Anne M. Eberhardt

Practical Joke Rewards Breeders' Faith in His Dam

Whispering Oaks went "all-in" on stakes-placed Halo Humor.

Whispering Oaks owners and brothers Keith and Allen Crupper did their best to turn Halo Humor into a top mare on their own when they bought her for $130,000 at the 2008 Keeneland January winter mixed sale. 

They liked the stakes-placed daughter of Distorted Humor  well enough to spend more than they had ever spent up to that day—or since—on a broodmare or broodmare prospect.

"That year we were doing a tax-free exchange on a racehorse that Allen had bought as a yearling and sold her," Keith Crupper said. "We decided instead of buying cheaper mares, like we had done before, we put all our eggs into one basket.

"(Halo Humor) was only stakes-placed, but she broke her maiden going six furlongs by 7 1/4 lengths at Saratoga in her first start. She came back to win in a one-other-than allowance and then finished fourth in the Matron Stakes (G1). If she had hit the board in that race, we couldn't have afforded her."

Allen Crupper trained Halo Humor's first foal, named One Crazy Girl (Fusaichi Pegasus ), who was so much trouble they couldn't get her ready to run. The second foal, Cat On (Bluegrass Cat ), was a winner but only earned $32,575. The mare's third foal, an unnamed filly by Yes It's True, kicked her stall wall and a fractured ankle. She had to be euthanized.

So when Halo Humor foaled a striking bay colt by Into Mischief  on April 15, 2014, the brothers knew they had to sell him. That colt was Practical Joke, a grade 1 winner and contender in this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).

"We kept thinking we would get a horse like Practical Joke and actually own him, but it didn't work out for us," Crupper said. "By the time we got Practical Joke, we were ready to sell. We're a small farm and he was very pretty, so he had to find a new home. At that point, Into Mischief was going up the charts and (Practical Joke) was going to be more horse than we could afford to keep."

Practical Joke was originally aimed for the 2014 Keeneland November sale, but the brothers opted for the smaller Keeneland January winter mixed sale instead, where they thought the colt would stand out more. 

"When he got to the sales grounds, you could watch people keep coming back to look at him," Crupper said. "Some horses, when you take them to a sale, they really like that atmosphere. It is like they build confidence while they're there. That is the way Practical Joke was. The more he walked, the more he stood up, and the more confidence he had. I think that is helping him now."

The confident colt caught the eye of Brian Graves, director of public sales at Gainesway. Graves put together a partnership and bought the colt for $135,000. The buyers turned around and resold him for $240,000 through Gainesway's consignment at the 2015 Keeneland September sale to Aquinnah Ventures. Practical Joke wound up in the hands of partners Klaravich Stables (owned by Seth Klarman and Jeff Ravich) and William Lawrence. The colt is trained by Chad Brown.

"I was happy to see him go to Brian, though I knew we left money on the table because Brian is that kind of good," Crupper said. "I also knew the horse was going to be well taken care of and show back up somewhere. You want horses to be in the right hands and Brian can put horses in front of the right people."

Practical Joke, like his dam, won his first start at Saratoga Race Course, though his margin was only five lengths. He got bumped right after the break in the Aug. 6 maiden special weight, had to drop back, and then ran wide through the turn. In the stretch he dug in, took the lead with a furlong to go, and won with a strong drive in 1:10 flat for six furlongs.

Victories in the Hopeful Stakes and Champagne Stakes (both G1) followed his impressive maiden win. He faced another rough start in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and wound up third, but went on to cement a position in the Derby starting gate by finishing second in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2).

Crupper said when he watches Practical Joke run, he sees a lot of Halo Humor's attitude in him.

"She's a nice mare, but she runs the field," he said. "She is not aggressive, just dominant. If she wants to go to the waterer, then most everyone else just moves out of the way. If you watch Practical Joke, he is kinda like that. You watch him run—he's got his ears laid flat back and is showing he is there for business. It is kind of awesome."

Crupper said he believes Practical Joke's attitude will carry him a long way toward a respectable finish in the Kentucky Derby.

"We all know what the pedigree says," Crupper said, referring to Into Mischief's maximum winning distance of 1 1/16 miles and Halo Humor's longest win at 6 1/2 furlongs. "I think he's already run past that. What I like best about him is that when (he) pulls up next to another horse, he never quits. He may have gotten beat, but his head never comes up and he never quits. He always has his head down, looking for inches."

Crupper knows too well that anything can happen in the Derby through his connection to another horse that stunned the Derby day crowd in 2009—longshot Mine That Bird. The 50-1 Derby winner's co-owner Mark Allen was boarding mares at the Cruppers' farm near Paris, Ky., when Allen's farm manager in New Mexico, Ralph Kinder, called Crupper looking for a good filly. Crupper in turn called Stuart Angus at Taylor Made Sales Agency, who didn't have a filly. Instead, Angus said, "I have a gelding who is going to win the Derby."

"At the time it was said kind of jokingly, but they decided to buy him. It was as smooth a deal as there can be," Crupper said. "(Mine That Bird) was meant to be there. Ralph did a good job of getting Mark to buy him and (was) instrumental in getting him into the Derby. The owners were wavering on him and whether he truly belonged there, as you could tell by his odds. Destiny will put you where you need to be if you just let it."

Crupper said Practical Joke belongs beneath the Twin Spires on the first Saturday in May.

"It is a race that is hard to predict," he said. "About Practical Joke, I feel safe saying he is in the top five. I feel almost as safe saying he gets on the board. After the Mine That Bird experience, though, anybody can win it. It just has to be your day."