By Sid Fernando
Tracy Farmer, owner of Shadowlawn Farm in Midway, Ky. with wife Carol, is a native Kentuckian with a distinct accent that blends hints of the American Midwest in a gravelly southern drawl. He wasn’t feeling well enough to travel to Belmont Park for the last leg of the Triple Crown series, instead watching the proceedings with interest with Carol from their home on the farm. No one else was present, he said. His homebred colt Sir Winston (Awesome Again), born and raised at Shadowlawn, was the 10-1 half of trainer Mark Casse’s entry with Gl Preakness winner War of Will (War Front), but Farmer thought the distance of the 12-furlong Gl Belmont S. would suit his colt.
“The [GIII] Peter Pan [S.], when he had the 100 [Beyer], and he had to close, the jockey, [Joel] Rosario, said he could do it. He could close a mile and half. He said distance didn’t hurt him at all, he could run right on,” Farmer said. “And you and I know, Awesome Again won the [GI] Breeders’ Cup Classic and gets those types. So, Rosario said he could win, and he did.”
Farmer reflected on the fact that anyone could have purchased Sir Winston as a yearling from Denali Stud’s consignment at the 2017 Keeneland September sale, when he was a $50,000 RNA.
“We didn’t even get a bid on him,” Farmer said. “It was me that bid him in. People said he’d bring a fortune, but you know how that goes. They want to make people happy that sell horses, you know how that goes. It was a mistake putting him in there. He wasn’t huge, he wasn’t small. He was just all horse; he was like Commentator, when you saw him you just said, ‘Wow.’ Just think of the people that paid millions of dollars at the sale, and they could have had that one. That shows you the knowledge in our industry.”
And what was it like for the Farmers watching the race, far from the madding crowd?
“We like doing that, because when you invite other people, they always ask you so many questions,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe I’m not being sensible about it, but we enjoyed it. We couldn’t believe it. Then our phones started [ringing], so many messages and voice mails, I couldn’t even answer my phone, it had a life of its own for about 30 minutes. It’s been a good ride.”
At 80, Farmer is a longtime owner and breeder who has invested substantially in racing and is a member of The Jockey Club. A successful businessman before he entered the sport, he’s been involved in state and national politics with the Democratic Party, has served on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the Breeders’ Cup board of directors, and has deep interests in preserving the environment through the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment at the University of Kentucky. In short, he’s accomplished in many arenas and is nobody’s fool, is spare with his words, and can be blunt–ideal traits for texting or emailing from his iPhone, at which he’s adept. It’s how he primarily communicates with me.
Via email from my phone, I’d wished Farmer luck in the Belmont S. on the Wednesday morning before the race, and he’d responded with a one word, “thanks,” almost immediately, from his phone, too. After Sir Winston had won the Classic, I’d sent him, like others had, a congratulatory email. Very graciously, he’d responded right away again, with the following message: “Could not have done it without your help.”
Farmer had reconnected with Werk Thoroughbred Consultants in the fall of 2014 after a period away from the company following the 2010 death of WTC founder Jack Werk. He wanted advice on the matings of his best mares for the 2015 breeding season, La Gran Bailadora (Afleet Alex), the dam of Sir Winston, among them. Until Sir Winston won the Belmont, La Gran Bailadora was Farmer’s last homebred graded stakes winner. First in six of 25 starts and the earner of $338,416, La Gran Bailadora had won the Glll Kentucky Cup Distaff S. at Turfway in September of 2011 and was later placed in the Gl Spinster S. at Keeneland at 27-1. Both races were on all-weather surfaces–her specialty. After La Gran Bailadora, Farmer, a shareholder in Gainesway’s Afleet Alex, bred another graded winner, Called to Serve, by the sire, but he was sold as a yearling for $290,000. Called to Serve won the Glll Discovery S. at Aqueduct in November of 2012 and placed in the Gl Santa Anita H. the following year behind Game On Dude, a son of Awesome Again.
Earlier, Farmer had raced (among others) such notable auction purchases as Commentator (Distorted Humor), a popular and extremely fast New York-bred gelding who won 14 of 24 starts and $2,049,845, including the Gl Whitney H. in 2005 and 2008; Sun King (Charismatic), a Grade ll winner of six of 28 starts and $2,240,008; and Albert the Great (Go for Gin), who earned $3,012,490 by winning eight of 22 starts, including the Gl Jockey Club Gold Cup. Farmer bred and raced Grade ll winner Sir Shackleton (Miswaki), who earned $1,051,500 from seven wins in 22 starts, and he’d bought into Robert Clay’s champion mare Hidden Lake at the end of her career. He’s been used to success, and now, after about 25 years of breeding horses–he began his foray into breeding with millionaire Fit for a Queen (Fit to Fight)–he has his first Classic winner, with a homebred no less.
The Affirmed Factor…
At WTC, we live and die with our clients. A pall was palpable in the office after Gary and Mary West’s Maximum Security (New Year’s Day) was disqualified in the Gl Kentucky Derby, because we’d assisted the Wests and their racing manager Ben Glass with the mating. But after Sir Winston won the Belmont S., we at WTC couldn’t have been happier for the Farmers.
“”We have 10 people in the company, and everyone was so thrilled for you,” I said to Farmer, who I spoke with Tuesday in advance of this column.
He was gracious again. “Well, you should have been. You’re the reason he’s here,” he said.
But then he put me on the spot and became the interviewer. “Why did you recommend Awesome Again?” he asked, bluntly.
It came down to the presence of Affirmed–the sire of Sir Winston’s second dam–in the pedigree.
This is exactly what I told him over the phone: “If you look at the most recent recommendation, we recommended him again. I’ll tell you why. One of the main reasons is because Affirmed is a difficult horse in a pedigree. He was a tremendous racehorse and a good stallion, but if you notice, he doesn’t appear a lot in the pedigrees of stakes winners. Sometimes, when they [horses like Affirmed] get into the second and third generations of a pedigree, they exert a negative influence. So we were looking at stallions that worked with Affirmed in the pedigree, and Awesome Again stood out.”
WTC’s Roger Lyons co-developed eNicks with Jack Werk and is a brilliant researcher. He’d also developed what we call the LyonScore, a program that acts as a pedigree MRI scan, if you will. It was his research that highlighted the problematic Affirmed in La Gran Bailadora’s pedigree and discovered that Awesome Again was the perfect antidote.
“Well, you hit a home run,” Farmer said, before he hung up.
Actually, he did, and it was well deserved.
Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.