Veteran Thoroughbred owners look at beginner's luck with mixed feelings, so Steve Young's initial success and his reaction to it are typical.
In the 1980s Young purchased a one-third interest in the claimer Garfield for $16,000. The Southern California native was attending a wedding in Lake Tahoe the first time Garfield ran after the claim, but made a bet on the race that got him out on the horse when Garfield won by four lengths.
"Probably the worst thing that could have happened to me," said Young 30-plus years later.
Today, Young owns majority interest in about two-dozen horses, including the 3-year-old Blame filly Ms Bad Behavior, winner of this year's China Doll Stakes at Santa Anita Park. The big horse in the stable, though, is Blended Citizen, an $85,000 2-year-old purchase whose next start comes in the June 9 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) for Young's SAJAY Racing (which includes son Jason and daughter-in-law Heather) and partner Greg Hall. Suffice it to say Young, despite his disclaimer, is a lover of the sport, and very much looking forward to seeing if his Peter Pan Stakes (G3) winner can repeat that Belmont Park success in the last jewel of the Triple Crown.
Young has an ownership interest in some 15 recycling plants around California, and over the past five years has stepped back and given day-to-day responsibility to Jason, allowing Young more time to devote to his horses.
"It's always been a passion of mine to be in the horse business," he said. "At first I owned a 10% or 20% share of one or two horses. I didn't have a lot of money, so I stayed within my budget."
That budget expanded somewhat when Young hit a Pick 6 wager in 1988 that returned more than $325,000. Today, Young buys at yearling and 2-year-old auctions, claims the occasional broodmare prospect, and has a small breeding operation.
Blended Citizen, a son of Proud Citizen out of the Langfuhr mare Langara Lass, fit within Young's model of staying under $100,000 in his sales buys. Brooke Hubbard does the ground work in selecting prospects for him.
"He was a late May foal, which may have kept his price down," Young said. "In fact, I thought we might not see him until he was 4, but he's been completely sound and Brooke thought he would develop at 3, and she was right."
Blended Citizen broke his maiden in his fifth attempt at 2, scoring in a maiden allowance turf race over a mile at Del Mar. The big, long-striding colt does not flash a lot of early speed in his races, so traffic trouble can be a concern. In his initial outing this season, the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, Blended Citizen got stopped, but still managed to check in third.
Under the tutelage of trainer Doug O'Neill, who owns three victories in the Triple Crown series but none as of yet in the Belmont, Blended Citizen shipped to Kentucky and earned a neck victory in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) before a solid fifth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) behind champion Good Magic. Blended Citizen wound up the 21st entry in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) but didn't draw into the race. His coming-out party was in the Peter Pan, where he looked very impressive striding out to win by 1 1/2 lengths in the local prep for the Belmont.
"Doug put blinkers on him and that seemed to make a difference," Young noted. "He's a big, long-striding horse who can't afford to get stopped. He can run on any surface (he's won on dirt, turf, and synthetic) and in the mud too, so he's a versatile guy."
Young's visit to New York for the Belmont Stakes will not come cheaply. Belmont Eve June 8 is the birthday of his wife, Beatriz, so there will be a date to see the Broadway show "Hamilton" plus shopping outings, but he's not complaining.
"It's very exciting," Young said. "He's a great horse and we're very grateful to have him. A lot of people spend a lot of money without getting to where we are right now."
The trip to New York will ease some of co-owner Greg Hall's disappointment at Blended Citizen not making the Derby field. The Kentucky native, who met Young through his packaging business, has partnered on some of Young's horses over the past five years. He splits time between Texas and California.
"Owning horses is something I've always wanted to do, and the ultimate goal is to have a horse in the Kentucky Derby," Hall said. "But this is unbelievable for me; having one in a Triple Crown race is something I pinch myself over. It was gratifying to go back to Kentucky and win the Jeff Ruby Steaks. I woke up the next morning and asked my wife, 'Am I dreaming, or did we really win that race?'"