Craig and Holly Bandoroff always hope to see a few of their Denali Stud sales graduates make it to the top level of competition at the Breeders' Cup, but having nine entered this year was more than they ever expected.
"I try to be humble and I try to be modest about everything that we do, but at the end of the day if you're job is to try to raise a racehorse then you've got to be pretty excited about having eight or nine even pre-entered," Craig Bandoroff said.
"Forget about running, forget about winning, I think that is a real endorsement and a nice accomplishment."
Out of the group, the one that has been the biggest surprise for Denali is Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) contender Melatonin. The multiple grade I-winning gelded son of Kodiak Kowboy was bred by Steve and Diana Holland's S.D. Brilie L.P and was foaled and raised at Denali in Paris, Ky.
This year, the 5-year-old gelding took a big step forward in his career by winning the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I) and finishing second in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II). Before this year his only graded stakes attempt resulted in a runner-up effort in the 2015 Eddie D. Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the downhill course at Santa Anita Park. His record to date is 5-3-3 from 13 starts with earnings of $1,218,552.
Although he's a millionaire now, Melatonin did not stand out as a potential big horse to Bandoroff when he went through the sales ring. He was sold at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale for $20,000 to Mersad Metanovic Bloodstock, and he carried the colors of John Cavalli and Mersad Metanovic on the track until he was purchased by Tarabilla Farms through a private transaction in 2014.
"That's what makes the game what it is," Bandoroff said. "You have these horses that don't really jump out at you. They're non-descript, but lo and behold they turn out to be good horses. I guess if there was something about him that jumped out, we wouldn't have sold him for $20,000."
Now, the David Hofmans-trainee sits at 12-1 morning-line odds in the 1 1/4-mile Classic Nov. 5, where he'll face 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome , Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner Arrogate , and three-time grade I winner Frosted among others.
Melatonin isn't the only runner the Bandoroffs are rooting for come Breeders' Cup. They also have two promising Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) entrants in With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIT) winner Made You Look and Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) runner-up Ticonderoga.
Both 2-year-old colts were sold at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale, Ticonderoga (Tapit ) was purchased for $850,000 by Woodford Racing, while Let's Go Stable and Three Chimneys Farm picked up Made You Look (More Than Ready ) for $360,000. Craig Bandoroff said both colts made a strong impression on the buyers.
"(Ticonderoga) was a horse, from the time he was born, (who made) you say, 'This one could grow into somebody special,' " Bandoroff said. "Made You Look was the same way... they're bred for it, they look the part, with some luck it could happen."
Among their other graduates in the Breeders' Cup are First Lady (gr. IT) winner Photo Call (Mile), who brought $3 million at 2015 Keeneland November breeding stock sale; multiple grade I winner Curalina (Distaff), a $125,000 purchase at Keeneland September; Canadian champion sprinter Calgary Cat (Turf Sprint); grade II winner Champagne Room (Juvenile Fillies); and grade III winners Holy Lute (Turf Sprint) and Noholdingback Bear (Sprint).
Win or lose, Bandoroff is elated that he and his wife's sale graduates are at least competing against the best of the best and hopes that their efforts will reflect positively on his program.
"It's an endorsement to what we do here, it's an endorsement to the kind of people who we work for," he said. "Plenty of those horses weren't raised by us, but this is a game about relationships and associations and it shows that (we're) doing something right."