By Chris McGrath
Well, somebody has to blow a trumpet for them. Because it wouldn’t be their own style, that’s for sure, seasoned as they are in the vicissitudes of life with Thoroughbreds. Lori Fackler was raised on a small horse farm; her husband Tommy was a journeyman jockey. An understated, tough, modest pair, who know that you can’t ever bank on luck to reward work–but also that you won’t ever get the luck, without first putting in the work.
Last week, in Saratoga, they sold a homebred yearling by Frosted to Spendthrift for $500,000. And this was only the latest remarkable dividend from a visit to the Keeneland November Sale in 2007, where they bought two cheap young mares to take back to Florida. Two, that is, of the bare handful they own outright; alongside maybe a dozen partnership mares at Best A Luck Farm, in the quiet backcountry north of Ocala.
The Frosted colt (offered through Francis and Barbara Vanlangendonck’s Summerfield Sales, ThoroStride video) is out of Flirting With Fate (Saint Ballado), who cost $28,000 as winner of one of her seven starts. Her 2011 colt Dance With Fate (Two Step Salsa) won the GI Toyota Blue Grass S. before finishing sixth in the GI Kentucky Derby. The second mare, the unraced Slew’s Quality (Elusive Quality), was acquired for $35,000–and last year won fame as dam of the nation’s champion female sprinter, GI Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Shamrock Rose (First Dude), who recently retired with $968,962 in the bank.
“We were just starting into it a little more, with the mares, and they were by strong stallions,” Lori remembers. “I guess I really liked the pedigrees, as something we could build from without spending money we didn’t have. And they have both made really nice foals. Especially Flirting With Fate. She has a really neat walk to her, and so do her foals, and that gets peoples’ attention. So she was kind of the favorite until Shamrock Rose came along. But I’ve kept with them, too. Some people only give them a couple years and then they move on. Those mares are getting age on them now, so I’m kinda loyal; always still hoping things’ll happen.”
And things do keep happening. Even back in March, there was much talk about the Frosted colt. Saratoga was already on the Facklers’ mind: three years ago, after all, they had likewise taken the option of that sale with an Uncle Mo colt out of the same mare, departing from their standard formula of raising horses for the 2-year-old sales. And they were rewarded with $650,000.
At 18, Flirting With Fate has a finite producing future. She plainly now deserves marquee stallion fees, but her owners can’t leave themselves too exposed.
“And that’s difficult,” Tommy admits. “We try to stick to what got us started, and just be careful not to get too above ourselves. Because you have one or two go the wrong way, with those fees, then you’re in trouble. So we have to balance it out.
“Upgrading the stallions and the insurance, it becomes expensive,” Lori agrees. “But it’s worth it. Slew’s Quality had a very nice Hard Spun filly this year, and then we sent her to Empire Maker.”
Of course, it is precisely by having earned such aristocratic partners–Flirting With Fate is meanwhile in foal to West Coast (Flatter)–that these mares opened up different options for realizing the value of their foals. Because the whole premise of the Facklers’ regular, breed-to-breeze program was to create value they could not afford to inject at the base, whether in expensive mares or commercially glamorous coverings.
“We can’t afford the big-pedigree horses,” Tommy explains. “So we have to make our own pedigree, as we go along. The people who sell weanlings and yearlings have to put up a lot of money, for the mares and the fees. We can’t do that, so we go the long route. Sell as 2-year-olds, when they are able to show the public what they can do on the racetrack. But these two mares, their babies can now be sold as weanlings and yearlings. They’ve put pedigree into their foals.”
Neither of the mares Lori bought in 2007 was terribly big. Maybe that was how they slipped through the net. Slew Quality’s granddam, after all, was a half-sister to none other than Lady’s Secret. Certainly to buy the pair for $63,000, in foal to blue-collar stallions Eurosilver and Consolidator, respectively, and later breed Grade I winners from both would be an incredible achievement for a big Kentucky farm, never mind for a Florida operation of such limited scale and resources.
Both Shamrock Rose and Dance With Fate showed how the usual system works, bringing $120,000 apiece at OBS April: good money for plain pages, having shown their wares as young athletes. (Albeit there have been bigger returns during what has also been a wonderful year for Best A Luck at the 2-year-old sales: two of Tommy’s pinhooks made $400,000 and $380,000 at OBS April, fillies by Danza and Ghostzapper bought for $74,000 and $150,000 respectively at Fasig-Tipton’s October Yearling Sale).
“Shamrock Rose was always a pretty baby,” Tommy recalls. “A lot scopier than her mother. And when we started breaking her, she just had a really good mind. Anything you asked, she did easy. Very athletic, very smart. Never any problems, never the slightest issue, just a solid filly. But Dance With Fate, he was a monster. As a short yearling we thought we might have to geld him. He’d pick up the other babies and carry them round by their neck. Just playing.”
The Facklers have three training barns (plus one for broodmares) at The Gallops, a communal facility around a five-furlong oval. With 400 head of horses on the site, their youngsters will leave already well accustomed to the bustle of a training center.
There is a natural division of labor within their own operation: Tommy applies his track know-how to the education of the young athletes, while Lori supervises the mares and babies.
Only she, of the pair, was born to her vocation: her parents Bob and Carol Melton owned Lots A Luck Farm, also in the Ocala neighborhood, and it was Bob’s expertise as a former rodeo rider that drew the teenage Tommy to the farm as a novice with Thoroughbreds. (Best was his grandparents’ surname, so Best A Luck contains a nod to both their families).
“It was a very good environment,” Lori says. “Because though I was mostly with the mares and the foals, you also did the night watching, you were involved in everything. In the summer, with the training horses, we would rent stalls at different places; and every once in a while we would run a horse off the farm, so I’d go down to Miami with my dad for a few days.”
Tommy, as a late starter and an outsider to the business, was no less indebted to Bob Melton for showing him the ropes–even if he’ll still grumble mischievously about the pay. “Wasn’t much at all,” he says with a grin. “But anyway, it taught me my career. Because I learned from the ground up. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now. It was like going to college, and getting a little bit of money for it. And a wife!”
For he eloped with his boss’s daughter as soon as he got a jockey licence. He rode 150 winners in the second half of the 1980s at places like Delaware and Birmingham.
“Did good in some places, starved to death at others,” he says. “I did ride with Shoemaker. Once. Alabama, the very first night it opened, they had him come in to ride in the inaugural stakes. Neither one of us did any good–but I rode against Shoemaker.”
You catch a glint in his eye. Finished in front of him, didn’t you Tommy?
Of around 50 youngsters through his nursery every year, a good half will be broken and prepared for the track; the rest will be honed for sales, albeit at a more temperate rate than some rival outfits.
“We start them off slow,” Tommy stresses. “I spend a lot of time before I make it to the racetrack with them. The round pen, the paddock, that kind of thing: 30 days, or longer, before they even come out on the track. And even then I build them slow, slow, slow. Because too much speed, too soon, will set these young horses right back.
“I just try to let them tell me to move forward. Just from their attitude. Are they in the bit, are they wanting to do more? It’s like a classroom full of kids, they’re all different. Of course I have to do speed work, too, to get them through the sales. But it’s about the foundation. If you have that underneath them, then you can go forward and do what you need to do.”
Among those to benefit from this grounding was Grade I winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Effinex (Mineshaft), who was broken here in his youth.
“He was a laid-back type, you never would have thought he would become what he did,” Tommy recalls. “But he also shows how different they all are. After he got to racing, he was a funny horse. If he acted up in the post parade or behind the gate, he didn’t run very good. Then when they switched to Mike Smith, he said you got to leave the horse alone. If you made him switch lead, he’d bolt. And it was all upwards from there. So each horse is different and, like Smith did, you just kinda figure them out.”
In the case of Shamrock Rose, however, it was all out there. She breezed :10 flat. Moreover, a benign destiny kept the Facklers in the loop, as her purchaser Conrad Farms sent her to Lori’s stepbrother Mark Casse.
She won a stakes on debut at Woodbine as a juvenile. “But at three she just started out okay, seconds and thirds,” Tommy recalls. “So Mark brought her home to his place at Ocala, gave her a bit more time. And then he started her again at Presque Isle and she won by 10, easy.”
After that, she was on a roll. “When she ran in the [GII] Raven Run [S]. at Keeneland we were 20 minutes away, at the Fasig-Tipton sale,” continues Tommy. “And because we watched that race there, we said we wouldn’t jinx her by going to the Breeders’ Cup. So we stayed home and watched it on TV. And when the gates open, and they’re down the backside… Man, if she even gets fourth or fifth that’ll be something. Fourteen horses, outside post, and a 3-year-old. She was just amazing.”
Perhaps, when Shamrock Rose left the farm, she took with her the benediction of the Greek Orthodox monks who gaze upon the worldly endeavours of the horsemen on the neighbouring property. More likely, she was blessed by the instincts and enterprise of the couple who raised her–who started out with a three-acre, backyard pinhooking experiment 23 years ago and now find themselves, still only from 45 acres, breeders and vendors of an Eclipse champion, and selling half-million dollar yearlings at Saratoga.
They’ve had to be cute, work the angles. Shamrock Rose herself, remember, was registered as a Pennsylvania foal.
“The mares get sent all over, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky,” Lori explains. “Just different gimmicks, we rotate them around. So when it works out, like with her, it’s incredibly special. A lot of these owners, you know, they’re in Grade IIs, Grade Is, all the time. It’s not a big deal. But for us, it’s wonderful. I know we’re not real young anymore, but nor are we somebody that’s been in the business 60 years with unbelievable resources behind us. So it feels a pretty special thing to do. There’s so much that has to go right.”
“And that word ‘luck’ has got to come into it, too,” adds Tommy. “But everybody in Marion County has seen how hard we’ve worked.”
“Everybody has been very supportive,” agrees Lori. “And it gives everybody hope. They look at us and can say, ‘Well, maybe I’ve got a shot too.'”