By Jessica Martini
Lee Pokoik, who has been in the racing game for over three decades, celebrated his first Grade I victory when Sippican Harbor (Orb) flew home first in the GI Spinaway S. at Saratoga in September. He could be in line to double his Grade I tallies when the dark bay returns in Friday’s GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs, but that isn’t his only rooting interest on championship weekend. Pokoik bred Gunmetal Gray (Exchange Rate), who earned a spot in Friday’s GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with a runner-up effort in the Sept. 29 GI American Pharoah S.
Two days later, Gunmetal Gray’s dam Classofsixtythree (Include) (hip 38), in foal to champion Gun Runner, is entered to sell during Monday’s first session of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale in Lexington.
“I think it’s the luck of the draw,” Pokoik said of his connection to two Breeders’ Cup runners. “You never know when a good horse is going to come along and when two of them come along at the same time, that’s unbelievable.”
On behalf of Pokoik, trainer Gary Contessa purchased Sippican Harbor for $260,000 at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale. Pokoik reoffered the filly at the following year’s OBS March sale, where she RNA’d for $110,000.
“If I’m buying horses, almost all of them will be entered to be resold,” Pokoik explained. “If they don’t bring enough money, I race them. The idea is to sell some and to keep some and the ones you sell help pay for the ones you keep.”
Sippican Harbor has quickly proven well-worth keeping. She romped home by 17 lengths in an off-the-turf special weight at Saratoga Aug. 12 and was a late-driving two-length winner in the Spinaway.
“I’ve had some nice horses,” Pokoik said. “I had another horse in the Breeders’ Cup in 2010–Arch Support (Arch)–a 2-year-old filly that year. She didn’t do that well. She got in the Breeders’ Cup by coming in second in the [GIII] Miss Grillo, but she got outrun. This time, I think we have a horse who will be very competitive.”
Gunmetal Gray, meanwhile, is a product of Pokoik’s breeding program. The colt is out of Classofsixtythree, who was also bred by Pokoik and who finished third in his colors in the 2010 GI Ruffian Invitational. The juvenile was sold privately after RNA’ing for $85,000 at last year’s Keeneland September sale and returned to sell for $225,000 to Jerry Hollendorfer and West Point Thoroughbreds at this year’s OBS March sale.
While Classofsixtythree is entered in the Keeneland November sale, Pokoik said her participation in the auction might be decided with Friday’s results in mind.
“I’m not so sure I’ll be selling her,” Pokoik said. “It remains to be seen what Gunmetal Gray does in the Breeders’ Cup.”
The 12-year-old mare may have another son in the running for year-end honors in Roller Rolls On (Lemon Drop Kid).
“She also has a 3-year-old steeplechase horse that could be a champion after next week, if he wins his next race,” Pokoik said. “If Roller Rolls On wins in Charleston next week, he’ll be a champion 3-year-old in steeplechasing.”
Pokoik entered Classofsixtythree’s weanling filly by American Pharoah in the November sale, but the bay has already been withdrawn.
“We’ll see,” he said of the weanling’s future. “Either she will get sold as a yearling or I will race her. She is quite nice.”
The 73-year-old Pokoik, whose business ventures have included real estate and restaurant ownership, currently has a broodmare band of 10 based at Taylor Made Farm. But he is planning on downsizing in the next few weeks.
“After the November sale, I’ll have three or four,” he said when asked how many broodmares he had. “I have six entered at the Keeneland sale next week. I had too many horses, they multiply. I’d like to have about three, four or five. That’s about it. I don’t need 10.”
In addition to Classofsixtythree, Pokoik’s November offerings include the aforementioned Arch Support (Arch) (hip 265), in foal to Candy Ride (Arg); and Kelsocait (Drosselmeyer) (hip 447), a daughter of multiple graded stakes winner Magicalmysterycat (Storm Cat), who sells in foal to Speightstown. The group is consigned by Taylor Made Sales agency.
Of his breeding program, Pokoik explained, “I don’t keep colts. I sell all the colts I breed. And if I can’t sell them, I end up racing them, but I prefer to sell my colts and keep the fillies.”
A lifelong horseman, Pokoik started riding at age five and showed hunters and jumpers in college. While he previously owned a training center in Camden, South Carolina where his yearlings were broke, he now sends his youngsters to Ocala for their early training.
“I now break my yearlings in Ocala with Nick de Meric,” Pokoik said. “Nick has been doing that for a long time. We are sometimes partners on various horses and sometimes I own them outright. But Nick takes all of my yearlings and turns them into 2-year-olds.”
Pokoik’s racing stable currently has six runners and all eyes will be on the operation’s star as she goes postward Friday at Churchill Downs.
“Sippican Harbor is doing great,” he said. “She two-minute licked [Wednesday] over the track at Churchill and she went really nice. She is a very unusual horse because it’s not often that you’ll see a horse lie down during the day, there is too much going on. But this horse will lie down during the day. She relaxes and nothing seems to bother her. I like that.”
He continued, “She was the first Grade I winner for me and it’s the second for my trainer, Gary Contessa, who hadn’t had one since the early 90s,” Pokoik said. “We are both enjoying it.”
The Keeneland November sale begins Monday with a single Book 1 session starting at noon. Following sessions begin at 10 a.m. and the auction continues through Nov. 16.