By Christie DeBernardis
Each year, the New York-breds have stepped up their game, becoming more popular and winning more frequently at the highest level. However, 2018 has been the best year yet for Thoroughbreds hailing from the Empire state, thanks to the exploits of Grade I winners Voodoo Song (English Channel), Audible (Into Mischief), Diversify (Bellamy Road), Mind Your Biscuits (Posse) and Fourstar Crook (Freud).
“It’s special,” said Jeff Cannizzo, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders. “This might arguably be one of the best years for the New York-bred program and it’s based on the racing. That’s what we’re striving for here, to take New York from a regional program and make it a national entity. It’s done so through racing and when you have horses like Mind Your Biscuits, Audible, Four Star Crook, Voodoo Song, Diversify, the list goes on and on. It’s Grade I horses running on every Saturday across the country. It’s a special year.”
While this may be the program’s best year yet, it has improved in leaps and bounds over the past few decades. Longtime New York breeder Vivien Malloy, owner of Edition Farm in Hyde Park, New York, has seen marked improvement in the program in the 37 years she has been participating in it.
“It’s been amazing,” Malloy said. “In the old days, when I started breeding in 1981, you’d see weanlings and yearlings come out of the field and go to the sale. It was awful, and then we started getting more and more professional, and wise, and prepping properly and the yearlings started selling really, really well. Not only that, but what they did on the racetrack. They weren’t just pretty faces. They won all over the world, every racetrack, every surface, Dubai, Japan, England. It’s just been truly amazing and I’m very proud of it myself.”
There used to be a bit of a stigma against New York-breds and really any Thoroughbred not bred in Kentucky, but thanks to the exploits of this year’s Grade I-winning Empire-breds and their predecessors, like GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. victor Funny Cide (Distorted Humor), that stigma has been washed away.
“There’s no doubt that the program has improved tremendously over the last 10 to 15 years,” said Christophe Clement, trainer of world record-setting NY-bred Disco Partner (Disco Rico). “We used to be, all of us, a little bit negative about New York-breds, which was a mistake. You can breed a top-class horse with a New York-bred today. You get some wonderful stallions standing in New York and also you have access to all the Kentucky stallions if you wanted.”
The conditioner continued, “You have some top-class New York-breds, Diversify, Mind Your Biscuits, Disco Partner, and they prove that they can compete with anybody else in New York. The bottom line is the money. We’re giving more money to the program and it just shows that if you give the right amount of money, you can improve any kind of state program.”
Not only has the stigma worn off, but now many trainers, like six-time leading New York-bred conditioner Linda Rice, are specifically seeking out native New Yorkers.
“I do shop all the sales, but I do give extra credence to the New York-breds when I see them,” said Rice, who trains GI Fourstardave H. hero Voodoo Song. “This year was an incredible year for New York-breds with Diversify, Voodoo Song, and many others.”
Trainer Gary Contessa also gives extra attention to New York-breds and has been a longtime participant in the program.
“New York-breds are an incredible investment for any owner,” Contessa said. “When I get a new owner, I don’t go and buy him an open-company horse. I buy him a New York-bred, because the New York-bred racing is phenomenal. It’s such a tremendous, tremendous program. I think I’m correct in saying, there is no breeding program in the entire United States that can hold a candle to the New York-bred program. When you’re getting new people into the game, you can’t go wrong with a New York-bred. It’s a phenomenal investment. I try and get as many New York-breds in this barn as possible because I’m here year-round.”
Rice has also chosen to stay in New York year-round, partly due to the NY-bred program and her success with those horses.
“Well, when I decided to race in New York full-time, and make New York my home, I thought that the New York-bred program was something that I need to invest myself in and it’s worked well for me,” Rice said. “[Champion] La Verdad (Yes It’s True) is a New York-bred, [GSW & GISP] Hot City Girl (City Zip) is a New York-bred, Voodoo Song is a New York-bred. So, I could see early on in my career that this New York-bred program was pretty exceptional and thought, let me see if I can get involved. I’ve gone on to have great success with the New York-breds.”
Rice continued, “I really changed my business to stay in New York year-round because I felt that the purses were good in New York, good enough to stay. Winter racing also has quite a few short fields. It certainly serves me well to stay in New York.”
The purse structure for New York-breds has become a strong incentive for breeders, trainers and owners alike.
“A New York-bred horse can run in New York [in state-bred company] and, by the time he breaks his maiden and wins one or two allowances, he’s already won $75,000 in purse money,” Malloy said. “So, of course, the New York-breds are going to be more in demand and more attractive.”
Cannizzo expressed similar sentiments, saying, “The commercial and the sales market is driven based on the rates and opportunities for state-bred horses. That’s what makes New York-breds valuable, the fact that you have so many opportunities to race inside the state of New York for $40 million worth of purse money and another $9 million in the stakes program with 60 different restricted stakes here across the state.”
He continued, “It makes it commercially viable to go out and buy a New York-bred. It seems like everyone seems to be wanting to have one these days, which is driving the commercial market. But it all starts with the racetrack. So, if these state-bred horses weren’t performing on a national scene, I don’t think you’d see the same things happening in the sales ring that are happening now.”
The recent November sales are an example of the increased commercial interest Cannizzo refers to. GI Flower Bowl S. heroine Fourstar Crook summoned $1.5 million from Japan’s Katsumi Yoshida at the Fasig-Tipton November sale. Also, a New York-bred Tapit filly out of Eclipse-winning fellow Empire-bred La Verdad was the highest-priced weanling at the Keeneland September sale, selling to Mandy Pope and Three Chimneys Farm for $800,000.
“It’s not only La Verdad, there are many, many good mares in New York,” said Malloy, who co-bred La Verdad’s aforementioned Tapit filly. “Before those mares used to always go to Kentucky to be bred, but now, we are getting better and better stallions in New York, and we’ve just doubled the amount of purse money for the stallion stakes.”
Out of the five New York-bred Grade I winners this year, three of them are also sired by stallions who are either current or past residents of the state.
“A lot of these horses that are Grade I horses, ironically, are New York-sired,” Cannizzo said. “Mind Your Biscuits is by Posse, Diversify is by Bellamy Road and Fourstar Crook is by Freud, who is a perennial leader here in the state. I think that the momentum is going to carry it forward. Nationally, we have so many different people that are interested in partaking in New York-breds. It’s the direction that we want to be going in. It’s very positive and I think there’s a lot of people that should be proud of this.”
Michael Dubb, who campaigned Fourstar Crook, has competed at all levels of the sport and has been a major supporter of the New York-bred program.
The four-time leading owner at Saratoga summed it up well, saying, “The New York-bred racing program is a great program and all the participants in it work really hard. They have fought and they have endured to get where we’re going for a long time. But, now we’re rising to the top and New York-breds can compete anywhere, on any field, at any time. There will be more and more New York-breds competing at the highest levels. New York-breds are the greatest and everybody around them is the greatest!”