By Katie Ritz
If anyone sees Conrad Bandoroff on the Churchill Downs backside Friday morning, be sure to check in on him.
With the possibility of a Denali-consigned exacta in the GI Kentucky Oaks, the farm's vice president said the flutter of butterflies in his stomach will probably have doubled in size by the dawning of Oaks Day.
“During the lead up throughout the week, there's always so much going on that you can kind of keep yourself distracted,” he said. “I imagine that Thursday night, that's when it might start to set in, or during the drive from Lexington to Louisville on Friday morning.”
The Denali exacta will be popular amongst handicappers, and if it were to win the payout certainly wouldn't be too extraordinary. While 'TDN Rising Star' Malathaat (Curlin) is the expected favorite, Travel Column (Frosted),the second Denali representative and another 'Rising Star,' was given 3-1 morning line odds as the co-second choice.
“Just to have a horse in the starting gate is a huge accomplishment,” Bandoroff said. “It's not an easy thing to do, but we pride ourselves in raising Saturday afternoon horses, or in this case Friday afternoon horses. We're very grateful that we're going to get to be there for the ride and we'll hope for the best.”
Bandoroff's connection to Travel Column runs deeper than her success at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Sale. The OXO Equine colorbearer was co-bred by Denali Stud.
Chris Welker, the owner and operator of Spring Ridge Farm along with her husband, Fasig-Tipton's Executive Vice President Bayne Welker, purchased Travel Column's dam Swingit (Victory Gallop) for $50,000 from the Denali consignment at the 2016 Keeneland November Sale. A full profile on breeder Chris Welker can be viewed here.
“We knew Swingit well,” Bandoroff said. “We had all the foals out of her up until the point that the Welkers bought her and she always threw a really nice foal.”
When Bandoroff and his father couldn't get the mare out of their heads after the sale, they called up the Welkers and suggested a foal share with Frosted. The Spring Ridge Farm owners agreed, and Travel Column was foaled in April of 2018.
“We thought a good Frosted out of this mare would be a very commercial prospect,” Bandoroff explained. “We always had her pegged for Saratoga. Every time we would go out to Spring Ridge and see her, she just kept looking better and better. Chris did so much work with her and the filly really blossomed coming into the sale.”
Bandoroff has a vivid memory of Travel Column's time at the Saratoga sale before she was purchased by OXO Equine's Larry Best.
“We were at the consignment on the first day of showing, standing with Larry and [advisor] John Dowd. Larry had said his game plan for the sale was that he was looking for colts by proven stallions.”
Denali had two Curlin colts in their consignment, both of which would later hit the seven-figure mark at the sale, so Bandoroff said they had assumed Best was on one of the colts.
“As the show went on, Larry would just kind of hang around the consignment,” Bandoroff recalled. “But every time he came, there was this gray filly that kept catching his eye. And that's a lot of how Travel Column was. She had this presence on her. I remember even myself, we would be showing and I'd just look across the way, and there was that Frosted filly. She had that way of capturing your attention. So sometimes you have to call an audible, and Larry ended up buying a filly by a freshman sire.”
Travel Column's $850,000 hammer price was the most expensive sale for her first-crop sire that year and she left Saratoga as the co-fourth highest-priced filly of the sale.
“We knew she was going over well, but for her to bring $850,000 was incredible,” Bandoroff said. “Honestly, we were going to be thrilled if she brought half of what she did. It was one of those where it was the Saratoga magic. But that was just the start of it. She's been a lot of fun from the start of it and it's been a great ride.”
Tabbed a 'Rising Star' on debut, Travel Column has gone head to head with Stonestreet's Clairiere (Curlin) in her three most recent starts, besting her rival twice including a victory in the GII Fair Grounds Oaks in her final prep before the Kentucky Oaks.
“Her Fair Grounds Oaks was her most impressive performance,” Bandoroff said. “Coming off her defeat to Clairiere [in the GII Rachel Alexandra S.], this was just a different filly. You could tell going into the turn, she said I'm not getting beat today. So, we're as optimistic as we can be that she's going to put in a big effort on Friday.”
Travel Column will depart from the sixth position in the Oaks for trainer Brad Cox, who took last year's edition of the same race with Shedaresthedevil (Daredevil) and who also has the top choice in the GI Kentucky Derby with champion Essential Quality (Tapit).
“For a period of time at Fair Grounds, Travel Column's workmate was Essential Quality,” Bandoroff shared. “From watching some of the breezes, I can say that she's a pretty tough workmate. She's given him as much as he can handle.”
Shadwell Stables' Malathaat is one of three Stonestreet-bred fillies in this year's Oaks, but she's the only one to have gone through a sales ring.
“I remember when we went out to Stonestreet to look at the horses we would be selling for them,” said Bandoroff. “That filly walked out and it was just like, wow. Sometimes a horse can take two steps out of the barn and you know they're the goods. My dad and I were standing there with [Stonestreet yearling manager] Robert Turner and [advisor] John Moynihan and we looked at them and asked what the chances were of that filly actually coming to the sale, because we thought Barbara [Banke] would probably keep her. She was just a queen.”
Malathaat is the third foal out of Stonestreet homebred Dreaming of Julia (A.P. Indy), a Grade I winner for the farm. She sold as a yearling for $1.05 million to Shadwell Stable at the 2019 Keeneland September Sale through the Denali consignment.
The speedy bay is now undefeated in her first four starts, most recently taking the GI Central Bank Ashland S. for Todd Pletcher, who also took her dam to the Kentucky Oaks for a fourth-place finish.
“She had so much class and quality at the sale and she obviously lived up to that,” Bandoroff said. “Todd Pletcher has handled her brilliantly. She has grit, and while I think some people will knock her and say she hasn't won with that great of speed figures, she does what she needs to do to win. She's a perfect example of the Stonestreet breeding program and how successful they've been.”
Bandoroff said that having a connection to an Oaks winner would be a first for Denali Stud, fulfilling a goal that's been in the back of their minds for many years.
“We've been fortunate to have had graduates win some very big races, but we haven't won an Oaks yet,” he noted. “It's a bucket list race that we would love to win. Being a nursery and having so much of our business focused on mares and their foals, I know the Oaks has been a dream of my dad's and it's a big dream of mine. To have potentially sold, or co-bred and sold, an Oaks winner is, you know, pinch me.”
Denali Stud will have more to look forward to after the new Oaks winner is crowned on Friday with a connection in the GI Kentucky Derby the following afternoon.
O Besos (Orb) was bred by Barrett Bernard and then foaled and raised at Denali. The GII Louisiana Derby third-place finisher will represent his breeder as well as fellow co-owners Tagg Team Racing, West Point Thoroughbreds and Terry Stephens.
“We always liked him as a foal and a yearling,” Bandoroff recalled. “He was a big, strong, solid colt. It's been fantastic for [Bernard] because this is a guy who owns one or two mares at a time, so from a very small group to have a Derby horse, that's what it's all about. We've raised one Kentucky Derby winner in Animal Kingdom and it would be amazing if we could do it again.”