Arc Showcases A Diamond Among Mares

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Adam Bowden | Barbara Livingston photo

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Few people, anywhere in the world, will watch Europe's premier championship race on Sunday more avidly than Adam Bowden. His Diamond Creek Farm bred one of the leading fancies for the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Onesto (Ire) (Frankel {GB}), and Bowden hopes to seize the moment by cashing in on his dam Onshore (GB) at Fasig-Tipton this November. It's just one remarkable vindication of the way Bowden has adapted an unusually precocious advent in the world of Standardbreds to a different environment; of a restless, questing mind that has matched calculation with adventure.

When he first went to a horse sale, in 2005, Bowden was 24 years old and he had a plan. “I went in there thinking I was going to buy five mares, and just do everything myself, and learn,” he recalls. “And I left that sale with 20 mares and five weanlings. And I was like, 'Oh shoot, now what?'”

Well, here's what. He stuck to the plan.

“So the whole first season, I did everything myself,” he continues, shrugging. “No employees. Bred all the mares, foaled out all the mares.”

Seriously? Twenty mares, single-handed?

“There was, like, quite a few 72 hours with no sleep, the first year,” he says wryly. “And then I thought, okay, maybe I need an employee. But from there, it was 20 mares and then 40 and then 60. And in a short period of time, we had 80 mares. And I was off and running.”

But if this startling vignette suggests that everything has been extemporized, that he has got here more or less by the seat of his pants, think again.

Onesto | Scoop-Dyga

“Sure, at that age you absolutely think you can conquer the world,” he says. “And knowing what I know now, I mean, what an idiot. But probably being a little naïve was good, as well. And I had done my work ahead of time.”

To be clear, this was not a case of some excited kid jotting a few numbers on the back of an envelope.

“Before I started, for four years, I'd kept immaculate data,” he says. “Anything that I could compile into formulas. I come from a biology/chemistry background, so math was second nature for me. And I just took as much information as possible, plugged and chugged different formulas to try to figure out if I could find trends, either in the sales ring or on the racetrack.

“I came up with different ways to score pedigrees and, actually, I still use them today. That's just how I see the world: black and white, zeroes and ones, however you want to say it. And that's how I got started. I waited for an opportunity and it was, like, 'All right, this is a perfect time and place to do it.' I felt like I was ready, even though I wasn't. But I jumped in the deep end.”

For those of us unfamiliar with the Standardbred industry, the depth of the foundations laid then can today be measured not just by that broodmare cavalry but also by 11 stallions in three states, a 30-strong racetrack stable, a major sales consignment division; and now—despite having so far branched out only on a modest scale, with no more than 11 mares—elite Thoroughbred colts either side of the ocean. Besides Onesto, winner of the G1 Grand Prix de Paris, Diamond Creek also bred one of the most conspicuous juvenile talents of the American summer in Gulfport (Uncle Mo).

So something worked first time round, plainly, and now things also seem to be functioning pretty well in the venture that has now brought him to our attention. Okay, so Bowden had actually sold the dam of Gulfport, Fame And Fortune (Unbridled's Song), for $320,000 at the Keeneland January Sale. But he also banked $600,000 with the joint-top mare of the same session, Susie's Baby (Giant's Causeway), a half-sister to Caravaggio whose daughter Family Way (Uncle Mo) has been Grade I-placed a couple of times this summer. And the fact is that Fame And Fortune, in her four-year transit through Diamond Creek's evolving Thoroughbred division, contributed yearling sales of $500,000, $275,000 (for Gulfport himself) and $650,000.

Bowden doesn't deny that Gulfport's 12-length win in the Bashford Manor S.—sufficient to prompt Coolmore to buy a stake in the colt, who subsequently ran second in the GI Hopeful S.—made him reflect wistfully on the dam's sale.

“But that was all part of our process,” he explains. “We bought a mare that we thought had upside, we did well, we made money with her. And then we traded her back in, and bought [back] a daughter that we'd sold, who's a broodmare of ours right now. So it's not like we're totally out of the family. And that's how you make money, right?”

It was a similar story with Susie's Baby: Diamond Creek had retained her daughter by Tapit for the broodmare band. And now the time has come for a similar calculation regarding Onshore (Sea The Stars {Ire}), alertly picked up from Juddmonte for 320,000gns at the Tattersalls December Sale in 2016. She was unraced, but her dam was a sister to matriarch Hasili (Ire) (Kahyasi {Ire}). Her Frankel colt didn't meet his reserve in the same ring as a yearling, during the pandemic, but shipped to Ciaran Dunne of Wavertree before making $535,000 from Hubert Guy at OBS the following April. His deeds since for Fabrice Chappet—and a partnership headed up, aptly enough, by trotting champion Jean-Etienne Dubois—assisted a yearling half-sister by Gleneagles (Ire) to €460,000 at Arqana in August.

“The debate has been about trying to maximize capital,” Bowden explains of Onshore, who is still only nine. “That's always part of the process. We're blessed to have her. But they are worth what they are. And sometimes you have to take money off the table. At 41, I think I'm able to see that more than when I first started. Then I would have been, like, 'No way, I'm riding this thing out.' But potentially she allows us to go buy a handful more mares, and hopefully do it all over again. Because that's always your goal, to create something that the market wants. I mean, you test the market. If it's there, you take it. We're selling a sister to Family Way in October. If she doesn't bring enough, then we'll keep her—and I'm okay with that.”

Bowden has not arrived in the Thoroughbred game with any intention of reinventing the wheel. He's adamant about that. But he does, characteristically, want to figure things out for himself.

“If people say this is how you're supposed to do stuff, I will tend to do the opposite,” he admits. “So in the horse world in Kentucky it was like, 'You do it like this, because that's how we've done it for 50, 75 years.' And I just turned my back on that. I was like, 'I'm going to do it my way, whether it's good or bad.' And I've failed sometimes, been very successful other times. But don't tell me this is how I have to do something, because I've never been too good at hearing that. I mean, I was the one that was jumping out of the window in school, getting suspended and stuff, just because it was different. I have always been Mr. Risk Taker.”

As we've seen, however, it has always been a calculated risk. No less than when he went “all in” on those first Standardbreds, he did his due diligence on Thoroughbreds. He was first hooked, aptly enough given the emergence of Onesto, watching European grass racing in the farm office at dawn. Again he compiled the data, ran the software.

“We were looking for a niche where you feel like you know as much or more than everybody else that you're playing against,” he says. “And we identified an area of the sport I felt I could play in. I can't compete with people that own countries, people that have art collections and things like that. But we're very happy to stay in our lane.”

Fortunately that lane diverted through Coolmore, home to seven of the mares and source, too, of priceless counsel from Eddie Fitzpatrick. Bowden focused on mares of a specific type and price range, and then rolled the dice on elite stallion power.

“Like I said, don't reinvent the wheel,” he says. “It's more, figure out what works. In the Standardbred world, we do everything. But it's taken us 15, 16 years to get to that point. Here, we bought the horses and then partnered with people who know their stuff: Coolmore, and sales companies like Gainesway and Eaton. Just recently, we've been raising the yearlings after they get weaned. And the first group included Gulfport, so that's kind of fun.

“I mean a horse is a horse, right? Conformation flaws exist in both breeds. Athletes exist in both. Failures and successes. It's all the same. If you can withstand the harness world, you can withstand this world as well. As long as you stay in your lane, try not to do too much.”

One way or another, it has been quite a journey since the epiphany at a county fair in Windsor, Maine, when a bulb suddenly lit with a college kid. Bowden's grandfather had given him some exposure to cheap racehorses in his boyhood, cleaning stalls and grooming on Saturdays, and was seated next to him in the stands that day.

Bowden announced: “There isn't anything else I want to do.”

“Well,” his grandfather replied. “Then you better get a plan together.”

So he did internships on Standardbred farms in Pennsylvania during college, and then moved to Kentucky to learn the ropes in farriery and farm management. Bowden's father, a real estate entrepreneur, bought into the project with enthusiasm.

“I was the oldest of four kids and an athlete,” Bowden says. “So, my whole life, I'm a 'type A' personality: OCD, one-track mind. So for me to do this, it's just part of who I am. I am red-headed! I can be a fiery personality. But I think I know what I have. I know my knowledge base, and surround myself with good people. But it's always, like, what's next? We're always planning the next chapter.”

Which invites an obvious question.

“Well, we started with mares and foals in the Standardbred world, and then we added stallions, and then a race stable, and then a sales consignment business,” he says. “So who knows? The Thoroughbred stallion game, I don't know if I want to be in the business of standing them myself. But being involved in their ownership would be interesting. I'm always open-minded to anything where I feel like I have an edge. I like the 'boutiqueness' we have with Thoroughbreds: it allows the play at a level that we feel there's a niche for us. But if we talked in another five or 10 years, I suspect that this thing would look totally different than it does now. In a good way.”

So even if Onesto puts his dam right in the center of the shop window on Sunday, you feel that this is still only a beginning. On Thursday Bowden was flying back from Goffs where he had sold a Calyx (GB) filly for €145,000, the second-highest price achieved by that young sire in the Orby Sale, preparing to tack back immediately to his consignment for a big Standardbred auction next week. Sometimes Lindsay, mother of their three children, will still venture the question: “When is enough enough?” By this stage, however, his wife knows the answer.

“Never!” Bowden says with a chuckle. “No, I don't know—but it's not now.”

This, after all, is a man who derives fulfilment from the ultimate in masochistic sport, the Iron Man triathlon. Maybe that's what drew him to Thoroughbreds, a relish for adversity?

“Yeah, it's the punishment!” he jokes. “That's what gets me up, four o'clock every morning. We all go to Keeneland and see horses bring a million. But you don't see the ones that don't get in foal, or X-ray bad right before the sale, or even that die during foaling. There's so many more of those downs than ups that you better enjoy it when it's good. But even in the darkest moments, it's always been like, 'There's better stuff coming. I just have to be patient.' I always felt like this was what I was supposed to be doing.

“People in the Thoroughbred world are no different from the way they are with Standardbreds. We're all crazy, right? Everybody knows that you're not going to make a ton of money. You might get lucky every once in a while, but at the end of the day, you do it because you love horses. That's why we're here.”

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