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Leahy Rewarded for His Audible


Audible at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale with consignor Don Robinson | Ferran Robinson photo

By Chris McGrath

So often, it pays to be out of step. In fact, there’s something of a clue in the name of the investment management company of which Richard Leahy is co-founder. Episteme Capital is named for the Ancient Greek term for true knowledge or understanding, as distinct from common belief or opinion. Yes, like everyone else who gets involved in breeding, Leahy stresses the role of luck. After all, on both the occasions he tried to sell her, over the past four years, even his own valuation of Blue Devil Bel (Gilded Time) fell well short of what she is worth now, as dam of one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby. Even so, nobody remotely approached the kind of bidding he had in mind.

Blue Devil Bel was actually carrying Audible (Into Mischief)–such an impressive winner of the GII Holy Bull S. last month–in utero when offered at the Keeneland November Sale in 2014. She was only nine, she had won plenty of races, her third dam was a triple Grade I winner, and she had been covered by a hot young sire. Just a few days previously, in fact, Goldencents had promoted Into Mischief afresh with a second GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Yet Blue Devil Bel was led out unsold for $57,000.

“Into Mischief was really taking off,” Leahy explained, contacted at his New York office. “I expected people might be a bit more enthusiastic than they were. I don’t remember the reserve, but they got nowhere near.”

Leahy decided he was just too early: he also owned the dam and two half-sisters, and knew things were happening in the family. By last November, when Blue Devil Bel returned to the same sale with a cover by Constitution (Tapit), things had fallen promisingly into place. Her GSP half-sister, Akilina (Langfuhr), had meanwhile produced not one, but two elite operators. Her 2013 colt, Governor Malibu (Malibu Moon), had been fourth in the GI Belmont S. and runner-up in the GII Jim Dandy S.; and her 2014 filly, Rieno Tesoro (Speightstown), had been a multiple stakes-winning juvenile in Japan before finishing second in the G1 NHK Mile in Tokyo.

Lurking in the produce record of Hip 1255, moreover, was Blue Devil Bel’s 2015 colt by Into Mischief–“unraced.” As it happened, that was no longer true. Audible had made a promising debut since the publication of the catalogue, finishing strongly for third in a Belmont maiden race. Regardless, it should have counted for something that he had raised $500,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Florida sale of 2-year-olds in training that March, an auspicious pinhook by J.J. Crupi after drawing $175,000 at the same company’s auction of New York-breds in Saratoga the previous August.

“Audible’s first race was only in the small print, an update,” Leahy said. “When I put the mare in the sale, I had been hoping he might even have won a stakes by then. Because I knew he’d been training well, I’d been watching his works. And with the success of her half-sister Akilina, I thought someone might look at the family and think she too might breed superior runners. So, yes, I was thinking she might make a fair amount of money. That was why I was interested in trying the sale. But I told the auction house I had a reserve and, again, she got nowhere near.”

In fact, she stalled at much the same level as in the 2014 sale–at just $55,000, despite all the boons to her reputation since. So Leahy took her home again, and watched with growing excitement as Audible progressed from a maiden success at Aqueduct just four days later, to romping in an allowance moved off the turf at the same track by 9 3/4 lengths. Since the Holy Bull, needless to say, he has been hearing from plenty of people who watched indifferently as Blue Devil Bel walked right under their noses just a few weeks earlier.

“Since then, I have been offered a lot of money for her,” Leahy admitted. “And I’m torn. On the one hand, they are very serious offers. On the other, it’s not many times you might own the dam of a Kentucky Derby winner. My reason says I should accept. But I have to tell you, the emotional part is hard to overcome!”

And this, to be fair, is the consummation of a small but painstaking project tracing back 15 years to the vexation shared by Waterville Lake Stable–a small partnership between Leahy and, over the years, one or two buddies–when a filly by Gulch, Fahamore, broke down in her only start. Feeling they had been sold a dud, the partners decided to move her on as a breeding prospect.

“But when we’d bought her, all our advisers had her rated excellent,” Leahy recalled. “They never all agree on a horse but they all agreed on her. She was a beautiful filly and from an interesting family. So I said to my partner at the time: ‘Do you mind if I bid in the auction, because I wouldn’t mind breeding her myself?’ And they said no problem.

“As partners, you make a lot of joint decisions. And, you know, sometimes I agree with our decisions–and sometimes I don’t! And I really enjoy the breeding aspect of it, so I wanted to make some individual decisions; really just to see if I was any good at it. Not to have a joint-product: if it goes wrong, I can always blame myself.”

He has not had a great deal over which to reproach himself since buying out Fahamore for $37,000 at Keeneland November in 2003: the inception of his solo venture, Oak Bluff Stable.

“Blue Devil Bel was Fahamore’s second foal,” Leahy said. “She was quick and precocious, but got hurt in her third race. That injury really limited her racing career. She continued to run, and won something like $120,000, but that does not really tell the talent she had. She always tried. I always had great respect for her, because I knew she wanted to run faster. That’s why I kept her: she was good-looking, she had talent, and she tried all the time. And those are three elements I like in a horse.”

Akilina was the next foal and Leahy also retained Fahamore’s 2010 filly, Kitty Panda (Sky Mesa).

“If you look at these three half-sisters, their first three races you can’t hardly tell them apart,” he said. “They all started so well, so quick and precocious, I decided to keep all three. They were all very good-looking, too.”

Waterville Lake is still going strong: all three partners, who share Irish ancestry, also have a stake in the golf links of that name in County Kerry. Typically they will have a roster of eight mares, compared with five feeding Oak Bluff Stable, both operations in the New York-bred program and training with Christophe Clement. But it is Leahy who appears to be cornering the luck of the Irish, having also bought out his partners to breed from a Smart Strike mare named Lady Renaissance. Her son Therapist (Freud) was unbeaten in three juvenile starts last year, including two at stakes level.

So even if he does decide to cash in on Blue Devil Bel, Leahy will still have plenty going on. Fahamore is herself still in business, at 19, having delivered a Declaration of War filly last spring. She has had a year off, and Leahy is in no hurry to decide the old girl’s next partner.

“She needs the springtime to perk her up these days,” he said. “Akilina has an Uncle Mo filly, while I also have a full-sister to Therapist. So I do have all these fillies coming along. It’s a question of how big a barn do you want to have?”

As a rule, Leahy will always sell a colt. He was reluctant to do so, however, in the case of both Audible and Governor Malibu. The latter sold for exactly the same money, $175,000, likewise as a New York-bred Saratoga yearling. Leahy was so underwhelmed that he followed the colt to his next auction appearance as a 2-year-old in training. When his pinhookers washed their hands of Governor Malibu at just $135,000, he had to step back in.

“I could tell he was somewhat out of favor at the sale, so I ended up buying him back and getting in partners,” Leahy explained. “Because when you own a mare, you want to make sure the first baby, if it’s any good, is in the right hands–and luckily Jump Sucker Stable, who came in, were also training with Christophe.”

Leahy had a similar exercise in mind with Audible.

“But it became crystal clear that he was going to trade for pretty good dough,” he said. “And he did.”

Audible duly ended up racing for a heavyweight partnership comprising WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, and in the same barn as last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Always Dreaming (Bodemeister). Todd Pletcher is sending him the same route, via the GI Florida Derby, though many wonder whether Audible might lack stamina to last a tenth furlong if making it to Churchill Downs. So what does his breeder think?

“Well, going back to Blue Devil Bel’s third dam, Classy Cathy (Private Account), her three Grade Is included the Alabama S. over a mile and a quarter,” Leahy remarked. “To the best of my knowledge it’s an old Claiborne family, so if he’s lucky enough to get those genes, who knows? In the Holy Bull he certainly looked to handle the increase in distance very easily.”

Classy Cathy imparted sufficient staying power to her son Placerville (Mr. Prospector), who was hardly by a stamina influence, for him to see off none other than Urban Sea in the 10-furlong Prince of Wales’s S. at Royal Ascot. Placerville proceeded to be seven-time champion sire of India.

Those exotic details aside, there are certainly some hard-knocking influences in Audible’s background. For while many people dismiss the remoter tiers of a pedigree, some of us enjoy stumbling across curios like this: both the dam of Gilded Time (sire of Blue Devil Bel) and grand-dam of Classy Cathy count Princequillo and Bold Ruler as their two grandsires. Or turning up, in the bottom line, a name like Classy Cathy’s grand-dam, Ponte Vecchio (Round Table), whose visit with Damascus produced the dam of Boundary (Danzig). Not many people would have expected a sprinter like Boundary to sire a Kentucky Derby winner in Big Brown, so maybe another fast horse, Gilded Time, himself a grandson of Damascus, can offer Audible rather more mileage than might be expected through Blue Devil Bel.

Leahy will be well aware of all this, between his own diligent research and the breadth of his expert assistance. The Waterville Lake partners deploy Clement as principal trainer; John Donaldson as bloodstock agent; Don Robinson as consignor, from Winter Quarter Farm (where Robinson foaled Zenyatta [Street Cry {Ire}] for one of his other clients); and Dr. Doug Koch, to board their mares at Berkshire Stud in Pine Plains, New York. With Oak Bluff, meanwhile, Leahy adds a fifth player: Suzanne Smallwood of Equix, who informs his interest in biomechanics.

“Almost anything I delve into, I delve in as carefully as I can–with enough respect for what I don’t know,” Leahy said. “That’s why I consult with people with far more experience than I do. But I do a fair amount of research myself. Actually, not a fair amount; I do a lot of research myself!

“I look at pedigree very carefully. I like to pick stallions that match the mare, but also that I think are on the improve. I might tend to overbreed a mare because I think their quality is very good, and I want to give them a chance to be excellent. A lot of people will tell you: ‘Breed to this horse, he’s great-looking.’ But I like to breed like-to-like: I’m not going to breed a 17-hand horse to a 15.3 mare. And I get involved in what has worked before, all the combinations and inbreedings; I use a number of the tools that are available that way. So I do a lot of analysis. But given that I have a small number of mares, I think you need a lot of luck, too. With such a small sample size, you don’t really know if you’re any good or not.”

But they say you earn your own luck, and the game plainly gained an unusually inquiring mind when Leahy–originally from Boston, but in New York now for 38 years–first got involved in 1990.

“Because of the Tax Act of 1986, Thoroughbred prices were coming down as my income was going up,” he said wryly.

And, to be fair, Blue Devil Bel herself is overdue a change of fortune. Since Audible, it has been a melancholy tale. She lost her next foal, and Leahy reported that the Lookin At Lucky filly she delivered last year recently suffered a fatal colic. But the Constitution foal she carried to Keeneland in November is due in a couple of weeks, and the idea is that she will then return to Into Mischief.

Leahy doesn’t begin to claim to know all the answers. At the most, he can see similarities with the challenges that engage him professionally.

“Part of it is very similar: you’re looking for smart things to do,” he said. “But I couldn’t do it without all the advisors I have. I do take information from a lot of people and just try to filter it. And I’m quite excited. I don’t know what else Audible can still do. But I’m rooting for him!”


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