By Jessica Martini
As a kid growing up in Texas and spending his days at Lone Star Park, Geoff Nixon knew he wanted to one day own a racehorse of his own. Fast-forward a couple decades and Nixon doesn’t just have the horse, he has the farm, too. Nixon and wife Brandi, in racing since 2014, purchased the 127-acre Grantley Acres in Midway last December and their fledgling broodmare band of just 14 head has been represented this season by a pair of juvenile graded stakes winners. The couple will be making their first trip to the Breeders’ Cup next month to watch Dennis’ Moment (Tiznow), whom they bred, go postward as the likely favorite in the GI Juvenile.
It was almost a championship weekend two-fer for the couple. Nixon, along with farm manager Elise Handler and bloodstock advisor Carl McEntee, purchased the dam of GII Sorrento S. winner Amalfi Sunrise (Constitution) at this year’s Fasig-Tipton February sale. While that juvenile filly has been sidelined, her dam Soot Z (Empire Maker) and weanling filly by Tiznow will be heading through the sales ring at the upcoming Fasig-Tipton November Sale, where they could also be joined by Transplendid (Elusive Quality), the dam of Dennis’ Moment, as well as her Into Mischief weanling filly.
“Every Thoroughbred breeder dreams of these opportunities,” Geoff Nixon said. “And to have two in the same year, it was somewhat mind-boggling. To have one is awesome. To have two is extraordinary and phenomenal.”
Nixon knew from an early age he wanted to be involved in the Thoroughbred industry.
“I grew up at Lone Star Park,” Nixon recalled. “My dad would take me and a couple buddies and we’d go play around Lone Star while my dad and his buddies and my uncle gambled on horses. I don’t know how old I was–I was young, probably 10 or 12–and I realized, ‘I don’t want to gamble, I just want to own a horse some day.'”
Nixon, who owns a construction company in Texas, made that dream come true in 2014.
“It was actually a Stephen Got Even colt we pinhooked from a yearling to a 2-year-old sale,” Nixon said of his first horse. “That was my first venture. I don’t think I made money on the venture, but we just had fun. That’s how it all started.”
It didn’t take long for the dream, and passion for the sport, to grow.
“In 2014, my wife and I went to our first Derby when California Chrome won,” Nixon said. “We met Kenny and Lisa Troutt, owners of WinStar. We’ve gotten to be friends with them and got to see their farm and got connected to other people, like Mark Toothaker, the stallion manager at Spendthrift. We really got immersed in these farms and these stallions and breeding operations. And I thought, ‘Man, I want to do this.’ I didn’t want to compete with these guys, I don’t want to own stallions. I just want a breeding/boarding/sales prep operation. But I want to be in the upper echelon.
He continued, “Two years ago, I told my wife we should look into it and, if something happens, we’ll take that next leap. We’ll pray about it and see what happens. In September of last year, this opportunity arose and we just took a leap of faith and everything fell into place.”
Nixon closed on Grantley Acres-a combination of his two children’s names, Graham and Brantley–last December. The farm is currently home to some 60 horses. The Texan, who races as Tolo Thoroughbreds, said his goal is for the operation to be known as a top-class breeder.
“Our first goal is to breed that Saturday afternoon horse,” he said. “We want to breed quality. Years ago, my wife would ask ‘What are you doing?’ I was staying up late after work and after the kids had gone to bed, reading articles from TDN, Blood-Horse and studying pedigrees, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. I was just trying to immerse myself and to be a student of this game. So, I think the overall goal is to breed that Saturday afternoon horse where people will say, ‘Oh, Grantley Acres, Tolo Thoroughbreds, they bred this horse.’ and to have that recognition that, ‘They breed a good horse.’ So racing is secondary, if we can do it, then we’ll do it. But our first order of operation is definitely to breed and sell.”
Nixon’s passion for the game-and his commitment to introduce others to the industry-comes through clearly.
“The Thoroughbred business, it’s a great sport, it’s a great business,” Nixon said. “There are phenomenal people in this game. I’ve met a lot of great people and continue to meet a lot of people day in and day out. The Thoroughbred business has gotten some bad publicity, obviously, lately. I’m only 34 years old and not tooting my horn in any way, but I want to help this sport and this business grow and get bigger. They always say, decades ago, how extraordinary the sport was. I want to help get it back to that, to get more people into the game, young people like myself.”
He added, “We’ve got three or four of my friends, they’re all young–a couple of them are business owners, a couple are just your average guy–they are actually coming to the November sales with me this year. Two of my buddies got in with me last year on a couple of horses. And they’ve done well so far, but they enjoy the sport, they enjoy the people.
“The experiences are phenomenal,” he continued. “Saratoga is a phenomenal experience, the Kentucky Derby is a great experience. We’re going to go to the Breeders’ Cup this year for the first time and it’s the first time I’ve ever been at Santa Anita. We’re really excited to go.”
That first trip to the Breeders’ Cup was prompted by the exciting 2-year-old Dennis’ Moment, who was tabbed a ‘TDN Rising Star’ following a scintillating 19 1/4-length maiden win at Ellis Park in July. He followed that victory up with a win in the Sept. 14 GIII Iroquois S.
The colt’s dam Transplendid was one of the first mare’s Nixon acquired. She was purchased for $50,000 while in foal to Verrazano at the 2015 Keeneland November sale.
“There were three broodmares we bought that year and she was one of them,” Nixon said. “So to have her as a foundation mare on the farm is great. We hope the success continues. But there are a lot of people who are connected and have their hands in it as well.”
The mare’s Verrazano colt sold for $185,000 at Keeneland November in 2016 before reselling at that venue for $650,000 the following September. Dennis’ Moment sold to Albaugh Family Racing for $400,000 at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale.
“We knew he was something special the day he was born,” Nixon said of the colt. “I’ll be honest, the hand that raised the colt, all the way up to the sale and led him into the ring at Saratoga last year, he looked at me and my wife and about two hours before he went into the ring, he said, ‘Mr. Geoff, don’t sell this colt.’ My wife just brought that up to me the other day. But you never know. Dennis’ Moment is in good hands, the connections are awesome at what they do.”
Soot Z was a more recent investment for Nixon. He purchased the mare, in foal to Tiznow, for $92,000 at this year’s Fasig-Tipton February sale, then watched as Amalfi Sunrise went from ‘TDN Rising Star’ to graded stakes winner this past summer.
“Elise, my farm manager, picked her out and told me to take a look at her,” Nixon said. “Of course, I make the final decision. Carl was there and I told him his budget was $85,000. I had a meeting, but I told him to go to $85,000. He called me back, I didn’t answer, and I called him about 30 minutes later. He said, ‘Look, I spent $92,000.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Hopefully, you’ll thank me later.’ So I have to thank Carl for spending the extra $7,000.”
Despite going over budget, McEntee admitted he had thought the mare was a bargain.
“She was a really nice Empire Maker mare and Elise selected her,” McEntee recalled. “She had two foals to race, both were stakes horses, but she was on a late cover, which is why we were able to get her a cheaply as we did. And then Amalfi Sunrise sort of stepped up. We had heard rumors that she was pretty good, but then she stepped up and blew the doors open.”
Soot Z, in foal to Into Mischief, and her Tiznow weanling are scheduled to go through the ring at the Fasig-Tipton November sale and Transplendid, in foal to More Than Ready, and her Into Mischief filly might join them.
“Soot Z and her weanling by Tiznow are definitely going to be offered at the Night of the Stars sale at Fasig,” Nixon confirmed. “Transplendid and her weanling are on the shelf. Obviously a lot of things can happen. We’re waiting to see if Dennis’ Moment is going to be entered in the Breeders’ Cup, which is likely, but we’ll probably wait on her. That’s the plan. If everything goes well, yes, we will move forward with Night of the Stars with them, too.”
Asked if it would be hard to part with two such promising broodmares, Nixon said, “It’s really tough to make those decisions. The Thoroughbred business is a ‘what if’ game. What if you keep them and the rest of their progeny don’t do well? What if you sell them and then Dennis’ Moment goes on and wins the Triple Crown and you sold too early? At the end of the day, it’s a business decision. Sometimes these mares can be too expensive for us to hold. So we have to make that business decision and let somebody else take the next step. And you wish them the best if they were to make that purchase.”
Nixon’s Fasig November offerings will include another weanling with a timely update. Through McEntee’s Ballysax Bloodstock, he will sell a weanling filly (hip 49) by Speightstown out of multiple graded stakes placed One True Kiss (Warrior’s Reward). The mare, acquired last fall, is a half to speedy graded stakes winner Shancelot (Shanghai Bobby).
Before the hubbub of Breeders’ Cup and November sales, Nixon will be in action at next week’s Fasig-Tipton October Yearling Sale. Through Ballysax, he will offer a filly by Empire Maker out of stakes-placed Royal Story (Lemon Drop Kid) (hip 1159) during Wednesday’s session of the four-day auction. The yearling RNA’d for $285,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale in August.
“She is a beautiful filly,” McEntee said of the yearling. “She had gone through a growth spurt on us and she wasn’t at her optimum when we took her to Saratoga. She has developed really well over the last couple of months.”
With all his early success in the industry, Nixon is quick to credit the group of people he’s assembled to help him.
“Team is a big thing with me,” he said. “I’m surrounded by a lot of good people. My farm manager, Elise Handler, I’ve known her since 2014. She is my right-hand woman. She knows the industry very well. And she’s phenomenal. With Carl McEntee, I trust him extraordinarily to help get my horses out at the sales ring and do what he does and he introduces me to other people. Being in Dallas and away the farm and everything that we have there and here, I rely on the team.”
A farm owner only since last December, Nixon already has plans to build his operation.
“We are already looking to expand the farm at either side to us and we just started that about two months ago,” he said. “I’d like to grow it. I’d like to grow the clientele as well. We’ve just made a lot of improvements at the farm–we are hopefully bringing in some state-of-the-art equipment. We just put in a very nice covered Equisizer. And we’re about to renovate the two barns that are on the property. We want to help build this brand and to help build the Thoroughbred industry as a whole. I think this is a good start and we’re very thankful with the success that we’re having now.”
Nixon is looking forward to a first family Christmas on the farm this winter and, looking even further ahead, hopes to eventually retire to Grantley Acres.
“That would be the plan,” he said. “To retire up there and wake up every morning having coffee and looking at horses. What could be better than that?”