Ravishing Fulfillment of a $500 Wish


Simply Ravishing winning the Darley Alcibiades | Coady


The viability of the horse business hinges on a precarious equilibrium. Its values have to work out often enough for the rich guy to keep spending, but not so often that the rest of us have to pack up and go home. Very seldom, however, are both extremes embraced so proximately as by Meg Levy last weekend.

On Sunday, the Grade I success of Valiance (Tapit) in the Juddmonte Spinster S. vindicated all the promise, in pedigree and physique, she had evinced as a $650,000 yearling sold through Levy's Bluewater Sales at Saratoga in 2017.

Earlier that same year, however, Levy had been driving to a rather less glamorous Fasig-Tipton auction: the Kentucky Mixed Winter Sale in February. Somebody got a message to her that a boarding farm, just down the Newtown Pike, was trying to find a home for an abandoned More Than Ready mare. Staring at an unpaid bill of $10,000 and counting, they would take $500 to remove the wretched creature from their books.

Well, it was Levy's birthday; and the mare was named, of all things, Four Wishes. “Oh, gosh, well you never know,” Levy said to herself. “Why not stop by and see her?”

Half a dozen mares were turned out in the paddock. They all looked fine, except one. Remember this is a woman who spends all her time trying to get horses to thrive; to look their best, through whatever it takes in terms of nutrition, grooming, shoeing and all the rest of it. “Poor thing,” Levy thought, as she approached. But then she caught that look, that eye; that window into the inner mysteries of a horse. As a parcel of bones and sinew, the mare was plainly in a bad place. But that gleam, in the low winter sun, showed that something vital still flickered within.

“I've always been very funny about the eye that a mare has,” Levy reflects. “It sounds cheesy, but I always feel that you see the heart coming through. And she just looked at me with a quality eye. Because, believe it or not, I see a lot of horses not in the best of shape. It's not always because they've received bad care. Sometimes they're just in too competitive a situation, and that might well have been the case here.

“Of course, she really didn't have any pedigree to speak of. No black type in the first two dams, and herself unplaced. So, really, all she had going for her was that she's by More Than Ready. But I thought she had a beautiful eye and, the way she looked to me, I just felt like she was worth giving a home.”

Levy went on to Fasig, and told her husband: “I bought myself a birthday present.” Over the years, Mike had tried to “put the blinkers on” somewhat, such is her predilection for taking clients' horses when they had reached the end of the road. But she felt strangely excited.

“I remember calling Patty, who was running our farm at the time,” she says. “'Oh, I just bought a mare for 500 bucks. Can you go pick her up later? There'll be some paperwork that comes with her.' Because there was an agister's lien on her. And she was like, 'All right, crazy lady.'”

With respect, Levy didn't feel quite so excited about the fact that 9-year-old was carrying a Revolutionary foal. But then Four Wishes delivered a quite stunning colt. True, the package remained so uncommercial that he only made $8,000 as a Fasig-Tipton October yearling before disappearing to Peru. No New York premiums down there, clearly; but it was heartening to see that the mare could produce such a good physical.

And the New York angle could work better next time: Mike had helped to put together a syndicate to stand Laoban (Uncle Mo), then just starting out at Sequel Stallions. Laoban, co-owned by Bluewater client Mike Moreno of Southern Equine, had broken his maiden with a surprise win in the GII Jim Dandy S. The Levys had a breeding right, and Four Wishes looked a good fit.

“I thought: 'Well, he seems a really nice horse and should complement her,'” says Levy. “She's medium-sized and a bit round, like a More Than Ready can be, and he's big and tall and angular.”

Four Wishes, in the meantime, had really begun to flourish. Not that there was any magic to it.

“You know, you just do a couple of simple things right,” Levy explains. “What we always do, when they ship in. Float their teeth, make sure they have a paddock mate that suits, all that stuff. But she just bloomed. Oh, she did. She was gorgeous.”

Sure enough, when her Laoban filly was born in April 2018, Bill Johnson called from Stonegate Farm and exclaimed: “Wow! I think you're really going to like this one. That mare has had a really nice filly, big, tall and angular.”

Sure enough, when the pair came back to Kentucky, the baby looked fabulous–a chip off the old Indian Charlie block.

“Just so good-looking, so athletic,” Levy enthuses. “And the filly soon became a farm favorite. At the time my son Ryder was working the yearlings, and also Elliott Walden's son Will, and they both just loved her. And they've been around a lot of good ones, especially Will. And we've funny little video clips of her jogging round the walker and the both of them saying: 'Runner!'”

Not that all this had happened overnight. Let's remember that Four Wishes had already taken a lot of time, energy and cost; with, so far, only an $8,000 yearling in Peru to show for it. Sadly, moreover, she then lost a Daaher foal and had to be given a fallow year. And, in the meantime, her fabulous daughter was nearly undone by disaster.

Last summer the farm team were loading her, with around a dozen others, to go to the New York sale in Saratoga. “She decided that she was not happy with this process,” Levy relates. “And kicked the wall of the van so hard that she broke one of her hind feet. I was so disappointed. But we had no choice, after she was treated by a podiatrist, but to re-enter her in the Fasig-Tipton October Sale–not, we know, traditionally the absolute best place to sell a New York-bred.”

Sure enough, while a lot of people liked her in Lexington, those two blank dams and a rookie New York sire was a tricky combination. But then along came the client who had helped to put Bluewater on the map when giving $175,000 for a Dehere filly at Fasig's July Sale in 2000. She became Take Charge Lady, whose name can be found twice below that of Valiance on the Spinster roll of honor.

“Kenny McPeek has that history of buying those kinds of horses,” Levy says. “So in the end we were really glad that he got her [for $50,000], we just felt it would give her a chance.”

Whenever one of her family saw McPeek, they would pester him.

“Hey, how's that filly, what's her name again? Simply Ravishing?” “Oh, she's fine. Doing good.”

Then McPeek took her up to Saratoga and, as her debut neared, started sending videos of her workouts. Levy figured this had to be promising.

But she could not anticipate the authentic fairytale that would unfold when Simply Ravishing ventured out in the afternoon, in the colors of Harold Lerner, Magdalena Racing and Nehoc Stables: first winning a maiden special weight on the turf; then a stakes, again at Saratoga but switched to dirt, by daylight.

That emboldened McPeek to run her in the GI Darley Alcibiades S. at Keeneland last Friday–a race he had won four times, including with Take Charge Lady. Busy preparing another bargain filly for a momentous Classic appointment the next day, McPeek watched from Maryland as Simply Ravishing made all by six lengths from another filly from his barn, Crazy Beautiful (Liam's Map).

“We were at the racetrack, right there on the apron, and I was just crying,” Levy says. “You don't get many moments as special in this business, right? I mean, it's just unbelievable. You know, it can't be explained. I giggle every time an article mentions how she's bred: 'the first winner from the mare.' Actually she's her first horse even to hit the racetrack. I think her first foal, another Revolutionary, was sold as a riding horse.

“And it has just all clicked for me, how lucky we are with the friends we've made in the business, and the clients who have become friends. This mare would have never been bred to Laoban, were it not for Mike Moreno.”

But both Laoban and Levy herself were only just getting started. The next day, another of Laoban's first crop, Dreamer's Disease, likewise made all for an emphatic success in an optional allowance. And then Keepmeinmind, another in the Southern Equine silks, outran 50-1 odds for second in the GI Claiborne Futurity S. in only his second start.

Then came the Spinster success of Valiance, whose sale through Bluewater for breeders China Horse Club mirrored that of recent GIII Pocahontas S. winner Girl Daddy (Uncle Mo).

“We were lucky enough to have Valiance at the farm before she went to the sale, and got to know her very well,” Levy recalls. “In the end, we came up with a partnership at Saratoga, because we really thought there was something special about her. And it was like a friends and family deal: with China Horse Club staying in, and Aron Wellman [of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners] and Marty Schwartz both having both been so

good to us, so instrumental in our business over the years.”

Indeed, Bluewater sold another gray Spinster winner for Schwartz in Asi Siempre (El Prado {Ire}) for $3 million in 2007.

“Valiance looked so fantastic in the paddock,” Levy says. “She moved great, was very focused, and just seems to be getting better and better. We all hoped she might get a piece of it, but it was a shock to see her make that move on the outside and then come back and look like she wouldn't blow out a candle.”

There may be some divided loyalties ahead, with Girl Daddy likely to cross swords with Simply Ravishing at the Breeders' Cup, but there's no doubting that Bluewater's association with China Horse Club is on a roll. They sold another filly by Valiance's sire, out of GI Alabama S. winner Embellish The Lace (Super Saver), to Claiborne for $1.25 million during the opening session of the September Sale at Keeneland.

“She was just an amazing physical and had all the pieces in the right place,” Levy reports. “Hopefully we'll see a lot more from her. In general, of course, it was a difficult market. But having experienced several lows in the business, including the 2008 crash, I guess it's a bit different from a young person going into it and trying to be optimistic. Having been through some of those things, I think you learn to adjust; and to deliver. It's no fun delivering bad news to clients. But we're lucky to have some

that could race their horses, and hopefully everyone appreciates you being straightforward. Yes, the bull's-eye was very small, but we were fortunate enough to have a couple that did hit. So we'll live to fight another day.”

It's a rare pleasure, in 2020, to find someone with as feel-good a story as Four Wishes. But Levy is seasoned enough to take a step back and urge some positivity regardless.

“Long-term, I think there are some good things going on in the

business,” she stresses. “The Horseracing Integrity Act, most obviously. And I was hugely inspired by the Preakness, watching that filly just look the colt in the eye and say, 'Not today.' Racing is not dead yet. These horses will always inspire us, no matter what.”

For her own team, mind you, this was a weekend that would have stood out in any year.

“Yes, it has all been pretty crazy,” Levy says. “I think there might be a miracle both ways, between Laoban and Four Wishes. Laoban seems to take after Uncle Mo. You know, I love stallions that are homozygous black, so there'll never be a chestnut. I saw quite a few of those Laoban foals, and they all have that Uncle Mo/Indian Charlie look about them: angular, athletic, something about their heads and ears. And smart.”

As for her rescure mare, Levy has naturally done some research. It turns out that Four Wishes was actually bred by some friends, but the trail goes cold after her racing career. Anyhow, all's well that ends well; and she is now in foal to Speightster

“Besides selling the filly, this is the first Grade I winner we've ever bred for ourselves,” notes Levy. “Obviously it's pretty cool for Laoban, because when you look at this mare, how could anyone–looking at all the normal indicators–expect such a good racehorse out of her?

“But what is it they say? 'If wishes were horses…' It's just amazing, so strange. I can't say what made me go over there that day. I wish I could explain it. You hope and dream, I guess, but the way this thing happened? I could never have imagined that a situation like this could somehow arise from that transaction. It's just crazy.”

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