By Sid Fernando
Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm won an Eclipse Award for leading owner of 2010 and another for leading breeder of 2016, but 2018 may be the year the Versailles farm eclipses those considerable achievements.
Both as a breeder and owner (along with some heavyweight partners), WinStar has made an indelible mark on the runup to the Kentucky Derby, with potentially more notches to be etched Saturday. That’s when WinStar et al’s exciting Scat Daddy colt Justify takes on WinStar-bred Bolt d’Oro, a son of Medaglia d’Oro, in the GI Santa Anita Derby; and National Flag, a son of the farm’s Speightstown, goes in the GIII Bay Shore S. at Aqueduct. That’s a lot of fire power around one entity, but there’s more: WinStar et al’s Into Mischief colt Audible won the GI Xpressbet Florida Derby at Gulfstream last Saturday, and WinStar homebred Noble Indy, by the former farm sire Take Charge Indy, won the GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds the Saturday before that.
Last year, Brad Kelley’s Calumet was represented by three homebred starters in the Kentucky Derby, but the WinStar juggernaut of 2018 might be more reminiscent of Warren Wright’s dominant Calumet of yesteryear. Of course, times have changed since the days of Wright, when wealthy owner-breeders primarily raced the produce of their own stallions and mares in their own colors. It’s a highly commercial and expensive environment of buying and selling nowadays, and WinStar has fashioned a formula for modern times based on the business acumen of Troutt, the horsemanship and leadership of president and CEO Elliott Walden, and the heft of its various partnerships–which have become commonplace at the top of the game to spread the risk of expensive purchases.
At its core, WinStar is a stallion station with 22 sires on its roster, including such sires as Pioneerof the Nile, Bodemeister, More Than Ready, and Super Saver in addition to the two stalwarts named earlier.
WinStar is also a major nursery that produces approximately 100 foals a year for the auction market. Walden said, “We typically offer 95% of our yearling crop for sale. We’ll sell our best. Bolt d’Oro was our best yearling. The other five percent might include yearlings that had surgery or may not make the price we think he’s worth.” The latter group includes Noble Indy, a $45,000 RNA at Keeneland September, and GI Arkansas Derby-bound Quip (Distorted Humor), who wasn’t offered for sale. Bolt d’Oro, on the other hand, made $630,000 at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga. WinStar-bred Mourinho, who won the Listed Smarty Jones S. in January and was fourth in the GIII Southwest S. at Oaklawn in February but has since died, sold at the other end of the spectrum, for $30,000 at Keeneland September. He was later pinhooked for $625,000 at OBS March.
“It’s pretty neat to have three on the Derby trail that we bred,” said Walden of Bolt d’Oro, Noble Indy, and Quip.
Walden said that because of the size and scope of WinStar– which was developed in 2000 from the original 400 acres of Prestonwood Farm to its current 2,700 acres–“we have a model for trying to be sustainable that requires us to sell and generate yearling revenues of somewhere between $10 and $12 million. That’s what we try to do.”
However, the farm is also a buyer at the sales and shops for colts with stallion potential. Some of the yearling revenues are reinvested in this venture. “We’ll buy selected pedigrees to try to develop stallions. We like to participate in the market at both ends. As a big farm, we feel it’s important not to be just takers, but support the market on both sides,” he said.
WinStar’s purchases from the crop of 2015 include Justify, a $500,000 Keeneland September yearling; Audible, a $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old; National Flag, a $600,000 Keeneland September yearling; and New York Central, a Tapit colt that made $750,000 at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga. The latter was 10th in the GIII Sunland Derby on March 25 but prior to that had won twice and placed twice from four starts, and he will likely develop into a Saturday afternoon horse for the outfit.
WinStar entered into a three-year partnership with SF Bloodstock and China Horse Club that allowed the group to spend competitively while spreading risk at yearling and 2-year-old sales. The oldest in the group are 4-year-olds and the youngest are 2-year-olds. The 3-year-olds are obviously the stars right now and Justify could be a potential superstar and a breakout stallion prospect as a dirt son of Scat Daddy. Walden said that the partnership was structured according to Troutt’s preferences. “Kenny’s belief is that he wants to own the same percentage of each horse. He doesn’t want to own 25% of one, 50% of another, and 100% of another. He’s a numbers guy.” According to Walden, the equation that works best for Troutt is 60%, which is what WinStar owns in most partnership horses. China Horse Club has 25% and SF Bloodstock 15%.
The partnership horses are decided upon by Walden and WinStar general manager David Hanley, along with SF Bloodstock’s Tom Ryan and China Horse Club’s Mick Flanagan and Michael Wallace. “Those guys have been tremendous to work with. There’s no question it’s worked,” Walden said. Some of these include Justify and Audible (with Starlight Racing purchasing SF’s 2018 racing rights in both, and Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners now in both as well); National Flag; New York Central, a colt bred by SF Bloodstock; and Quip, the WinStar homebred that was offered to the partners off the farm. Noble Indy, the RNA, was offered, too, but neither Tom Ryan nor Michael Wallace jumped in. “I got that one wrong,” Ryan said. Instead, Mike Repole, a top WinStar client–he boards his mares and yearlings and stands Overanalyze and Outwork at the farm– came in after the horse won on debut.
“When Mike Repole was interested, we decided to take a little risk off the table,” Walden said. “In the Kenny way of thinking, owning 50% of Noble Indy put him in the same type of percentage standpoint as owning 60% of the others. Mike’s been really good to us so it was a great fit.”
When WinStar won the Kentucky Derby with homebred Super Saver in 2010, SF Bloodstock was a minority partner, and the subsequent association has also been a great fit for WinStar.
“SF has been a very valuable partner for a few reasons. One, they are willing to be big boys and take the risk. Two, they have a very good broodmare band. They didn’t have a farm with stallions, so we provided the expertise on that end, and they provided some capital, and it’s worked out extremely well,” Walden noted.
As successful as he’s been, Walden is quick to credit Troutt for the farm’s overall success. “A lot of people don’t know this, but Kenny will spend a day and a half at the farm three times a month. He flies up from Dallas almost every week, he’s in at 10:00 a.m. and doesn’t leave until 5:00 p.m the next day. One of the biggest keys to WinStar’s success has been his visibility and being present on the farm–being active. He’s not an absentee owner. He might not be on the farm every day, but he thinks WinStar 24/7. Kenny’s extremely involved, but he lets us do what we need to do. He wants us to make decisions but holds us responsible for them–he wants us to feel the weight of our decisions.”
Because Walden has made some very good decisions, he’s had a heady three months following the WinStar-associated 3-year-olds, with still much to come. His goal is to get another Kentucky Derby winner for the farm–either as an owner or breeder. Things will be clearer after the Saturday races, but at the pace it’s setting, WinStar is on a path to land Eclipses for both owner and breeder this year.
Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.