Connections of Sunland Derby victor Runaway Ghost in the winner's circle at Sunland Park

Connections of Sunland Derby victor Runaway Ghost in the winner's circle at Sunland Park

Coady Photography

Peacocks' All-In Plan Led to Runaway Ghost

Texas family focused their breeding program on one mare.

No waffling exists in the world of Texas oilman and Thoroughbred owner/breeder Joe Peacock Sr. 

When a decision needs to be made, Peacock does the required research, consults with knowledgeable people, and carefully weighs his options. Then when he makes his decision, it's done. No hemming. No hawing.

In 2014 Peacock decided he had a valuable broodmare prospect in his star runner, Rose's Desert, a daughter of five-time leading New Mexico sire Desert God and the most successful Thoroughbred he'd ever bred and raced. Rose's Desert won 10 times—seven times in black-type stakes—and finished second five times out of 15 starts. She raced exclusively in New Mexico, where she won multiple state championship titles and retired with $626,035.

Peacock believed so much in Rose's Desert that he dispersed all his other mares and focused exclusively on turning her into the blue hen mare he believed she could be.

"Could you say we put all our eggs in one basket? Absolutely," said Joe "Joey" Peacock Jr., who co-owns Rose's Desert and is partners with his father in the family-owned and -operated Peacock Oil and Gas Properties based in San Antonio.

So far, the plan could not be working any better.

Rose's Desert's first foal is Runaway Ghost, a son of Ghostzapper  who earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) starting gate March 25 by winning the Sunland Derby (G3) at Sunland Park by 2 3/4 lengths.

Peacock Sr., 86, was keenly aware of the odds he faced in shrinking his Thoroughbred holdings from 20 at its peak down to one mare. His history with horse racing and breeding goes back more than 50 years, beginning with Quarter Horses in the 1960s and including Thoroughbreds since the 1980s.

"At this point in the game, we are not interested in quantity," said Peacock Jr. "We wanted to see if we could take Rose's Desert and turn her into a first-class mare."

Sending the mare to Kentucky and breeding her to Adena Springs Kentucky's 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper  was the Peacocks' first step. Rose's Desert delivered Runaway Ghost at Teddy Kuster and Matt Koch's Shawhan Place, between Cynthiana and Paris, Ky., where the mare has been boarded since she arrived in Kentucky more than three years ago.

While Peacock Sr. solicits a lot of advice regarding stallion selection, he makes all the final mating decisions.

"Matt has been helpful with some recommendations, but my dad is old-school," said Peacock Jr. "He likes to get the BloodHorse Stallion Register and go through that and study the pedigrees, the distances the horses won, the earnings, the sale averages, all those things. To this point, he has made every mating decision. Pop had phenomenal success with Quarter Horses, so no one questions him.

"He liked Ghostzapper's race record, he liked his pedigree, and the stamina of running at the classic distances," Peacock Jr. continued. "And at that time, Ghostzapper had fallen out of favor a little bit, and he felt for the price, he was a helluva stud."

The result of the mating was striking from day one.

"We were all in love with Runaway Ghost," said Matt Koch. "He was probably the top yearling we've had off the farm. He was the most solid-looking colt with the mind to go with it."

Gus Koch, Matt's brother who manages the farm's yearling division and sale prep, agreed.

"During preparation for the Keeneland September sale, he wanted more exercise than most of our other yearlings," Gus Koch remembered. "Most of the time we kept him on the walker, but he kept wanting more, so we took to longing him. He would go for as long as you wanted. He enjoyed it. He picked up on everything very easily. We had big hopes for him from the beginning."

The Peacocks are primarily breed-to-race owners, but with board bills and stud fees mounting, they decided to offer Runaway Ghost at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale. Peacock Sr. set the colt's reserve at $250,000. When the auctioneer's hammer fell, the final bid was $240,000. That would be the one and only time Runaway Ghost would be available for sale.

"Immediately after he went through the ring, Matt called and said he had a buyer willing to pay the price and my dad said, 'They had the chance when he was in the ring, and they didn't want him, so I'm racing him myself.' "

Decision made.

Peacock Sr. laughs now when asked how many offers he's had on his star colt.

"They started months ago," he said. "He's not for sale, and he's not for a partnership. People keep calling wanting to buy a half or part of him, but we aren't going to do that. We are going to race him and have fun with it, and go from there."

Peacock Sr.'s commitment to Rose's Desert and to the colt has put him and his family in the unimaginable position of having a potential starter in America's biggest race. But despite the allure, the family is committed to doing right by the horse first and foremost.

"As far as prestige and history, the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont are the ones that everyone remembers," Peacock Jr. said. "I will tell you right now, though, that even though he's qualified, if it is not right for the horse, we won't go. For us, it is all about the enjoyment we get out of having these horses. If he's in good shape and it works out, will we go? Hell, yeah. But if something pops up, we won't take the risk. He's too nice of a horse and has a great future in front of him."

The Peacock family also has much to look forward to beyond Runaway Ghost, with a 2-year-old half brother named Sheriff Brown, by Curlin , and a full sister to the Sunland Derby winner named Our Iris Rose. Rose's Desert is expected to deliver a Mineshaft  colt around April 22, and she'll be bred back to Bernardini .

"What a gift," Peacock Jr. said about Rose's Desert. "She was an unbelievable race mare. She raced exclusively in New Mexico because that is where my parents had a vacation home and that is where they liked to go watch the horses. There is no doubt in my mind, though, that she could have competed in graded stakes races if we had taken her out of New Mexico. We also felt she would be a good mare, but for her first foal to qualify for the Kentucky Derby is certainly more than anyone could expect. She is truly the gift that keeps on giving."