are improbably heading back to Churchill for a chance with two more juveniles. Like Awesome Feather, they are both by sire Awesome of Course, a colt Brei bred and raced.
“I would describe Awesome of Course as a very good but very unfortunate racehorse,” Brei said. “He chipped a knee as a 2-year-old at Saratoga, and after that he won the Inaugural Stakes at Tampa, but he developed other problems. He came back to a winning level but never to where we hoped he would get to.
“I love the breeding on the horse. He was from the first crop by Awesome Again and from the Deputy Minister line. He’s out of a Lyphard mare, is two back to Straight Deal and four back to La Troienne.”
Like Jackson Bend (by Hear No Evil) and Awesome Feather did in 2009 and 2010, Fort Loudon swept the three-race Florida Stallion Series at Calder Casino & Race Course, a remarkable three-peat for Brei and Gold that had never been accomplished by an owner-trainer tandem before. Fort Loudon has won four straight races since getting off to an inauspicious beginning, and will now head to Churchill to take on a Grey Goose Juvenile (gr. I) field that is expected to include some top Triple Crown threats for next year.
“He’s an unknown quality right now because he’s shipping for the first time, it’s a new track, and he’s facing the top 2-year-olds,” Gold said. “It’s a real acid test but I’m excited to see how he stacks up.
“He has always trained like a good horse but was really green and immature. He’s still immature and learning but has started to put it together. He certainly looks the part, but we’ll see. No matter what happens (in the Juvenile), I don’t think we’ve seen the best from him.”
Gold said Awesome Belle, who is out of the Bayou Hebert mare Bayou Plains, is not all that similar to Awesome Feather (out of the Gone West mare Precious Feather). Longer and rangier than Awesome Feather, Awesome Belle was beaten by stablemate Redbud Road in the first two legs of the filly Florida Stallion Series and was not Breeders’ Cup bound until romping by 7 1/2 lengths in the final leg Oct. 15 in her first chance at two turns.
“She never really got to run in either of them; she never really got to run her race,” Gold said of the first two legs. “Whether you want to call them excuses or whatever, she didn’t have a chance to get in gear.
“We always thought she wanted to go two turns. She always outworked other horses in the barn. Every time she worked I would say, 'There’s no way this horse can be breezing this fast.’ We kept waiting to see it in a race, and she finally came along.
“Her (sister), Bayou's Lassies, was a very good horse and won on Derby Day in Kentucky (2008 Distaff Turf Mile, gr. III) on grass. So maybe grass is in her future, too.”
Gold, who said he will keep the Calder-based and relatively unknown regular rider Luis Jurado on both Awesome Belle and Fort Loudon for the Breeders’ Cup because “he got us here and deserves a shot,” is hopeful both horses will make a good showing, just as Awesome Feather did a year ago.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done over the last couple years,” Gold said. “Last year I was confident that Awesome Feather was going to do well, but you never know. We were like the local boxer that was knocking everyone out , moving up the ranks, and going to take on the best.
"We were beating up on Calder horses, and you just don’t know how they are going to do against the best. You can hope but you never know until they do it. Fortunately, everything went smoothly all week and she showed how good she was.
“Now we’re back again, thanks to the owners who have the passion to race and are willing to put up the money to find out how good their horses are. Fred is very passionate and supports the Florida program every chance he has. We’re looking forward to it again.”
Gold said Awesome Belle and Fort Loudon are scheduled to leave Calder the afternoon of Oct. 29 and will arrive in Kentucky the following day. Awesome Belle was pre-entered as the 15th horse in the Juvenile Fillies and will need one horse to defect to draw in.
Two of the top 14 entrants have first preference in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IIT), so Gold is hopeful she will be part of the final field when entries are drawn Oct. 31.