Benjamin Leon Jr. during the Sept. 11 session of the Keeneland September Sale.

Benjamin Leon Jr. during the Sept. 11 session of the Keeneland September Sale.

Joe DiOrio

Sept.'s Top Domestic Buyer Sees Opportunity

Optimistic Leon is building his Thoroughbred venture in a struggling economy.

Medical center magnate Benjamin Leon, Jr. made a big splash at yearling auctions in 2010 when he purchased two sale-toppers. The Florida resident bought Global Response (by A.P. Indy) for $1.2 million at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select auction and he acquired Mr. Besilu (by A.P. Indy) for $4.2 million at the Keeneland September sale.

Leon, a prominent Paso Fino breeder and owner, is back at Keeneland shopping this year, and he was the biggest spender during the September sale’s opening session Sept. 11. Buying in the name of his Besilu Stables, he paid $3 million for four yearlings. For the two select sessions combined, Leon spent $4,575,000 for seven horses and ended up as the leading domestic buyer. He ranked second overall, behind only Dubai's Sheikh Hamdan, who made his purchases in the name of Shadwell Estate Co. and paid $5,180,000 for 13 yearlings.

During an interview the morning of Sept. 12 with The Blood-Horse, Leon discussed the future of his Thoroughbred venture and other topics.

The Blood-Horse: What is your plan for your Thoroughbred operation?

Leon: “I started (in the Thoroughbred business) like three years ago slowly, walking before jogging. I’m jogging now and I’m jogging before running. The plan is the same plan since I came out of the (starting) gate. It’s to try to assemble a group of fillies for a breeding herd with some colts.

“The colts that we’re buying are colts that in our opinion have the pedigree and the conformation to become good runners. We also want them to have the pedigree so that if they do become good runners, then they can be excellent stallions in the future. That’s the story behind the colts that we have purchased.

“We also are in the process of buying a group of fillies to enjoy at the racetrack, hopefully. They are very well bred, genetically and pedigree-wise, so that they will become broodmares at the farm (near Micanopy, Fla.). They will be added to my broodmare band (of seven mares).”

“I’ll be back in November at the Keeneland (breeding stock) sale to look at the weanlings and look at some of the broodmares. I may buy some.

“My passion is really breeding. That’s my real passion. Of course, the ultimate goal is to see what you have – first with what you buy in order to get started and then when you breed. Right now I am breeding to race, and in the future my intention is to participate in every area of the sport and the business.”

Will you eventually sell the horses you breed at public auction?

“Exactly, but a few years down the road. I am in the process of building my herd and it’s going to take years. As you know, it takes a long time.”

How many broodmares do you want to own?

“I think, ultimately, I want to end up with about 30 or 50 broodmares, somewhere around there, so we can produce somewhere between 25 and 40-some foals a year. We’ll have 25 broodmares for sure and then the rest we’ll get as we get into it and go along and start running instead of jogging. We’ll make those decisions as we progress in time.”

How are Mr. Besilu and Global Response doing?

“They’re doing good. Mr. Besilu was with (trainer) Todd Pletcher and in training. Then we brought him to the farm in order to have him rest a little bit. About November, he should resume training. He is like a Zenyatta type. He is very big, but he’s very well balanced. He’s big all over and we don’t want to rush him too much. We’re taking our time and Mr. Pletcher, like always, is doing a great job.

“Global Response is going to be delayed a little bit, but he’ll get into training sometime this year. He hasn’t gone to the track yet. He is at home and he is working at home at the farm. We have a track and we’re taking things slowly as I continue to learn.”

With the economy still struggling, why are people like you continuing to buy horses?

“Well, we all are very concerned about the economic crisis. We don’t know where the economy is going right now. But when things get as bad as they’ve gotten, I don’t think they can get any worse. When you’re all the way down, the only way you can go is up.

“I think what we’re doing right now through the economic crisis is kind of taking advantage of the opportunity. This crisis has opportunity. We’re getting our hands on some excellently – in our opinion – pedigreed horses and good, well put together horses. It’s a wonderful opportunity (with prices being down for Thoroughbreds from years past).

“Sooner or later, the economy is going to go up. This is the greatest country in the world and it will continue to be that. I think the elections of 2012 are very important for the future our nation. I have faith, like I think most of us have, in our country and I think Thoroughbreds will turn the corner when the economy turns the corner. They’ll go back up, maybe not 100% to where they were at one point, but they will go back up to a very acceptable standard. In the meantime, right now, we’re capitalizing on what we perceive as an opportunity.”  

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