Nothhaft Living the Life He Imagined

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Living the Life | Vassar Photography

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Hank Nothhaft was a veteran CEO in Silicon Valley when he decided he needed to make a plan for the next phase of his life. A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” he picked horse racing and now, over a decade later, he is retired from the business world and spending most of his time working on his racing and breeding operation. Through the Ballysax Bloodstock consignment, Nothhaft will offer a colt by Tapit out of the owner's most successful racehorse to date, multiple graded stakes winner Living the Life (Ire) (Footstepsinthesand {GB}) (hip 213), during the first session of the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase in Lexington.

“I found myself 40 to 50 years older than the people I was managing and I realized at some point I wasn't going to be able to work at the level required for these positions,” Nothhaft said. “I thought I better find something to do before I retire. I did some research and I decided to pick horse racing and breeding. I had no background in the industry, no friends in the industry. But I was a very casual fan, we used to go to Bay Meadows in San Mateo for family outings once or twice a year. We enjoyed that immensely.”

Nothhaft teamed up with bloodstock agent Carl McEntee and the two decided there would be value in purchasing race fillies in England and relocating them to the U.S., particularly to take advantage of the Ship-and-Win Bonus which rewarded out-of-state horses who competed at Del Mar. Nothhaft acquired Halljoy (Ire) (Halling), already group-placed in England, who went right on to score at Del Mar, as well as Living the Life who was a maiden winner when she was purchased privately as a 3-year-old in 2013.

“When we started buying these horses in England, one part of this plan was Del Mar's Ship-In bonus,” Nothhaft said. “So we would try to buy them at the right time and get them to the United States so that Gary Mandella could get them prepared and run them first time down at Del Mar. Living the Life came available way early and once we had acquired her Carl said, 'You know I have a brother who is a trainer in the UK. What do you think about keeping her there for a while before we send her to the States?”

To Nothhaft, whose business had taken him to England numerous times and who was a lover of Dick Francis novels, as well as a confessed Anglophile, the suggestion was a light bulb moment.

“I said, 'Oh, we can do that?” he recalled. “I was like a little kid in a candy store. So I got licensed and I joined the Racehorse Owners Association. I got my account at Weatherbys, I got a bookkeeper over there and so on. And I hired Carl's brother Phil to train her.”

Living the Life was soon exceeding initial expectations for her new connections.

“Living the Life was a horse that we bought relatively inexpensively and once we bought her, she was race fit and she quarantined with my brother,” McEntee recalled. “Phil got a hold of her and her career moved forward in leaps and bounds. She won two races for him relatively quickly and then he came up with the idea to send her to the inaugural running of the All-Weather Championship at Lingfield. With her two wins, she was eligible to run in the filly sprint division and Phil said we had a real chance of hitting the board in the race. The purse money was $250,000, so we said we would give it a shot. Adam Kirby, who was the leading all-weather rider that year, agreed to ride her and not only did she grab a piece of it, but she won by 7 1/2. That was the biggest race that my brother Phil has ever won in his training career. That was lovely to share in.”

That day at Lingfield was a dream come true for Nothhaft as well.

“Just as he came around the corner, Kirby took off and got the jump on them, kind of like a Formula One race on a restart, and suddenly they had a seven-length lead,” Nothhaft said. “She had gotten run down before, but she not only didn't get run down that day, they didn't gain any ground on her at all. So we won a $250,000 race with a filly we paid less than $50,000 for. She won $200,000 before we switched her to the States. We were in seventh heaven. There was a tremendous crowd, I was an American–a Yank–and they knew it. It was like being feted for the rest of the day and just soaking in all this energy and all the excitement. So that's the highlight of everything that's happened to me since I've been involved in racing. I called my wife and told her I didn't need an airplane to get home from England, I would just take wing and fly.”

Things only got better when Living the Life was transferred to the Southern California barn of trainer Gary Mandella. She opened her Stateside campaign with an allowance victory over the all-weather surface at Del Mar and was soon tackling graded stakes company across the country at Pennsylvania's Presque Isle Downs for the 2014 GII Presque Isle Downs Masters S. It was homecoming for Nothhaft, who is now based in Texas.

“I was born and raised within spitting distance from the track up there, so now she not only fulfilled this latent desire to be the British race horse owner from the novels, now I can go back to my roots,” Nothhaft said. “I am a son of German immigrants and ended up lucky enough to go to the Naval Academy and I was able to get ahead in life. But I have deep, blue-collar roots in Western PA. So this was really a kick for me, just going back.”

Nothhaft continued, “We got Mike Smith to ride her and just to make it a good story, we won the race. I get excited about winning any race, but that really was a thrill. So the value of Living the Life went from $43,000 that we paid for her, and now she's won half a million by then and was worth high six or seven figures.”

Living the Life would go on to finish second in the 2015 GII Great Lady M S. before successfully defending her title at Presque Isle that fall. In 2016, she was third in the GII Santa Maria S. and the GI Santa Margarita S. before defeating the boys in the GIII All American S. at Golden Gate Fields. She ended her career with a narrow defeat in her third Presque Isle Masters.

“If they had Tapeta or synthetic in this country, she would have been a very difficult filly to come up against for anyone,” McEntee said. “She didn't love the dirt, but this is a filly who is graded stakes placed on dirt, turf and synthetic and obviously was pretty unbelievable on the synthetic in this country. She came back for a three-peat in the Masters and, if you go back and watch the race, she got stuck in traffic and couldn't get out and she got beat about a half-inch to win it again. She was a filly who, once you got her out, her turn of foot was spectacular.”

Retired to Nothhaft's broodmare band, Living the Life's first foal is a now 2-year-old colt by Pioneerof the Nile. Retained by his breeder, the bay is currently in training with Ben Colebrook at Keeneland. The colt's name is a throwback to his dam's success at Presque Isle, as well as Nothhaft's Naval background.

“I named her first foal Commodore Perry because in the War of 1812, when we defeated the British, the commodore up there on Lake Erie was Commodore Perry. If you go to the Naval Academy and see Memorial Hall, where they honor all the graduates who have given their lives fighting for the country, they have this 200-year old battle flag that says, 'Don't give up the ship.' That's Commodore Perry's flag from the War of 1812.”

Nothhaft is getting positive reports on Commodore Perry, who is expected to make his debut during Keeneland's fall meet.

“He is a big, rangy Pioneerof the Nile colt,” Nothhaft said of the juvenile. “We don't want to rush him. We think he's a two-turn horse, so we don't want to jump into some of these really short early 2-year-old races. There are 6 1/2 and seven-furlong dirt races in the book for 2-year-old maidens at Keeneland, so that's what we are looking at. I am quite excited about him.”

Living the Life's second foal, the yearling colt by Tapit, is also drawing positive reviews ahead of his engagement at Fasig-Tipton.

“Expectations are pretty high,” McEntee said of the yearling's impending sale. “He's a very well-balanced colt with good size and very correct. He has all the qualities of the good Tapits and obviously he is out of an exceptional race mare in Living the Life.”

Living the Life, currently in foal to Triple Crown winner Justify, is one of 14 broodmares in Nothhaft's band. The group also includes multiple graded stakes placed Kindle (Indian Charlie), who was purchased by Nothhaft for $50,000 at the 2009 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The 12-year-old mare has already produced an American Pharoah colt who sold for $400,000 as a Keeneland November weanling before reselling for $2.2 million at Keeneland September in 2018.

The band also includes Be Envied (Lemon Drop Kid), the dam of Finest City (City Zip), whom Nothhaft purchased with the future GI Breeders' Cup F/M Sprint winner in utero for $37,000 at the 2011 Keeneland November sale, as well as Randie's Legend (Benchmark), dam of multiple graded stakes winner Daddy is a Legend (Scat Daddy).

“Probably my comfort level is around 10 to 12 really good commercial mares. That would be a good place for me to be in the long run,” Nothhaft said. “I've been trying to upgrade the broodmare band as we go along. I got involved in racing just in time to get hit by the decline in the stock market and the great recession and it was clear that the only thing that sustained itself at all was the upper end of the market. And I think that's even clearer today than it was in 2008. To the degree that there is any stability in the market, it is at the high end.”

Nothhaft's plan is to sell most of his foals, while retaining a few to race.

“I have a predetermined plan to sell a certain number of foals every year and then keep a few to race, with the idea of financial outcome being positive,” he said. “With Randie's Legend, Living the Life or Kindle or some others, I would keep a female member of the family. Oddly, as we sit here today, I don't have one from any one of those horses. Kindle has produced four colts and she is in foal with another [American Pharoah] colt. So that's the problem there. Randie's Legend has been a timing issue there. Living the Life is in foal with a filly by Justify and I am keeping her. I already have a name picked out.”

While most of Nothhaft's broodmare band consists of homebreds or fillies he purchased to race, he and McEntee did add to the group with some acquisitions from last year's Keeneland November sale. The new additions included Laseen (Ire) (Dylan Thomas {Ire}) (hip 6), in foal to Uncle Mo, for $200,000; Prado's Sweet Ride (Fort Prado) (hip 54), in foal to Speightstown for $285,000; and Miss Mahalia (Uncle Mo) (hip 319), in foal to Gun Runner, for $170,000.

“We bought three very special broodmares and they were in foal to Uncle Mo, Speightstown and Gun Runner,” McEntee said. “We will be selling two of the mares and foals in November and they are in foal to American Pharoah and Justify and the foals look very, very good. The one mare who was in foal to Uncle Mo, she is in foal to Justify and we will be keeping her.”

McEntee continued, “As the quality of his broodmares improved, we started keeping some fillies from the families because they warranted being supported at the racetrack by ourselves with the hope to bringing them into the broodmare band. [Nothhaft] has two half-sisters to Finest City, both of which are in the broodmare band. [Stakes winner] Grand Prix (Tale of the Cat) has got her first foal on the ground, which is a Mendelssohn, who is very, very nice and then Move (Silver Train) has a really good Cairo Prince on the ground. It's always fun to have mares in that mid-range, but the reality is the safest part of the market is the upper end of the market. We have been very conscientious of moving on the lower-end mares and taking the money we get from those and reinvesting it in the top. It's that sort of continuous growth that, as the mares get better, they sell for more and then you have more to invest in the higher end.”

Nothhaft has been working with McEntee since almost the very beginning of his time in racing.

“I met Hank the first time in 2010 when I was the general manager at Ghost Ridge Farms in Pennsylvania,” McEntee said. “Hank is from Sharon, so Pennsylvania is important to him. We had just purchased Smarty Jones at the farm and he ended up buying a share. We bought one mare to send to him and he sent in a mare called Randie's Legend that he owned on the racetrack.”

McEntee continued, “Hank and I have been friends and colleagues for almost 12 years. He knows my family very well. When his racehorses are broken, they end up going to my brother Mark at Miacomet Farm and he still talks to my brother Phil and he has horses in training with Ben Colebrook. Ben and I have been friends for 20 years and it was at Ben's house that I met my wife. So this is a huge circle of people who have been involved in my life. Hank is a client, but to be quite frank, he is a mentor and a friend.”

The feeling is obviously mutual.

“He is the age of my sons, so we're not contemporaries, but we are very good friends,” Nothhaft said of McEntee. “And I think he considers me something of a mentor, not in a horse racing sense, but in how to conduct business.”

Of the mare who helped bring them together, McEntee said, “It's funny she is called Living the Life. It was a real sort of wonderful moment for myself and Hank. We put the filly in training with my brother Phil and it really is a family story.”

Nothhaft is clearly still relishing the achievements of his graded stakes-winning mare, even as he prepares to send her yearling through the ring at Fasig-Tipton.

“She ran 35 times and won 10 times and she won $1,028,394,” Nothhaft said. “And she gave me more enjoyment and more thrills than you can ever imagine. I still have her and she has produced Commodore Perry, who I think looks phenomenal, and she has this tremendous Tapit on the ground. And then we have a Justify filly [she is carrying]. The story goes on. I couldn't make it up–and a lot of it was even planned. In horse racing, when you make a plan and it actually works out–which is usually not the case–it's so exciting. But everything fell into place.”

The Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase will be held at the company's Newtown Paddocks Sept. 9 and 10 with each session beginning at 10 a.m.

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