“Inside the Winner's Circle, Presented by Keeneland” is a series showcasing graduates of the Keeneland September sale who have gone on to achieve success on racing's biggest stages.
When buyers looked at Mitole (Eskendereya), the recent winner of the GI Forego S. at Saratoga, at the 2016 Keeneland September Sale, they must have overlooked something, as he sold for just $20,000 (video). It might have been that his sire, Eskendereya, had not yet had a chance to establish himself, and consignor Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales admitted that the then-yearling had some minor issues. But perhaps buyers should have paid more attention to who had bred the horse, Edward Cox. Jr. After all, history had proven that if you buy something bred by Cox, you stood a very good chance of winding up with a very good horse.
Cox passed away in March and Mitole may go down as the last major star bred by him. In fact, the horse is so fast and in such good form right now, he may, in time, be regarded as the best horse Cox ever bred.
Along with the late Warner L. Jones, he co-bred Irish champion Woodman (Mr. Prospector), $3-million earner, as well as multiple Grade I winner Marquetry and 1989 G1 Irish 2000 Guineas winner Shaadi (Danzig). He also bred and raced Classy Cathy, a winner of three Grade I races.
Cox, who was a commodities trader, got out of racing in 1988, but came back in 2006.
He associated with two farms, Claiborne and Hermitage. Mitole was raised at Hermitage.
“He never really told me why he got out back in the eighties or why he came back, but I think he missed the action,” said Hermitage's General Manager Bill Landes. “Cox was his own man. He did the pedigrees that he liked and the stallions that he liked. Very rarely could I dissuade him or turn him one way or another. On occasion, maybe one of out of five or 10 suggestions that I gave him, he would take me up on. He really had an idea of what he liked pedigree-wise. He was very enamored with the Phipps mares and also enamored with the Windfield mares, particularly the Vice Regent mares.”
“We had a great time for Ed for many years,” McDonald said. “In the eighties, we sold a number of top horses for him. Then Ed stepped out of the game for a while and then came back in the mid-2000s and started to acquire mares again. We would sell the horses who were raised predominantly at Bill Landes's place, Hermitage Farm in Louisville. Claiborne started to sell the ones they raised for Ed.
“Ed just loved the game. He liked the fun of it. He loved racing and he loved staying ahead of everyone else. He was the first to call and feel you out on a rumor he heard or to find out the nitty-gritty of any horse situation. He was just a wonderful guy. He was very good to a lot of people in the horse business.”
As good as Cox was as a breeder, it also sometimes pays to be lucky, as he did his best to sell Mitole's dam, Indian Miss (Indian Charlie), a horse he both bred and owned. She ran third in her debut in a maiden special weight race at Keeneland and then fifth at the same level at Churchill Downs. According to Landes, Indian Miss had to be retired after developing a chip in her knee and Cox tried to sell her for $10,000. The best offer he got was $5,000, but Cox would not accept it and decided instead to breed the mare to Eskendereya.
No one was expecting to break the bank with Mitole at the Keeneland sale, but McDonald and Landes were both surprised the colt didn't sell for more. McDonald believes that, among other things, people overreacted to what were a few minor problems the horse had. These were the notes he had compiled on the horse before the sale: “He had lucencies in both knees and an elongated sesamoid behind from old 'baby fracture'.
Physical notes: Average size, attractive, good neck shoulder and hip. Good depth and balance. Very nice colt. Athletic.” “He had whole bunch of little things wrong with him,” McDonald said. “But he was a nice physical horse. Physically, he had the frame, he had the kind of 2-year-old look that the guys all like. I don't think there was anything major but, there were a lot of little things.”
He was bought by Chestnut Valley Farm, which sold him at the OBS April 2-Year-Old sale the following year. There, he sold for $140,000 to his current owners, William and Corinne Heiligbrodt.
Mitole, who is trained by Steve Asmussen, broke his maiden by 10 lengths in his third start. Two starts later, he picked up his first stakes win, a nine-length tally in the Bachelor S. at Oaklawn. But it was not until the GIII Count Fleet Sprint H. at Oaklawn that he showed his star power. Facing off against Whitmore (Pleasantly Perfect), a Grade I stakes winner who had won the two previous runnings of the Count Fleet, he prevailed easily, by 2 3/4 lengths. He followed that with wins in the GI Churchill Downs S. and the GI Metropolitan H., before running third in the GI Alfred G. Vanderbilt H.
He was beaten 7 1/2 lengths in the Vanderbilt, so whether or not he could redeem himself in the Forego was very much a part of the story line. And that's exactly what he did. He was in total control in the stretch, winning by three lengths.
“Ed was never one to jump up and down and scream, but he would have been quite proud in what this horse is doing,” Landes said. “He wouldn't be bragging or boasting, but he would have been so proud.”
Hermitage has been around since 1937 and Landes has worked there since 1977. Dark Star, the only horse to beat Native Dancer, is a Hermitage product. Others include Woodman, Northern Trick and more recently, Eclipse Award winner and Keeneland September graduate West Coast (Flatter).
“This guy, Mitole, might he be the fastest horse ever to come off of Hermitage Farm,” Landes said.
That's quite a compliment, to the horse and to his breeder.