Take the Points at Woodstock Farm in 2006.

Take the Points at Woodstock Farm in 2006.

courtesy of Denise Belcher

Take the Points Already a Big Winner

Take the Points, who shipped to California Thursday for Saturday’s $200,000 Sham Stakes (gr. III), is a gamble that has already paid off big-time for the colt’s breeders Ramiro Salazar and his wife Denise Belcher of Phoenix Farm.


Salazar and Belcher could be this year’s Cinderella story from a breeding standpoint if Take the Points continues on the Derby Trail and makes it to the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.


The fact that Take the Points was even born is a “miracle” in itself, says Belcher, who operates Phoenix Equine Therapy in Georgetown, Ky.


Salazar and Belcher ran a small farm that they had leased from 2002 to 2004, but found it too difficult to compete with the larger outfits. Unable to make ends meet, Salazar went to work at Ben Berger’s Woodstock Farm and eventually was hired as manager of Barrett Frederick’s Windwoods Farm in Georgetown, while Belcher returned to her equine therapy practice.


The couple owned three mares: Ginger Ginger, Ginger Creek and Vic's Nostalgia, and were allowed to board them at Woodstock Farm while Ramiro was working there. They had obtained Ginger Ginger after she aborted two years in a row and her previous owner did not want to spend any more money trying to get her in foal. He gave Salazar and Belcher the mare as payment for the $600 in boarding bills he owed them.

Because Ginger Ginger was “dirty” (a mare who cycles, but has infections in her reproductive tracts and fails to conceive), Salazar and Belcher sent her to internationally renowned reproductive specialist Michelle LeBlanc at Rood & Riddle Equine hospital near Lexington.

“We were told she had an infection in her uterus due to an unsatisfactory perineal conformation,” Belcher said. “In layman's terms, she pulled air and urine into her uterus because she had been torn up so badly during her last foaling.  Dr. LeBlanc recommended the Caslick procedure of surgically closing the upper part of the vulva. This closed everything up and prevented aspiration of air and bacteria. She was put on antibiotics for the infection and we let her have the rest of that year, 2004, off.  We started the 2005 breeding season with a clean slate so to speak.”


They decided to breed Ginger Ginger to Even the Score , a son of Unbridled's Song who stood at Ro Parra’s Millennium Farms.


“I found Even the Score while looking for stallions and I loved the fact he was out of a Rahy mare and that he had run till he was 6,” Belcher said. “He ran long and short and on the dirt and grass. My husband had worked with Unbridled’s Song when he was at Taylor Made Farms years back and he thought it was worth a shot.  I submitted the mare to Millennium and they gave her a chance.”


On April 7, 2006, Ginger Ginger gave birth to a gangly colt at Woodstock Farm. 


“He was 30 days overdue and was all legs when he finally got here,” Belcher recalled. “I loved him because he was a miracle; no one thought the mare would give ever us a live foal. He was chestnut when he was born but had those gray rings around his eyes. I am a sucker for a horse with color and especially a gray.  He was a people lover. You could go out in the field and he would come over and want to be rubbed. He went through about six shades of gray growing up and I had a terrible fear he would end up one of those pink grays. After he went to Susan Forrester's to be prepped he started to turn that nice deep shade of gray. I think Susan called it a rose gray.  Today he is more of a steel grey. Since we only have the few mares they are like family and so are their foals. Ramiro and I have a son, Makaio, who is 4 and he loves the horses already and helps on the farm. He wants to be a horse doctor/farm manager. I do equine therapy wherever anyone needs me. I work with a few vets locally and if they need work done I go where they send me. 


“We are truly blessed with having bred and raised a colt like Take the Points. He wouldn't be where he is today if it wasn't for our vet at that time, Dr. Craig Van Balen getting Ginger Ginger in foal. I also have to thank Ben Berger for letting us keep our mares with him while Ramiro was employed at Woodstock Farm. He was raised with some really nice colts in that field. And of course I have to thank Susan, who prepped and sold him and did such an impeccable job getting him ready for the Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale. She is a good friend and an awesome consignor. She made selling him a lot of fun. I know I had to have gotten on her nerves at the sale asking her how she thought things were going.”


The day the colt sold, Salazar was offered the job as Windwoods Farm manager. They eventually moved to the farm and were allowed bring their three mares with them.


At the sale, Belcher was like a mother watching her child go off to college, hoping he’d be going to a good school and getting the finest education possible. When the bidding on the colt closed at $160,000, Belcher saw who the buyer was and her face lit up. Her “miracle” colt was going to Harvard. The sales slip was signed by Barry Berkelhammer, who is the agent for Starlight Partners, headed by Jack Wolf and Donald Lucarelli. That meant the colt would be heading to the barn of Todd Pletcher.


“When he sold for $160,000 and was the highest-priced Even the Score yearling it was a dream come true for us as small breeders,” Belcher said. “When we found out that Jack Wolf of Starlight had bought the horse we were ecstatic. We knew then if the colt had potential, this would be the group to give him the opportunity to shine.


“I tell everyone he is the gift that keeps on giving. By winning we get the Kentucky Breeders Incentive money and Millennium Farms’ Breeder's rewards points. The person who had previously owned Ginger Ginger came and watched the colt sell at the sale and he is just as proud as if he still owned the mare. He still has Take the Point’s half-sister, so it’s all good.”


Take the Points made his first start last July 5 at Churchill Downs and came from dead-last in a 12-horse field to finish fourth, beaten only 3 1/4 lengths. He was sent to Saratoga where he finished second by a neck in a seven-furlong off-the-turf maiden race. Next, it was on to Belmont, and he finally broke his maiden going a mile in the mud, winning by a half-length over the Nick Zito-trained Nowhere to Hide. After a four-month layoff, he returned in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream and defeated stablemate Masala by two lengths, with a gap of seven lengths back to the third horse.


With the brilliant Dunkirk heading to the Florida Derby, Pletcher decided to ship Take the Points to Santa Anita for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Sham Stakes, figuring with his strong grass influence in his female family he should take to the synthetic surface.


Belcher, meanwhile, has been following the colt’s every move and keeping in constant contact with Starlight’s stable manager Jane Buchanan.


“As soon as we got our website up and she found my e-mail address she’s been keeping in touch,” Buchanan said. “Whenever he works, she’ll e-mail me right afterward. She gets all nervous and wants to know where he’s going to run. She must check the stakes nominations all over the country, because she’ll say, ‘I see he’s nominated to the Sham and the Louisiana Derby. I hate to bother you, but can you give me any idea where he might run?’ She seems really nice.”


Belcher was thrilled with Take the Point’s career debut. “I knew he was special when he came from dead last in his debut, circled the field four wide and finished fourth, beaten only 3 1/4 lengths,” Belcher said.  “Every start was an improvement and it was hard when he lost at Saratoga by a neck to Tarr Beach. At Belmont he would not be denied.  When he won the allowance at Gulfstream he looked confident, like he was having fun. I have watched him grow and mature into something special, maybe a once-in- a-lifetime horse. Not many colts have the ability to run at this level and excel and he has only gotten better in every start. He has learned what it is to win and when you look at his win pictures you can see the pride and confidence in his eye. He gets a lot from Even the Score, but he has Ginger Ginger's head and stubborn attitude. I am an equine physical therapist and I have been privileged to have laid my hands on several million-dollar horses, for some of the biggest names in the business, and I have learned that what makes a winner isn't only confirmation and bloodlines but something in the heart that we as breeders have no control over. They call it the look of eagles and this colt has that look. 


“You have to believe in what you do and you really have to love this business to stick it out sometimes, but when this kind of thing happens it is all worthwhile. I pray every day that he stays sound, safe, and has the chance to be a graded stakes horse and God willing a Kentucky Derby winner.”