Thoroughbred breeding is such a tricky business that it's sometimes hard to tell when apparent bad luck is actually good luck in disguise.
In 2000, the Waterville Lake Stable racing/breeding partnership bought a yearling daughter of Gulch named Fahamore at auction. The filly, as it turned out, had a chip in a knee, but an effort to return her was unsuccessful.
The partnership put Fahamore into training, and she made one start before being injured—her racing career ended before it really began. Waterville Lake's business plan is to keep broodmare prospects only if they are from good families and demonstrate success at the races. Fahamore fell short. However, one Waterville Lake partner, Richard Leahy, saw potential in the filly.
"I told my partners I would not mind having my own little experiment, and this one I wouldn't mind buying," said Leahy. "They said no problem, as long as it is in a public auction."
Fahamore brought $37,000 at the 2003 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, and Leahy had the foundation of what became his own Oak Bluff Stables breeding and racing business. The mare went on to produce four winners from six to race, including multiple stakes winner and graded-placed Akilina, who is the dam of graded-placed stakes winner Governor Malibu and another black-type winner; stakes-placed Kitty Panda; and winner Blue Devil Bel, who is the dam of Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) winner Audible, also bred by Oak Bluff Stables.
"The three half sisters have been similar in many ways, in looks and ability," said Leahy, a resident of Westchester County, N.Y., and a founding principal of the Episteme Capital investment company. "It is fun to see that competitive desire. In Blue Devil Bel and her son Audible, they seem to have very similar personalities."
Leahy said Blue Devil Bel's race record does not accurately reflect the ability she possessed because she had a minor injury after her third race, which was not severe enough to prevent her from racing but compromised her ability to excel in top company. The daughter of Gilded Time compiled a 7-4-1 record out of 20 starts and earned $118,459.
"I watch extremely closely how my horses run. When I saw Blue Devil Bel's first three races, they were very exciting. She was on a path to be a stakes winner," Leahy recalled. "Unfortunately, she got a minor injury that prevented her from competing at the top level. But she had the looks, the performance, and her pedigree."
Leahy's belief in Blue Devil Bel's potential as a broodmare extends from a key reason he took a chance on Fahamore, a granddaughter of multiple grade 1 winner Classy Cathy (by Private Account), who won the Alabama Stakes, Ashland Stakes, and the Gazelle Handicap—all grade 1 races. Classy Cathy is the dam of English group 2 winner Placerville and Mimi's Golden Girl, the dam of the late promising sire Noble Causeway, who finished second in the Florida Derby. Classy Cathy's siblings include graded stakes winner Sports View and three other black-type winners.
"It is a very strong family, and I always thought Blue Devil Bel was talented and probably have the strongest opinion on that among all my advisers," Leahy continued. "To have the affirmation of her genes with Audible gives me great pleasure. The sisters' success is encouraging for the rest of the family."
Leahy remains a partner in Waterville Lake Stable with two friends, but he likes the challenge of solving the Thoroughbred breeding puzzle on his own, too. He is quick to note that surrounding himself with knowledgeable advisers has been essential in making sound decisions.
"I listen to everyone. But, ultimately, I am the one who makes the decision, and I like that responsibility and living with the success or failure," he said. "But I could not do this without those advisers around me. They are invaluable. The joint product of all of us, granted with this limited sample we have, is what has been fun, because we've done it together. I think every one of these advisers is as excited about Audible as I am."
Leahy's team includes trainer Christophe Clement, whom Oak Bluff and Waterville Lake have been using as their primary trainer since the mid-1990s; Dr. Doug Cook, a former racetrack vet and breeder who boards and foals out all of Leahy's mares in New York; Don Robinson, the owner of Winter Quarter Farm, who handles the breeding of the mares in Kentucky and handles Oak Bluff's consignments at the sales; bloodstock agent John Donaldson, whom Leahy said has an exceptionally good eye for stallions; and Equix Biomechanics, which provides the objective analysis Leahy devours.
"I look at all the numbers—the Beyers, Rags, Thoro-Graphs, Equibase, and Bris ratings. I'm looking at everything to get a handle on what is the potential of this horse, and how they are progressing," he said. "Most people's approach to horses is very subjective about whether they have the look of a great athlete. Equix is very objective, which I find helpful. They have a method for quantifying how much an imperfection is a problem. Then I have John Donaldson, who has been around horses his whole life and has a very good eye about stallions and why a mating will be good. Christophe reminds me to pay attention to what stallions are winning on the big circuits. Doug Cook is a very analytical person and likes to look at genetics angles, and Don has a wealth of experience as well. Then, I watch races and pore over the literature, like (Bill) Oppenheim's column, and look for value."
As a general rule, Leahy sells the colts his mares produce and keeps the fillies. His broodmare band now includes Fahamore and her three daughters, and a winning daughter of Street Sense named Savvy Sassy. He also owns several fillies that have their racing and breeding careers ahead of them: a Declaration of War —Fahamore yearling; an Uncle Mo —Akilina yearling; a 3-year-old named Peril, who is a daughter of Ghostzapper out of Akilina; and a yearling filly by Freud out of a mare Leahy just sold named Lady Renaissance. Previously co-owned by Leahy and Clement, Lady Renaissance had her own important family update when her son Therapist, by Freud, won the Cutler Bay Stakes on the Florida Derby undercard.
"I have been extremely fortunate and have had bad luck, too, but I don't know that it gets much better than this weekend when I had Therapist and Audible both running at Gulfstream Park, and both won important races at their level," Leahy said.
"It is fun to watch because I am so involved in the family. This is my foundation family, and now I have a second daughter to produce a superior runner," he said. "I have the broodmares, and I also have the bench that is coming along as well."