The Big Interview With Elliott Walden


Elliott Walden | WinStar photo

Look through the Derby field and you’ll see the name WinStar on four of the entrants. While that would be a great year for any entity, it’s more remarkable still for the fact that the central Kentucky nursery bred and race one (Noble Indy) with a stallion they stood, bred and sold one as a yearling (Bolt d’Oro), bought another as a yearling (Justify), and bought the fourth as a 2-year-old (Audible). We sat down with WinStar’s CEO, Elliott Walden, at the farm this week to talk about their remarkable 2018 Derby lineup.

TDN: Have you taken a moment to sit back and realize the enormity of this achievement?

EW: There’s not much time to sit back and do anything around here. It’s always go, go, go, but we’re not one to really rest on our laurels. The thing that we are–that I do remind myself of–is just to be grateful for the opportunities that we have. You know, we have a great owner in Kenny Troutt and he provides us with a tremendous amount of resources. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity. So we’re very blessed to have a great owner who gives us the chance to do what we love.

TDN: You have said that Bolt d’Oro was the best of the crop that you raised here on the farm that year. Did you realize right from the start?

EW: Yeah, he was always a very good looking foal. He’s by Medaglia d’Oro, so he’s by a stallion that’s considered one of the best three or four or five stallions in the business. He’s out an A.P. Indy mare named Globe Trot. He was always bred to be special. And it doesn’t always work out that you get a great physical when you do these matings, but he was always a horse that stood out at whatever juncture of his career. He was a good physical.

TDN: And yet, you offered him for sale.

EW: Our philosophy here is build around sustainability for the farm. Sometimes that means that we sell horses as yearlings. Typically, we’ll sell 90 to 95% of our yearlings. And a lot of people have the misconception that we try to keep our best and then sell the rest, but two things with that. One, we’re selling 95%, 90%. We sold 95 yearlings last year. So, we sell most everything. Bolt d’Oro was a horse that we had identified as a special colt and decided to take him to Saratoga and he was more mature than some and we felt like he would stand out very well at Saratoga. And I thought he was a horse that could sell extremely well and, like I said, our goal is sustainability around here for the farm so that we can be here 10, 20, 30 years later. Sometimes, to do that, you have to sell your best. That was the reason he was in the sale and he sold great. We were very happy with the whole process and excited to see him turn out and be a Grade I winner.

TDN: Take us through your purchase of Justify at the Keeneland September sale as a $500,000 yearling.

EW: He was a $500,000 yearling very early in the sale. I think he was hip 50. Really, the team that we have that looks after the buying is built around, from a WinStar perspective, David Hanley, who helps me a great deal with buying the horses. He has a great eye for a horse, he’s a tremendous horseman, and we make a lot of the decisions together. Michael Wallace from the China Horse Club and Tom Ryan from SF Bloodstock also are involved. He was a colt that just everybody loved. David and Michael and Tom were especially taken with him. He was just a horse that every time we talked about the horses that were the best in the sale, he was at the first of the list. We were pleased to get him for what we got him for. We valued him somewhere between five- and six-hundred thousand. We were fortunate to get him.

TDN: You also spent $500,000 for Audible as a 2-year-old at the Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale. What did you see in him at Gulfstream that day?

EW: We had watched him work. I’d been down in Florida a couple weeks watching him prep breeze and I thought he breezed very well before the day that he breezed. Again, David and Michael and Tom were down at the sale and he was a horse that we liked both physically and on the racetrack as well. So he was a horse that we had identified as a possibility and it’s easy to look back now and say, “Oh, we knew he was a great horse.” But any time you buy yearlings or 2-year-olds, you’re taking a risk and it’s a lot easier on the 20-20 vision in hindsight than it is on the front side. We liked him, we liked the chance of getting him in the fold and he was a horse that we felt like ticked a lot of boxes for us. We look for a horse with some physical presence. We look for a horse with some pedigree and kind of look through it with a lens of: if they can run, what will they look like if we get them over to the stallion barn. So, that’s the question we ask ourselves when we’re looking and putting horses in training.

TDN: So, when the time comes, you must be looking forward to standing top-class sons of Scat Daddy and Into Mischief?

EW: Well, we don’t have Scat Daddy anymore; unfortunately, he died at an early age so it’s really exciting to get a really good son of Scat Daddy, especially one that looks like Justify and also runs on the dirt because a lot of his offspring have been turf-inclined. So, we’re really excited about that day when it comes, but right now, we’re focused on the Kentucky Derby.

TDN: WinStar bred and offered Noble Indy, who failed to sell at Keeneland. Best RNA ever?

EW: Well, he might be the best RNA ever if he wins the Kentucky Derby. But up until now, he’s just a very nice horse. He was a horse that we took up in book three, I believe, and he was by a young freshman sire named Take Charge Indy. It was his first crop and I think people are a little bit unsure of first-crop sires. Sometimes people get in a real momentum thing and people start talking about a particular horse and they carry on and have a great sale. Other times, people talk middle-of-the-road. So much of buying a horse at a horse sale is about emotion and about what you hear somebody else say. Noble Indy was a very nice colt, and we felt very confident that he would sell when we brought him up there. We put a reserve of $50,000 on him so we didn’t think that was unreasonable. We got him back for $45,000, at that point because of the fact that we have a racing stable, we’re not afraid to put him in the racing stable and see what happens. He’s just exceeded our expectations at that point and I’m really excited about running him against the likes of a Justify or an Audible or a Mendelssohn. I think he’s a horse that’s flying under the radar a little bit and hopefully will give a good showing on Saturday.

TDN: Is this year’s Derby a good representation of WinStar’s diversity and full portfolio of services?

EW: It is gratifying to the team and every facet of the farm is involved in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Noble Indy is by Take Charge Indy, who we stood here, sold to Korea and so Larry (McGinnis) and the stallion barn had a play in that. We bred two colts that are in the Kentucky Derby in Bolt d’Oro and Noble Indy. So our broodmare team, Jeff Danford and his team, touched them along the way. Bolt d’Oro was a horse that went through our yearling program and was sold at the sale. He is another colt that grew up through the farm. So it is exciting and gratifying that everybody on the farm is involved. And there’s a real excitement from every division.



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