Off the Hook, LLC, is a geographically diverse effort. For example, the pinhooking team of businessman Joe Appelbaum and conditioner Carlos Morales bred recent graded stakes winner Faypien in Florida. On July 17, that three-year-old filly captured the Summertime Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita Park. Said Appelbaum, “The game started as, ‘My horse is better than your horse; let’s prove it,’ so to have your opinion vindicated is always nice.”
Faypien, a daughter of Ghostzapper , was consigned to the 2016 Ocala Breeders’ April Sale, where she fetched $720,000 from her current owners, Baoma Corporation. The two-year-old filly made quite the impression at that sale, covering a quarter-mile in :20 2/5. Also winner of the May 14 Angels Flight Stakes at Santa Anita, Faypien has never finished off the board in four starts.
Appelbaum acquired Faypien’s dam, the New York-bred Freud mare Mighty Eros, from consignors Sequel Bloodstock for $55,000 at the 2006 OBS February Sale. The day he purchased her, he’d sold a horse earlier that day; Appelbaum wanted to use those proceeds to buy a New York-bred two-year-old, who turned out to be Mighty Eros. He said, “Mighty Eros took a little while to get to the track, but about a year later she broke her maiden at Belmont” by 11 ¼ lengths.
Next time out, Mighty Eros captured the New York Stallion Park Avenue Stakes, and Appelbaum was excited because “she was looking like an extremely good three-year-old filly prospect.” Unfortunately, a stall accident later that summer hampered her further development, so Applebaum decided to breed her. Appelbaum was a fan of Ghostzapper on the track. “About four years ago, we were in the nadir of Ghostzapper’s popularity or unpopularity,” he recalled, so he sent Mighty Eros to the 2004 Horse of the Year to produce Faypien.
Like his New York-bred prize mare, Appelbaum started out in the Empire State. “I was a fan with some friends, I guess, stretching back into the late 1980s. I used to go to Belmont and Saratoga on weekends or whenever I could sneak out there. Maybe about fifteen years ago, we hit a big Pick Six on Travers Day.” He took the money he won from that wager and bought a horse, saying wryly, “One horse became two became four became eight.”
In the decades since, Appelbaum has achieved top-level success. He co-owned 2012 United Nations Stakes (G1T) winner Turbo Compressor, whom he purchased as a juvenile for $22,000 at the 2010 OBS April Sale. Appelbaum always enjoyed attending the United Nations and said, “So, to be able to have a horse that we bought and that I owned add its name to those rolls was really gratifying.” After purchasing eventual champion female sprinter and Breeders’ Cup winner Informed Decision for $150,000 at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton July Yearling Sale, Appelbaum pinhooked her for $320,000 at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton May Two-Year-Olds-in-Training Sale. And Morales bought eventual Metropolitan Mile (G1) winner Yankee Victor for a mere $75,000 at the 1998 OBS March Sale; he went on to earn over $800,000.
Off the Hook’s home base is in the heart of Southern horse country. “We’ve had a full-time breeding, boarding, and training operation in Ocala for ten years now,” Appelbaum said, adding, “There’s pretty much no one or no area in the world that has the depth of rider and the depth of experience in preparing young horses for the track that Ocala does.” Venezuelan-born Morales, a successful trainer in his native country, now runs their Ocala farm; Appelbaum praised his ability “to nurture a horse to the point…where they can maximize their ability at the track.”
Appelbaum owns nearly 70 horses, including some in partnership; about 22 of these are broodmares. He said, “We take a lot of pride in the horses we produce, whether we’re breeding them or selling them, and certainly when we race them.” His mares foal in New York, then the weanlings are sent to Ocala. A New York City native, Appelbaum said, “We are primarily focused on the New York-bred program, although we’ve run some races in Florida.” Appelbaum cited the growth of New York’s foal crop and improving quantity and quality of stallions standing there as signs of that the state’s racing and breeding programs are becoming more competitive.
A former college football coach and founder of children’s charities, Appelbaum brings unbridled enthusiasm to everything he does. Currently on the board of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Appelbaum stated, “Everyone likes to complain a little or a lot in New York about things, and I kind of feel like if you’re not willing to step up and make an effort at it, it’s hard to complain if you don’t try to fix things.”