Only five months after toasting its first grade 1 winner as a breeder, the Bass family of Fort Worth is traveling the fast lane of the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a live contender they bred named Magnum Moon.
The strapping bay colt by Malibu Moon out of the Unbridled's Song mare Dazzling Song is ranked fifth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 50 points after winning the March 17 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park. The potential of breeding a classic winner could be an exclamation point on Ramona Bass's accomplishment last year as the breeder of Roy H, who won the TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) and the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (G1). Campaigned by Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen, Roy H also was named Eclipse champion male sprinter for 2017.
Bass has campaigned five graded stakes winners as an owner since 2009, but Roy H was her first graded winner as a breeder.
"It is pretty exciting because we still have the mare and two sisters of Magnum Moon," said Perry Bass II, who co-owns and helps run the family-operated racing and breeding business with his mother Ramona. "The mare is still young. We have given her every chance with good stallions, and she's done it so far. It is a little less pressure not being the owner, but it is plenty of excitement as the breeder."
Ramona Bass has a storied history with Thoroughbred racing as the daughter of Arthur A. Seeligson Jr., a millionaire oilman who bred and raced Thoroughbreds since the mid-1960s. Seeligson struck gold with a mare he purchased named Brown Berry. The first foal he bred out of the Mount Marcy mare was a Prince Royal II colt named Unconscious, who won the Santa Catalina Stakes and San Felipe Handicap, and finished second in the Santa Anita Derby before finishing fifth in the 1971 Kentucky Derby (G1). The fourth foal out of this mare was 1975 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Avatar, who had finished second in the Derby to Foolish Pleasure. These two horses were Seeligson's only Derby starters.
Seeligson also passed on his passion for racing to his grandson.
"My earliest memory of being at the races at Del Mar was in 1996 when Cigar got beat in the Pacific Classic (G1)," Perry Bass said. "Growing up, there was always a big group of Texans that went to La Jolla in early August to get out of the Texas heat, so my mom's family always went to Del Mar. My grandfather went to the track every day, and I would go with him when the rest of the kids were going to the beach."
When Seeligson died in 2001, the family dispersed his breeding and racing stock but Ramona, who bred and raced horses with her father, bought a couple of the mares back and kept a small breeding operation going at Claiborne Farm. In the years to follow, Perry Bass got a bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University and did a three-month internship at Keeneland, where he worked during the September yearling sale, the October race meet, and the November breeding stock sale.
"The breeding side I knew, but I wanted some at-the-track experience," he said. "It was a great way to see the nuts and bolts of both racing and sales."
Midway through the first decade of the century, the Basses started reviving their breeding and racing venture. Their first major yearling purchase was Dazzling Song, who Claiborne's Seth Hancock bought on their behalf for $825,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September sale from the Blackburn Farm consignment. The mare never made it to the races but she was an attractive broodmare prospect as the granddaughter of graded stakes winner Win Crafty Lady, the dam of Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Graeme Hall and multiple graded stakes winner and graded stakes producer Harmony Lodge.
"As a business decision, we typically sell the first colts out of a mare to try to make some money back for what we spent for her, and keep the fillies," said Perry Bass, who also earned an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania. "Magnum was a big, growthy, pretty colt that had everything going for him, and being raised at Claiborne was a perk. We were extremely happy with the price, and he's turned out to be a good deal for everybody."
Agent Jacob West bought Magnum Moon for owners Robert and Lawana Low for $380,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September sale. The colt went to Todd Pletcher after he was broke and trained, but didn't start at 2 when he developed some filling in an ankle while working toward his first start. Pletcher knew the colt had talent, but also knew he needed more time to grow and mature. The colt broke his maiden Jan. 13 at Gulfstream Park and is now 3-for-3 and a graded stakes winner.
"Dazzling Song is a very big, strong mare. We hesitated slightly in breeding her to Malibu Moon because he has so much substance. We were afraid we might get a giant," Perry Bass said. "He was a big, framey yearling, which might have turned some people off because they thought they would get a moose. But Todd did right by him. The colt flashed talent and he recognized Magnum's better days were ahead."
Dazzling Song is being bred back to Spendthrift Farm's Malibu Moon this year, though that decision had not been set in stone at the start of the year. The mare delivered a foal by War Front but later lost that foal, according to Bass.
"We knew Magnum had talent, and once he won the allowance at Tampa Bay Downs we got the contract back to Malibu Moon. That cross between Malibu Moon and Unbridled's Song mares is ridiculous, so in the back of our heads we always thought of going back," he said.
The cross between Malibu Moon and daughters of Unbridled's Song has produced 13% black-type winners and 67% winners from 46 foals. Other top horses bred on this cross include grade 1 winner Moonshine Memories, graded stakes winner Farrell, and black-type winner J Serino.
Bass said the family's goal with breeding mirrors that of Claiborne's, with an emphasis on classic form.
"We rely a lot on Claiborne's expertise; obviously they've been doing this a long time. We feel very comfortable using them as a sounding board," he said, noting that the family owns a share in Claiborne stallions War Front, Orb , Mastery , and Algorithms . "We are very vested in Claiborne. We follow their mentality in breeding the right kind of horse."
Other important mares in the Bass's broodmare band include grade 1 winner Avenge, who Ramona Bass campaigned and is being bred this year to European champion Frankel; and, grade 3 winner Wild At Heart, who is in foal to Lane's End's Candy Ride .
"We won't try to get much bigger," Perry Bass said of the size of the breeding operation. "As we bring talented fillies off the track, the bar keeps getting raised a little higher. We want to look for quality over quantity and let the mares duke it out to see who stays and who moves on."