Keeneland’s Before the Hammer: A Breeders’ Cup Bounty for Denali


Lucky to Be Me | Lucas Marquardt

By Lucas Marquardt

Before the Hammer is a series presented by Keeneland that spotlights consignors, their stories of success and their featured offerings at the upcoming Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale.

It could be a big Breeders’ Cup weekend for Craig and Holly Bandoroff’s Denali Stud. Not only will they root on yearling grad Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) in the GI Juvenile, but the Paris, Kentucky-based outfit will consign the dams of two Breeders’ Cup starters-Constellation (Bellamy Road) and Champagne Room (Broken Vow)–and an impeccably bred half-sister to a third in Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy), in the upcoming Keeneland November Sale (Nov. 7-18)

The common thread is that all three of the November entrants are being offered for longtime Denali clients, and all three sport compelling backstories.

Take Lucky to Be Me (Bernstein), the dam of last year’s champion 2-year-old filly Champagne Room who goes as Hip 278, and who is followed into the ring by her Strong Mandate weanling filly, Hip 279.

Denali is selling the mare for Respite Farm, a small operation run by the husband-and-wife duo Mike Cavey DVM and Nancy Temple, whose broodmare band is in the single digits. Denali’s first big score with Respite came eight years ago, when they sold a strapping weanling son of Indian Charlie at Keeneland November for $160,000. He later became known to the racing world as the Eclipse champion Uncle Mo, and later still, to the breeding world as maybe the best young stallion on the planet.

The success of Uncle Mo made his dam Playa Maya (Arch) a hot commodity, and Denali and Respite sold her to the Coolmore partners for $1.65 million in 2010.

That left a hole in Respite broodmare band, one that they filled with…an $8,000 claim: Lucky to Be Me. Two months after selling Playa Maya, Cavey and Temple reached in to acquire Lucky to Be Me as a broodmare prospect at Penn National. Or reacquire, really. They had bred filly and and sold her as a yearling through Denali for $35,000 back at the 2008 September Sale. For a time, it looked like Lucky to Be Me’s claim to fame would be that she beat Horse of the Year Havre de Grace soundly in the latter’s debut, as she herself descended into the claiming ranks. But the folks at Respite kept a close eye on Lucky to Be Me, and, somewhat improbably, she more than filled the shoes of Playa Maya when retired to stud. Her second foal to race was Champagne Room, winner of last year’s GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

“They’re both very nice,” Bandoroff said of Lucky to Be Me and her weanling. “Mike often entertains private offers, but he and I have have a great relationship and he listens to my opinions, and in this case, I said, ‘These are the kinds you take to public auction.’ She’s a really good-looking mare, she’s young, and she’s well covered.”

The 10-year-old mare sells in foal to-who else? Uncle Mo, and on an early Feb. 17 cover. Tomorrow, Champagne Room aims to give the pedigree another big boost in the GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

“They’re not a big breeder by numbers, so it’s pretty amazing what they’ve done,” said Bandoroff. “They’ve already bred two Eclipse Champions, and they could be on the verge of a third Breeders’ Cup win.”

Denali’s November draft also includes the 10-year-old For Royalty (Not For Love). She’s dam of the GI F/M Sprint hopeful Constellation, a Denali yearling grad and heroine of last year’s GI La Brea S.

Denali is selling on behalf of WinStar Farm, which purchased the stakes-winning For Royalty for $87,000 at the 2010 November Sale. For Royalty is now a 100% stakes producer from four to race, that after her 2-year-old daughter Queen Mum (Paynter) ran second in Sunday’s Rags to Riches S. at Churchill in her second career start. She sells in foal to Bernardini.

“Constellation is going to be one to be reckoned with in the Filly and Mare Sprint, and her dam a really good-looking mare who is only 10,” said Bandoroff.

Denali’s third November horse with Breeders’ Cup ties is the broodmare Victory Party (Yankee Victor) (Hip 364), a half-sister to the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf hopeful Mendelssohn, himself a $3 million sales topper at Keeneland September. Both are half-siblings to a pair who have done as much to influence the racing world in the last five years as anyone: Into Mischief (Harlans’ Holiday) and Beholder (Henny Hughes).

Victory Party has taken what could be called a circuitous route to November. She sold to Australian connections at the 2010 November Sale, and began her broodmare career Down Under. With Into Mischief and then Beholder becoming household names back home, Victory Party was acquired privately by Team Valor’s Barry Irwin, who kept her in Australia as a mate for Animal Kingdom, the horse who carried the Team Valor silks to victory in the GI Kentucky Derby and G1 Dubai World Cup.

“I bugged him for a couple of years to bring her back,” laughed Bandoroff. “But Barry, when he believes in a sire like he does with Animal Kingdom, he’ll try to make him. He bought her because he was a good cross with Animal Kingdom, and he’s kept all three of [the resulting foals] to race there. I’ve never seen them in person, but they all look fantastic in the photos.”

Irwin and Team Valor have been longtime clients of Denali, which foaled and raised Animal Kingdom, and which offered him as a yearling through its 2009 September draft. In fact, Bandoroff was in on the Team Valor partnership that raced Dalicia (Ger), Animal Kingdom’s dam, and remained a partner in Animal Kingdom during his Triple Crown run in 2011.

Eventually, Irwin agreed with Bandoroff and brought Victory Party back to the States. Still just 11 years of age, Victory Party is offered in foal to Curlin on a Feb. 18 cover.

“Barry has been one of my strongest supporters for many years,” said Bandoroff.

There are a number of other high-profile mares in Denali’s November draft. On behalf of Earle I. Mack, Denali offers the 4-year-old broodmare Stradivarius (Street Cry {Ire}), a half-sister to Eskendereya (Giant’s Causeway) and the G1 Middle Park winner Balmont (Stravinsky). In foal to Medaglia d’Oro on a Mar. 5 cover, Stradvarius goes as Hip 339.

“Ambassador Mack doesn’t a have a big broodmare band, and he’s at the stage where he’d rather race than breed,” explained Bandoroff. “She could very well be a foundation mare for somebody. She could run, and it’s a great, international family. She’s by Street Cry (Ire), who’s got Winx and Zenyatta, she’s in foal to Medagalia d’Oro carrying a filly, and she’s a real good-looking mare.”

Bandoroff said he’s also taken a slightly different tack at November and comes with a few bred-in-the-purple weanlings.

“It’s not what I usually do, but I took a page from John Sikura’s playbook and put a couple of serious weanlings in there,” he said, referencing the success Hill ‘n’ Farm has had in recent years.

They include Hip 267, a War Front colt from the five-time graded-winning millionaire Keertana (Johar).

“He is as good a colt as we have in our crop this year,” said Bandoroff. “Part of me hates to sell him because you want to race those kind, but we spoke to the owner about it, and we thought maybe we’d zig when everyone else zagged.”

The colt was bred by Pursuit of Success LLC.

Another highlight could be Hip 185, a filly by Speightstown out of a Galileo full-sister to Magician (Ire) and Apple Betty (Ire).

“It’s a really big family,” said Bandoroff, who added. “Look, we all wish we had a crystal ball to know whether we’re doing the right thing, but we’ll give it a try.”

The Speightstown filly was bred by DATTT Farm, LLC.

With so many exciting prospects set to go through the ring, Bandoroff nonetheless remains grounded and says that Denali has been put in this position only by developing close, personal ties with clients.

“It’s something we take great pride in,” said Bandoroff. “With our son Conrad coming in recently [as Denali’s VP], we talk about the philosophy of the business, and I’ve said this for a while: who we sell for is as important to me as anything. When you look at our clients, from the ones we’ve talked about to Stonestreet, Pin Oak, Stepwise Farm, Gallagher’s Stud, My Meadowview, and Roy and Gretchen Jackson–I wouldn’t trade our client base with anybody.”


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