The traditional gift for a five-year anniversary is wood. But Rockingham Ranch, founded in 2012 by Gary Hartunian, celebrated a half-decade in operation with two Breeders’ Cup trophies. On November 4, Rockingham-owned Stormy Liberal captured the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1T) at Del Mar, with stablemate Richard's Boy a head back in second.
That same day, five-year-old Roy H. likely locked up an Eclipse Award by tallying a one-length victory in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Rockingham co-owns the son of More Than Ready with David A. Bernsen. Hartunian’s son-in-law, Rockingham racing manager Brian Trump, summed up this success aptly: “That was quite the day for us and something that we’ll never forget, that’s for sure.” Besides its Breeders’ Cup champions, Rockingham also owns, alone or in partnership, 2017 stakes winners Surrender Now, Chalon, Arms Runner, Conquest Farenheit, and the aforementioned Richard’s Boy.
Last fall, trainer Peter Miller claimed Stormy Liberal for $40,000. This year, the Stormy Atlantic gelding rattled off four consecutive black-type wins, including a graded stakes triumph, before an eighth-place finish in the June 10 Jaipur (G3T) at Belmont Park. Stormy Liberal got several months’ rest, then won the Breeders’ Cup in his first start back.
A Breeders’ Cup longshot, Stormy Liberal presents a contrast to Roy H, who entered the Sprint off a grade 1 win. Trump remembered that “we were a lot more confident going into the race, only because we’d always felt…that Roy H. was one of the best sprinters in the country and coming off of the Santa Anita Sprint Championship [G1], we knew that we still had more in the tank. [Jockey] Kent Desormeaux said at the time that he’s still got another gear—this horse is something special—so, going into the Breeders’ Cup, we still felt...very confident.”
Hartunian first acquired racehorses about five years ago; Trump came on board to manage the operation once his father-in-law’s hobby evolved into a business. Currently, the Los Angeles-based team has 52 horses in training. Most are with Miller, but six are stabled with Jeff Runco in West Virginia and seven or eight are in Jorge Navarro’s New Jersey barn.
Rockingham has seven or eight yearlings and 14 broodmares. Of the broodmares, it owns 12 in full and two in partnership. Eight broodmares are boarded at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., four at Ballena Vista Farms near Ramona, Calif. And Rockingham is diversifying further by sending grade 1 winner Lady of Fifty and Screaming Skylar, a full sister to multiple graded stakes winner Bel Air Beauty, to Europe. The former will be bred to Frankel, the latter to Kingsman, and they’ll remain abroad.
The operation’s sole stallion thus far is Finnegans Wake . The winner of the 2015 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (G1T) is co-owned by Rockingham and Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing. Now at stud at Ballena Vista, Finnegans Wake marked a branching-out for Hartunian. Trump said, “I think it was a natural evolution… I think that this was a horse who was sentimental to him that he just couldn’t part ways with and, based on the horse’s earnings, he felt, you know what? Why not dabble in this business and see where it takes us?”
Rockingham’s three keen equestrian minds—Hartunian, Trump, and Miller—examine the stable’s current roster every week, discussing who is performing and underperforming. Trump particularly admires Miller’s commitment; the hands-on trainer inspects his horses from the wee hours of the morning, keeping an eye out for entries and potential claims later in the day. “I truly enjoy the relationship I’ve grown with Peter Miller and going down there and want to continue to learn from him,” Trump said admiringly. “He taught me so much about the sport in such a short amount of time.”
So where does an already-successful stable go from here? Stormy Liberal headed to Hong Kong for the December 10 Longines Hong Kong Sprint (G1) at Sha Tin Racecourse, while 2017 Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) runner-up X Y Jet, whom Rockingham co-owns with Gelfenstein Farm, will get another shot at that race in 2018. And Hartunian plans on sending some runners to Ascot next year.
But Trump is smelling roses. He noted, “In five years’ time, I would love for us to continue on our natural progression...I think we would love to have a horse on the Derby trail. I think we should love to get involved at some point, whether it’s owning the horse outright or getting involved with a partner in a horse on the Derby trail and, you know, ride that out into his stallion career. I’m pretty sure that’s every owner’s dream, but that’s something that we haven’t done and that would be special for us.”