A "reasoned gamble" is how Hill 'n' Dale Farms owner John Sikura described the recent deal to acquire the breeding rights to multiple graded stakes winner Irish War Cry ahead of the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).
The Graham Motion trainee is considered one of the top Derby contenders this year based on his record of four wins from five starts and two graded stakes wins this year, including a 3 1/2-length romp in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G2).
Sikura was particularly keen on Irish War Cry because he is by Curlin , a classic winner and two-time Horse of the Year who stands at Hill 'n' Dale for $150,000.
"It was a significant part of this deal," Sikura said. "We believe Curlin is on his way to becoming the next dominant sire, and you don't know when you'll get the chance to buy his sons. He's already had a son, Exaggerator , win a classic last year, so to win classics back-to-back would make him somewhat unique."
Last year Exaggerator won the Preakness Stakes (G1) after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby; he stands at WinStar Farm.
"Tapit is the horse to catch," Sikura continued. "But if (Curlin) sires classic winners each year, then I think that makes him arguably the most important horse in America. Those are the races everyone wants to win, especially the Kentucky Derby."
Irish War Cry is a New Jersey homebred racing for Isabelle de Tomaso. He broke his maiden first time out last November at Laurel Park by 4 1/2 lengths and then won the Marylander Stakes in his second start. His 2017 debut in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2) was a gate-to-wire victory, getting the 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park in 1:42.52. The colt wound up seventh in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), but regrouped in the Wood Memorial.
"We had identified him as a good potential classic horse," Sikura said. "There is a gamble and risk every time you pursue a horse prior to what could be his ultimate achievement, but the trends are earlier and earlier about when you have to make a move and commit. We saw enough of his résumé and body of work to take a reasoned gamble."
Bradley Weisbord's BSW Bloodstock put the deal together that sold the breeding rights to a syndicate that includes Hill 'n' Dale, Glen Hill Farm's Craig Bernick, SF Bloodstock, Richard Santulli's Colts Neck Stables, China Horse Club, Bobby Flay, Sol Kumin, Vince Viola, Gary Barber, and Adam Wachtel. Barber and Wachtel have previously been more focused on the racing side of the business but are now building broodmare bands, according to Weisbord. De Tomaso has also retained breeding rights.
"The strength of what we do is assemble very high-class breeders to support the stallion," Weisbord said. "It is not only about money. A lot of times the highest bidder doesn't win these deals. It's the guy that has the best long-term plan, especially when owners retain equity.
"Hill 'n' Dale was a natural fit for us considering that Curlin is a leading sire, he stands at Hill 'n' Dale, and they have no sons of his," Weisbord continued. "Hill 'n' Dale has probably the best mare population of any of the farms and that was attractive to Isabelle because of the support Irish War Cry would get at stud."
This year's downgrading of the Wood Memorial to grade 2 made this deal a bit of a rarity, according to Sikura and Weisbord, because such deals are usually reserved for stallion prospects that have already garnered grade 1 status.
"We're treating him like a grade 1 horse and valuing him like a grade 1 horse," said Weisbord "He is an unbelievable physical by one of the best stallions in America. Without the Fountain of Youth, he is probably 2-5 in the Derby morning line. This was a horse on the unlucky end of a downgraded Wood. I don't look at the Wood as a grade 2, and I don't think commercial breeders look at it as a grade 2."
The deal keeps de Tomaso as the majority owner of Irish War Cry throughout his racing career. The colt will continue running in her silks, and she retains full decision-making authority while he's racing. The horse's value includes kickers that will adjust if he wins key races. The agreement also includes participation provisions for the syndicate members if he stays in training as a 4-year-old or 5-year-old, according to Weisbord.
Even if Irish War Cry doesn't fare well in the Derby, Sikura feels the syndicate has a valuable stallion prospect with plenty more opportunities to capture important races later in the year.
"After winning the Wood is when discussions got serious about the intent to acquire him," Sikura said. "He is potentially one of the best of his crop, and there are good people involved. They think he's a good bet; we think he's a good bet."