By Mike Kane
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N. Y. – Katsumi Yoshida's Defining Purpose (Cross Traffic) brings a solid resume and a sounds-like-fiction backstory to the GI Alabama S. on Saturday.
Now owned by one of the world's top breeding operations, Yoshida's Northern Farm, the gray 3-year-old filly was rejected by buyers when she was offered at sale as a short yearling at Keeneland in January 2021. Colette VanMatre, the Indiana businesswomen who runs a tiny breeding business, decided she would race Defining Purpose. Last year, VanMatre reached out to trainer Kenny McPeek, who agreed to assess the filly and deemed her a racing prospect.
On VanMatre's request, McPeek brought in partners, including Magdalena Racing, run by his wife Sherri. Defining Purpose broke her maiden at Churchill Downs in her second start on Nov. 17 and secured some black type on Dec. 31 with a win in the Year's End S. at Oaklawn Park. Three races later, she pulled off a 20-1 upset in the Grade I Ashland S. at Keeneland on April 7. When Yoshida completed the private purchase for over $1 million after her seventh-place finish in the GI Kentucky Oaks, Defining Purpose had earned $556,188 in purse money for the VanMatre-McPeek group.
Yoshida left her in McPeek's care and he saddled her for a 1 ¼-length score in the GIII Indiana Oaks on July 8.
Among the fillies, Defining Purpose is scheduled to face in the historic Alabama is the Godolphin homebred Wet Paint, whom she has finished behind in three races this year.
McPeek, twice a winner of the Alabama, said the race was not part of his long-term plan for Defining Purpose.
“Actually, I was probably leaning against it until she ran so well in the Indiana Oaks,” he said. “Then, as she's gone on, physically and timing-wise it looks like it's an ideal spot for her. Having a chance to see who she might run against is going to be interesting. Look, she deserves a chance in another Grade I.”
With the Ashland victory, Defining Purpose had plenty of points to qualify for the Kentucky Oaks. As is her style, she was prominent early under Brian Hernandez, Jr., but weakened in the stretch.
“She ran kind of flat that day. She didn't fire her best shot,” McPeek said. “She does better when we space her races pretty good. I think that five, six, seven weeks is really good for her. She's had a pretty good spacing for this one.”
Defining Purpose came to Saratoga after her Indiana Oaks triumph over Taxed (Collected), who she will face again the Alabama, and has worked three times.
VanMatre is a commercial property manager in the Indianapolis metro area. About 15 years ago, she became interested in trying to develop a second business that she could do in retirement. VanMatre had a friend who bred dogs and since she was a fan of racing, decided to breed Thoroughbreds. In 2010, she purchased for $2,000 On the Point (Point Given), an unraced 3-year-old Pennsylvania-bred, who has become the foundation mare of VanMatre's On the Point Stable.
On the Point's first foal did not make it to the races, but the second, the Indiana-bred 2014 filly Defining Hope became a successful race horse for the breeder and now owner. In the care of trainer Barbara McBride, she compiled a record of 5-2-2 from 12 starts, was the top state-bred filly at 2 and 3 and earned $306,238. She was retired at the end of 2017 and joined her dam in VanMatre's broodmare band. Following the recommendation of Cecil Seaman, she sent Defining Hope to Cross Traffic in 2019 and the mating produced the second foal, Defining Purpose. Her 2-year-old filly Defining Joy (Runhappy) is being prepared for the races by McPeek. She was bred back to Cross Traffic this year.
“The contract was already signed for a repeat on Cross Traffic,” VanMatre said. “I really liked what I got with Defining Purpose. That decision was already made before she won the Ashland.”
VanMatre intended to sell Defining Purpose, who is a Kentucky-bred foaled at Margaux Farm, as a short-yearling, but ended up retaining her as an RNA when bidding stopped at $14,000. In an interview after the Ashland victory, VanMatre said, “When she didn't sell and meet her reserve, I thought, there's a reason–there's a purpose–that she's still mine.” VanMatre had a name for her youngster and set out to find a trainer for her. She compiled some names of candidates and asked for advice. VanMatre said that Michael Hardy, the former general manager at Margaux and now head of sales at Goffs, pointed her toward McPeek.
“He said, 'Well, based on your list, I think Kenny would make the best match for you,'” she said. “I thought so, too, because he really is all about developing the bloodline, and he's just a good horseman.”
VanMatre contacted McPeek, who said he would take a look at Defining Purpose.
“She came into us as kind of nondescript 2-year-old filly,” McPeek said. “I didn't know a lot about her when she came in or the breeder. When she sent her to us, she kept saying 'What do you think? What do you think?' We worked her a couple times and the filly is a pretty nice filly. She's doing everything right. She's willing and she's fast and she showed some early talent.”
McPeek agreed to train her and to Matre's request to find some partners. He established her value based on how she looked and trained and Magdalena and James Ball bought in.
“When we went to run her, I looked and saw that she was $14,000 as a short yearling,” McPeek said with a chuckle. “That kind of surprised me because I thought she was worth a lot more than that. And obviously she is.”
After the maiden win, McPeek ran her back nine days later in the GII Golden Rod S., where she was fifth of eight. From there, she was off to Oaklawn and showed herself to be a stakes-caliber runner against the likes of Wet Paint (Curlin) and Taxed.
“She jumped through a lot of hoops and seemed like the more we asked her the better she did,” he said.
McPeek felt that she fell off form a bit in two races over wet tracks at Oaklawn, but wanted to try her in the Ashland.
“I told the group, 'Look, if she's ever going to win a Grade I, if we space her here, I think this is the best shot she'll have.' And she pulled it off. She keeps that the rest of her life.”
Following the Ashland, McPeek was approached by a representative of Yoshida. The sale was finalized after the Kentucky Oaks.
“Mr. Yoshida elected keep her with me a little longer,” McPeek said. “I'm not sure how many years she'll race but we're thrilled to keep her in the barn.”
Much has changed with Defining Purpose since McPeek took VanMatre's call.
“She's gone from $14,000 RNA to a seven-figure-plus filly and now with a shot to win a second Grade I,” he said. “The Alabama, I've won it a couple of times. I think she's the kind of filly that could handle it.”
VanMatre will be watching the Alabama back in Indiana. Her plan to get into something she could carry on into retirement has gone from a small investment 13 years ago into a big payoff in 2023.
“Yeah,” she said, “it's kind of surreal.”