Published in the Nov. 2 issue of The Blood-Horse
Nearly four years ago, Virginia Kraft Payson convinced herself it was time for a change. The breeder had been successfully racing her own stock, first with her late husband, Charles, then solo for about 20 years. However, in 1999, she decided to do an about-face and become a commercial breeder. "I decided I was interested in some other things and I had developed several wonderful female families, and it was time to share them," she said. On Oct. 26 two horses helped justify that choice. Farda Amiga, who had already won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Alabama (gr. I), finished second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I). Five races later the aptly named Vindication won the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Payson owns Payson Stud on Lexington's Paris Pike. Farda Amiga is a member of a family she has developed for three generations, while Vindication's family is a relatively new addition to the fold. Payson purchased his granddam, Pretty Reason (Hail to Reason--Mysore, by Amarullah), for $20,000 at the 1991 Keeneland November mixed sale. She was consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent, and was in foal to Strawberry Road. "I had wanted a Hail to Reason mare and I was very entranced by Strawberry Road," said Payson. "He was one of our tragedies. With a very limited progeny, he's produced some wonderful horses." Pretty Reason was already a stakes producer--son Silver Comet won the Cliff Hanger Handicap (gr. III)--but she was 20 years old. As it turned out, Strawberry Reason, the dam of Vindication, was the only foal she produced for Payson. She was barren in 1993 and died in 1994. At the time Payson was racing 100% of her homebreds. Roger Attfield trained Strawberry Reason to four wins in 17 starts, including a victory in the 1995 Martha Washington Stakes (gr. III) at Laurel Park. After retirement her first mate was Payson's best success to that point, St. Jovite, Europe's Horse of the Year in 1992 (who is from the same family as Farda Amiga). Two years later, Payson sent three mares to Seattle Slew. One of them was Strawberry Reason. "I loved Seattle Slew and I've always felt he was one of the great stallions and fit several of my mares. "I've always made a point to match them physically; I don't just match them on paper. I think that's a mistake many breeders make." In 2000 Payson sold about half of her 1999 foals as yearlings, and in 2001, she attempted to sell the entire group. "Blessedly," said Payson, she opted to sell Vindication at the Saratoga August yearling sale where he brought $2.15 million as part of the Taylor Made consignment. Most of the rest of her foals were slated to sell at the Keeneland September yearling sale on Sept. 11, but instead went through the ring on Sept. 12. "I knew I'd be taking a bath the first few years because I knew people wouldn't trust I was selling my best horses and not culling," said Payson. "That's a normal part of the conversion from breeding to race to breeding to sell. In 2001 I felt my entire crop was commercial so I sold my entire crop, but I took a bath again." The upside, says Payson, is now she feels like the horses she has put on racetracks are her best advertisement. "A friend asked how I would feel seeing my horses in someone else's colors and I can guarantee you I could never have bigger butterflies than I did (at the Breeders' Cup)," Payson said. "Those horses are both so worthy...I'm not sure if they'd stayed in my barn if they'd achieved what they have being owned by other people." Strawberry Reason is at Payson Stud, as is her weanling colt by A.P. Indy. The mare is in foal to Saint Ballado. Vindication became his sire's 104th stakes winner with his Sept. 14 win in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III). He became his sire's third winner of a Breeders' Cup race with his win in the Juvenile. His first was Capote, winner of the Juvenile in 1986. In 1992 came A.P. Indy, who won the Classic. Seattle Slew, who died earlier this year, stood the majority of his career at Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Ky., where Capote now stands. Strawberry Road's stallion career is linked inextricably with Allen Paulson. Paulson, who died in July of 2000, bred all five of the stallion's progeny who competed in Breeders' Cup races. Escena, winner of the 1998 Distaff and that year's champion older mare, has a similar breeding to Vindication, but the positions are flip-flopped. She is by Strawberry Road and out of a Seattle Slew mare, Claxton's Slew. Strawberry Road finished his racing career in Paulson's silks and stood at his Brookside Farms near Versailles, Ky., until his death at age 16 in 1995. Strawberry Road has 39 stakes winners from nine crops. He is the broodmare sire of 20 stakes winners, including multiple grade I winner Affluent and two Peruvian champions. With many of his daughters just beginning their careers as broodmares, those figures will undoubtedly climb.