By Chris McGrath
Most of us would settle for the upgrade from The Lieutenant (Street Sense). At the time, he was listed under the dam of Hip 789 only as “winner at 3” of $40,320. Since acquiring his half-sister by Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker) at Keeneland last September, however, R.S. Evans and West Point Thoroughbreds have seen The Lieutenant, now five, make his stakes breakthrough in the G3 All American S. at Golden Gate Fields.
Nice. First foal of the mare now a GSW. But she had something else brewing when Evans approached Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds last September, to see if they might go shoulder-to-shoulder for her daughter by Pioneerof the Nile. Because the catalog also vouchsafed that Stage Magic (Ghostzapper) had “a 2-year-old of 2017.” At Barn 29, around the Glennwood Farm consignment, Finley remembers talk of this colt; he was at that time being schooled for WinStar Farm by Rodolphe Brissett.
“We knew there was a Scat Daddy,” Finley says. “And it’s always a good sign when you have an active family in the hands of good trainers and a good operation. At that time he was still with Rodolphe, he hadn’t yet gone to Bob Baffert, but I remember them talking about the fact we had some other shots to improve the pedigree a little bit.”
The Pioneerof the Nile filly had initially caught the imagination of agent Patrick Lawley-Wakelin and trainer Christophe Clement; after being sounded out by Evans, Finley asked West Point’s yearling touchstone David Ingordo to take a look. Ingordo loved her, too, and the new partnership secured her for $230,000.
In February, Finley received a text from one of a handful of investors he had put together for West Point’s share: “Did you see the half-brother to our Pioneerof The Nile filly run off the screen out west?”
Finley quickly looked up the video. “And, man, that was pretty impressive,” he recalls. “Of course, you never get a true sense what’s behind them. But we ended up running against him in his next start, with a solid horse. And our horse, he got beat six lengths and it could have been 26. Anybody who’s been around this business, and saw the way that winner moved, knew he was something special. And then the next thing you know, Bobby Baffert is quoted saying: ‘I have a plan to get to the Derby.’ The horse has only run twice, and he’s talking about the Derby. So at that point, we’re all pretty excited that we have a big shot to have a massive upgrade in the family.”
Upgrades don’t come any more massive than a Triple Crown, on the line for Justify (Scat Daddy) in the GI Belmont S. Saturday. Even as things stand, of course, his wins in the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. represent an unbelievable boost to the half-sister bought by Evans and West Point. True, it’s not quite up there with the $30,000 claim made by trainer Neil Pessin for the second foal out of Stage Magic, a Harlan’s Holiday filly, at Fair Grounds Jan. 1. But the fact is that the principal of five partners assembled by Finley for West Point’s stake in the Pioneerof the Nile filly, meanwhile named Egyptian Storm, was literally just starting in the game when buying into her the day after the sale.
“A brand new person in the business, and he’s got a 25% share in a half-sister to Justify!” exclaimed Finley. “But you know, that’s the beautiful thing about our business–and especially about partnerships. And we’re going to see it more and more. I think the dynamic for our industry is really positive, because the more people, and the more entities, that can experience success at the top level in our business, the better it is for everybody. Because you have any number of people now, especially after the last couple of years in the Triple Crown races, people with the wherewithal, asking the one question that always comes right away: ‘What do I need to do to get back there?'”
Finley speaks from experience, having gotten West Point aboard with Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming (Bodemeister) last year. But he stresses his regard for the way an old-school operator like Evans–whose 2000 Broodmare of the Year Shared Interest (dam of Forestry) was by his father’s homebred Kentucky Derby winner Pleasant Colony–can recognize and embrace the benefits of such a modern ownership model.
“We’re very blessed,” Finley said. “I really give all the credit to ‘Shel’ Evans and team, and the Clement team. I’d love to take some credit for it, but they just said there’s a filly we absolutely love here, and would we be interested. Because obviously there was a shot she might bring a real significant amount of money. And she wasn’t inexpensive. But I was just very appreciative of Shel giving us an opportunity to partner with him.
“I had never really gotten to know Shel, I’d said hello to him, it was always a very informal type of thing up until then. But with a lot more horses now, you see partnerships that–well, they don’t make you raise your eyebrow, but they would not have been really expected ten years ago.”
Finley takes due pride that Evans could feel comfortable teaming with the West Point brand. “After 27 years, I’d like to think we do it right,” he says. “And I’d like to think the word is out that we’re people that you want to build partnerships with. On the flipside I give credit, I really do, to a guy like Shel for actually taking the step and pulling the trigger. Our business is changing, and all of us have to change along with the business. And you know what? I like to be around people who aren’t afraid to change.”
In fairness, in his talks with Evans, Finley had undertaken to restrict the number of partners to a sensible level. And now that this filly’s page has become so valuable, equally, he knows to defer to the judgement of Evans when it comes to her potential beyond the track.
“His own family, and also the equine families they’ve built up, have a proven record of success,” he shrugged. “They know what they’re doing and, frankly, we’re happy to be along for the ride. It kind of takes your breath away to have a part-ownership in this filly when, if Justify does win the Triple Crown, that’ll be on that page for quite a few generations. What are you going to do? You just got to count your lucky stars.”
You make your own luck, mind you, and the West Point team nearly pulled off an incredible double at Churchill Downs in May. On the eve of Justify’s success, Finley watched Wonder Gadot (Medaglia d’Oro) hit the front approaching the eighth pole in the GI Kentucky Oaks–knowing that West Point and Vosburgh had co-signed a $400,000 docket for her Hard Spun half-sister at the same Keeneland sale that produced Egyptian Storm. In the event, she was just denied by the rallying Monomoy Girl (Tapizar).
“So in the last 100 yards in the Oaks we were pulling for our friend that owns Monomoy Girl,” Finley says. “But we also knew that if it went the other way, and the other filly got up, we had a half to the Oaks winner. That would have been really cool, to have bought at the yearling sales a half to both the Oaks and the Derby winner. It just didn’t come to fruition, but I know Wonder Gadot is going to have a big shot in the Queen’s Plate.”
And how about this unsuspecting celebrity in Clement’s barn? Egyptian Storm recently clocked 37.4 seconds for a three-furlong workout at Payson Park. She would, of course, qualify as a great pick even if she happened to prove disappointing on the track, such is her stature now as a breeding prospect. But the reports, at this stage, sound distinctly promising.
“She’s had a really good couple of months,” Finley enthuses. “She’s really caught Christophe’s attention. She’s not a filly that’s going to be super early, but I think she has a legitimate shot to run at Saratoga. I’m sure we’ll be chatting very shortly with Shel and Christophe and his team. I think the longer the better, and I know that she has always been a very intelligent and classy filly. But there are a lot that are classy and intelligent. And I know the eyes of the racing world will be on her, when she goes in the starting gate for the first time.”