Mating Plans, Presented by Spendthrift: Nicoma Bloodstock

Headley Bell | Keeneland

Headley Bell has run Nicoma Bloodstock for 40 years, planning matings for clients at his Mill Ridge Farm and beyond. “It's like being an artist,” says Bell. “You're crafting, and planning matings is part of that whole creation.” Bell said he uses various tools for his matings, including TDN's statistics on percentages of black type to foals, mare produce records, five-cross pedigrees, and examines patterns of broodmare sires with certain families. Finally, he takes physical traits of mares into consideration to determine, he said, “who that mare really is.” He does the same with sires. Bell then grades his clients' mares into A,B, and C categories, values them, and tries to find a stud fee of around one-fifth the value of the mare.
He shared matings with six Nicoma clients in a conversation with the TDN, which we share here.

This is the Tolie Otto family, and we raced Keeper Hill together. Sadly, Tolie died this year, but her daughter Audie has been running it for several years now, and they have four mares with us.

Justaroundmidnight (Ire), 17, Danehill Dancer (Ire)—Strategy (GB), by Machiavellian. To be bred to Up To The Mark.This is a mare that we bought back in 2012, and we bred Duopoly from her, who was a Group 1 winner by Animal Kingdom. She had a lovely Omaha Beach yearling that we sold this year, and she's currently not in foal, but we've chosen Up to the Mark with this mare. I didn't know the horse until the end of the year like most people probably because that's when he really did his thing, but he really was brilliant. And I believe Not This Time and Liam's Map are going to have a lot of influence, and this is a good son of Not This Time. And obviously, he ran on the grass, and it's a good pedigree blend that blends well with this mare, a first-year stallion. She's a commercial breeder, this is a Group 1-producing mare and it's a good value point.

Smart Shopping, 10, Smart Strike—Shop Again, by Wild Again. To be bred to Life Is Good.
We bought her dam, Shop Again, some years ago, and she was a foundation mare for the Ottos. And this is her 2013 daughter by Smart Strike that Ms. Otto raced, who was trained by Brendan Walsh. She showed form and we thought she was an Oaks filly, but she ended up injuring herself. Her first two foals are stakes-caliber, and show some quality. This is a foundation-replacing mare for Audie, and she's currently in foal to Life is Good. Life is Good and Flightline are the best two horses I've seen for a long time.

She's in foal to Life is Good and we're going to repeat the mating, not just because it's Life is Good, but, it blends very well with this particular mare and we pick up a lot of features that we like in that combined pedigree blend. And that's really all you can do, is try to put enough good ingredients into the stew and get lucky. Because the reality is that you don't look like your brother or your sister, and the idea to think that you can replicate something is not realistic. So you try to put as many things as you can into the stew, and that's what Life is Good, for me, does. So we're sending her foundation mare back to Life is Good.

Nancy Dillman is a dear friend a client for 40 years. She bred Diminuendo from the first crop of Diesis (GB), and we bred Havre de Grace together.

Mademoiselle Coco, 11, Medaglia d'Oro—Easter Brunette, by Carson City. To bred to Cody's Wish.

She's a half-sister to Havre de Grace, and this family has always bred a little small, and so we want to try to put a little size into her, if we can. She's currently in foal to Essential Quality and has an Essential Quality '23 foal as well. We had obviously great luck with Havre de Grace and Nancy likes first-year stallions whenever possible. She's a commercial breeder, and so we're breeding her back to Cody's Wish. Again, it's a pedigree blend with Medaglia d'Oro and the Mr. Prospector line works well with other things within that family, and Cody's Wish is a brilliant horse.

Seastone, 7, Cairo Prince—Church By The Sea, by Harlan's Holiday. To be bred to Epicenter.
She's a half-sister to Significant Form. She has a Maxfield 2023 foal and is in foal to Epicenter, who is a son of Not This Time. We like that blend. And so we're going to go back to Epicenter with Seastone.

The Amermans breed to race, one of those rare items today. And they've really built their entire program, of which there are about 10 mares now, off of two foundation mares–a mare called Miss Chapin, who's a very good producing mare, and then Devine Actress, who's the Dam of Oscar Performance and Oscar Nominated, among others.

Dream Fuhrever, 14, Langfuhr—Society Dream (Fr), by Akarad (Fr). To be bred to Oscar Performance.
One of the mares that I'm suggesting for Oscar Performance is the dam of Endlessly (Oscar Performance), who is a granddaughter of Miss Chapin. She's by Langfuhr, so the Northern Dancer line. Endlessly was the top two-year-old by Oscar Performance who was three-for-three before running in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and ended up being beaten three lengths there after going off as one of the favorites in that race. But breeding back Dream Fuhrever to Oscar Performance is a natural thing to do. You had to get lucky the first time, and we did.

Catch the Eye, 8, Quality Road—Turns My Head (Ire), by Montjeu. To be bred to Oscar Performance.
Another is a 2016 Quality Road mare by the name of Catch the Eye, who's from a European family, a Montjeu mare from the family of Egyptian Queen.  She has a '23 Caravaggio foal and is in foal to Oscar Performance. Quality Road has done well with Oscar Performance, it seems, and so we're breeding her back to Oscar Performance.

Sadly, we lost Lynn Schiff whom I'd been working with for 15 years or so, and her daughter, Maggie Gieseke, now runs the operation. Mom (Alice Chandler) was a magnet for women because she was such a strong woman herself, and so a lot of our clients are women, which is fantastic. Clover Hill bred the Breeders' Cup winner Ria Antonia and has about five mares. They're commercial breeders. And a few years ago, while Lynn was still with us in 2017, we bought three mares, and two of which have really worked out very well.

Wild Silk, 11, Street Sense—Spun Silk, by A.P. Indy. To be bred to Cody's Wish.
One of those three mares is Wild Silk. We paid $70,000 for her, and she is the dam of Red Carpet Ready, by Oscar Performance, who has earned nearly $600,000. She is a daughter of Street Sense, but also has a blend of Wild Again in the family and she provided a Hyperion-line blend of pedigree that crosses so beautifully with Oscar Performance and really crosses beautifully with Kitten's Joy through Lear Fan. We've gone back to Oscar Performance a couple of times. She is in foal to Liam's Map now, and Not This Time and Liam's Map are very strong sources that I'm using quite a bit. They're going to go to Cody's Wish with this mare. She can use some size and blend-wise, we're happy with that.

Maya Princess, 11, Street Sense—Hartfelt, by Kafwain. To be bred to Jack Christopher.
Here is another daughter of Street Sense and we bought her in foal to Ghostzapper in 2017. We were very fortunate that she produced a beautiful Ghostzapper that Phil Bauer and Richard Rigney bought and named Mariah's Princess, who earned $250,000 as her first foal. She has an Essential Quality filly foal and is in foal to Charlatan and is going to Jack Christopher. They are commercial breeders. Charlatan was a brilliant horse, and again, provides a pedigree blend, and Jack Christopher also is a brilliant horse. And we would just as soon not be in a sire's first book. I said that Nancy Dillman wants to be in the first year, but I don't mind being in another year, because if you believe in the horse, it's worth the gamble, really, because you're not up there against 200 other foals.

Frank Garrison is an old college friend who owns a couple of mares together with us, and is godfather to Price. These are ones we share.

Humor Me Dixie, 6, Distorted Humor—Dixie City, by Dixie Union. To be bred to Oscar Performance.
Humor Me Dixie is a mare that we bought in 2020 with an outstanding blend of family. Distorted Humor is a great broodmare sire with the El Prado/Medaglia d'Oro line in particular. She's in foal to Upstart, and we are going to breed her to Oscar Performance. The Hyperion line that you're picking up through Oscar Performance, I think will blend well and add some size to the mare.

Proximity Bias, 8, Flatter—Sidle, by Seeking the Gold. To be bred to Liam's Map.
We bought this mare in 2016 from a family I'm very fond of, the Stroll family, which I think is a very tough family. We bought her in foal to Practical Joke in '20 and sold that Practical Joke to Steve Asmussen, and he's made her a stakes winner of $150,000 for which we're most appreciative. And she has a '23 Oscar Performance and in foal to Oscar Performance and is going back to Liam's Map.

Byron Nimocks is from Rye, New York and is fairly new to the business. We share five mares together, and last year was the first time we bought any mares.

Patna, 5, Into Mischief—Barbadia, by Speightstown. To be bred to Blame.
Most importantly, she is from the Willstar family of Juddmonte's, which is one of their foundation families. And it has Nureyev in it, and I can't get enough of Nureyev. Theatrical is by Nureyev, which is Oscar Performance's broodmare sire. She was a maiden at the time we bought her, and we bred her to Twirling Candy. We're going to go to Blame this year. Chris McGrath described Blame so well in his Value Sires, and we believe he is a value sire also, and we're going to go to Blame and see if we can breed a race horse.

Tea Olive, 5, First Samurai—Conquest Superstar, by Super Saver. To be bred to Aloha West.
We bought this mare last year as a maiden. Gatewood (Bell) had bought her as a yearling. Gatewood's a second cousin and worked with me at Nicoma for a while. It was in the slop at Keeneland, but she beat Gunite in her first start, which I thought was pretty impressive. She earned about a $100,000. We had bred her to Speaker's Corner. Unfortunately, she aborted. And we're going to come back to Aloha West. For us, we believe that Aloha West resembles his broodmare sire, Speightstown, more than his sire Hard Spun. He gives you a great pedigree blend with the Hard Spun–some Danzig, some Gone West, and some A. P. Indy. He was a very fast horse, obviously. He won the Breeders' Cup Sprint. And we're excited about his future and we're going to send what we believe is an exciting mare to him in Tea Olive.

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