A ‘Chance’ to Make Their Mark

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Goiaba wins at Laurel in the Bonne Chance Farm colors | Jim McCue/MJC

By Joe Bianca

A little less than two years ago, Nat Rea of Regis Farms left the horse racing business by dispersing his stock at the Keeneland November sale. Two months before that, however, Rea had sold his Versailles farm to a new entity in American horse racing named Bonne Chance Farm. Little was divulged at the time about the transaction or the buyers, other than that they represented a Brazilian stakeholder, and they hadn’t made much news in racing since the sale.

Now though, with a pair of impressive debut winners in July and a runner-up finish in a Grade II last weekend, Bonne Chance is starting to gather steam, and appears on the verge of realizing the potential it sought when buying Regis.

Though new to the United States, Bonne Chance is the latest and biggest offshoot of a successful racing and breeding venture in Brazil and Argentina named Stud Rio Dois Irmaos. Alberto Figueiredo has been the general manager for the operation since it started in 2009 and as it has expanded into France and now, America.

Figueiredo started in horse racing as a bloodstock researcher for a sales company in Brazil in 1984. He eventually worked his way up to farm manager for Brazilian powerhouse Rio Claro Thoroughbreds, and oversaw the careers of crossover stars like Siphon (Brz) (Itajara {Brz}), Virginie (Brz) (Legal Case {Ire}) and Romarin (Brz) (Itajara {Brz}), before joining Bonne Chance at its inception.

“We have about 30 mares between Brazil and Argentina,” Figueiredo explained of Dois Irmaos and Bonne Chance’s footprint. “We have a couple of mares in France and we have the farm here in Kentucky. It’s a nice operation. We mostly breed to race in Brazil and Argentina, but in America and France, the idea is to move toward selling some and keeping some to race.”

Figueiredo works hand-in-hand with farm manager John Durr, who held the same position at Regis for its final five years. Durr also worked for the Maktoum family for 15 years and WinStar Farm for five.

“I’ve always been the broodmare guy and prepped yearlings,” Durr said. “Once they leave as yearlings, it’s like ‘you take care of them from here, I’ll see them as broodmares.’ I’m not even going to try to tell you I know what I’m talking about with training. I let the trainers train.”

Bonne Chance’s trainers are Arnaud Delacour on the east coast and Paulo Lobo in California. Delacour gets the horses raised in Kentucky, while Lobo conditions the Brazilian and Argentinian runners good enough to bring to America, including Pretty Girl (Arg) (Harlan’s Holiday), who ran second in the GII Yellow Ribbon H. Saturday at Del Mar.

The operation’s first two purchases after securing the deal for Regis were a Speightstown filly for $300,000 and a Medaglia d’Oro filly for a private sum at the 2015 Keeneland September sale. Those two fillies each missed their 2-year-old seasons, and as fate would have it, each made their career debut July 23 at Laurel. Goiaba, the Speightstown chestnut, was pounded to odds-on favoritism and ran to the money, overcoming a slow start to dominate a maiden group by 6 1/2 lengths. Not quite as fancied at the windows, Greek Mythology nevertheless scored going two turns over a boggy turf course five races later.

“Nobody here is in a hurry to push horses,” Durr said. “We didn’t break these fillies until late. Goiaba had a little chip, we brought her home and fixed it, gave her some more time, about 65-70 days home and then we went back to the track. The other filly was just a little bit immature. Now that we’ve seen what happened, we’re glad we did everything we did. Both fillies showed a lot of maturity for their first start.”

Figueiredo concurs that the cautious approach is what led to the pair starting their careers on such encouraging notes.

“All horses have ups and downs,” he said. “Those two fillies had small setbacks, so we gave them the time they needed and well, they paid us back. To be an owner, you have to have three qualities: patience, patience and patience, and we have that. It’s been a good year for us, a good start.”

The deal to buy Regis was termed a “win-win” at the time, because Bonne Chance was buying a fully-staffed, ready-made farm, something Figueiredo says has borne out to be accurate and has been integral to their early development.

“We have been very lucky, because when we made the agreement on Regis, we kept all the people that used to work there, and they have a very nice group of people,” Figueiredo said. “That makes everything easier, when you don’t have to be finding people, where you have good and bad experiences.”

As for the mysterious owner, Figueiredo says he insists on not being named in order to protect his privacy and safety.

“This guy is very, very reserved and media-shy,” he said. “We live in a very difficult country on violence, and he doesn’t want to be named. He has a big financial operation in Brazil and nobody knows him. As he is proud to tell, he can walk into the movie theater with his daughters and he doesn’t need to be surrounded by bodyguards. He just wants to have a normal life.”

Durr echoed the need for the owner’s privacy, before adding, “He’s a very good guy, very knowledgeable. We chat all the time. He knows what his plan is and we’re going to give it a true run, give it years to get everything moving the way you want it to go. He gives us the time to make this thing work.”

With two promising wins under their belt and a third filly from KEESEP 2015, $285,000 buy Guess What (Proud Citizen), also readying for her debut with Delacour, Bonne Chance looks like they’re ready to take flight, but Durr made sure to return to the owners’ mantra of patience.

“We’re trying to go slow,” Durr said. “We’re just finding our way through the business with the owner. I’m learning this as we go. It’s definitely been a challenge, but we have a good group of guys and it’s a challenge we want to face.”

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