Rice Celebrates ‘Life-Changing’ Upgrade for $7,500 Mare

|

Gail Rice | courtesy Gail Rice

By

For Gail Rice, the way luck and judgement play out with Thoroughbreds is sooner a matter of faith than mere fate. “God tries to make you make the right decisions,” she declares. But then she gives a delighted, self-deprecating laugh and adds: “Apparently for once I listened properly!”

Yes she did. Because you would have had to strain your ears pretty hard to catch the hint, the time Rice saw a young New York-bred mare by Freud in the back ring at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton February Sale. Scribbling Sarah had won a Saratoga maiden as a 3-year-old, but that was her only success in 11 starts and she had last been sighted, under a $5,000 tag, down the field at Finger Lakes. But while Rice was not born into the game, and has only ever dabbled with breeding on a very small scale, over the years she had gleaned plenty of insight from her in-laws–a respected clan of horsemen and women, now extended by two sons and a daughter raised with ex-husband Wayne: Adam and Kevin, both talented trainers; and Taylor, a prolific jockey before her marriage to Jose Ortiz. And Scribbling Sarah somehow struck a chord.

“She had the walk,” Rice remembers. “She had that big Quarter Horse hip that the Rices have taught me to like. And the deep girth. Nice angles. All the things I had learned to look for, with Mr. Gladwell as well. I worked for him for a bunch of years, too.”

She sent in her son Adam to check over the mare. There was a bit of an issue in her hindquarters, which transpired to be a muscle tear.

“I found that out later, but I could see there was something going on,” Rice says. “But I’m like, ‘Well, that’s nothing. That’s not a problem.’ She was a sister to two graded stakes-placed horses and I thought, ‘This is a good enough page for me to sell babies for $50,000, maybe $100,000, if I get the right hot, new stallion. Let’s buy her.'”

She promptly did so, the docket in the name of second husband Bobby Jones, for $7,500. That same summer, Scribbling Sarah’s page gained a first new ornament when her full-sister was placed in black-type company at Saratoga. But her big break traces to the following spring, after the mare had delivered her first foal by Adios Charlie.

At the time she bought her, Rice had no idea that Scribbling Sarah had for a time been trained by Wayne’s sister Linda. In choosing the mare’s next covering, however, she did get an inside track.

“I had a budget and didn’t want to go over $10,000,” she explains. “So I put them all in the pot and did my research. I looked at all those matching programs, and Pulpit over Storm Cat is a really good cross. And my son-in-law Jose had ridden Mr Speaker in a race or two, so I called him and asked what he thought of the horse.”

Ortiz gave her plenty of encouragement, and the horse’s pedigree sealed the deal. Though his best form came on turf, notably a success in the GI Belmont Derby Invitational S., the Phipps homebred is kin to a number of dirt champions: he is out of a daughter of champion Personal Ensign named Salute (Unbridled), runner-up in the GII Demoiselle S. and half-sister to three Grade I winners (plus one Grade I runner-up) on dirt. These include My Flag (Easy Goer), whose multiple elite wins included the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies–a race also won by her daughter Storm Flag Flying (Storm Cat).

Since Scribbling Sarah was herself a turf sprinter, however, Rice was prepared for the probability that the filly she delivered by Mr Speaker the following February would end up on the grass too.

“So here’s my thinking,” she says. “Every year I can sell the babies or, if I end up keeping them, my kids are training at Presque Isle Downs, with its synthetic track. So they can race this horse for me, if needed. Because you know, you’ve got to have plans B, C and D!”

That shows the domestic scale of Rice’s breeding program, which until this week comprised a grand total of two mares. The other is a daughter of Grand Slam claimed at Presque Isle by Kevin for $5,000. Now, however, Scribbling Sarah has suddenly become simply too valuable to retain.

Rice sold her Mr Speaker filly as a short yearling, through Summerfield at the OBS Winter Sale, for $65,000 to First Finds. Wisely retained as a $95,000 RNA at the Fasig-Tipton July Sale, she then realized $190,000 from Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners when consigned to OBS March last year by SBM Training & Sales.

Rice was delighted when Scribbling Sarah’s daughter, meanwhile named Speech, won a maiden at Los Alamitos in December; and still more so, when she got herself black type as runner-up in the GIII Santa Ysabel S. Then she consecutively took on the two leading fillies of the crop: running Gamine (Into Mischief) to a neck in an Oaklawn allowance (subsequently awarded the prize on the winner’s contentious lidocaine positive); and then getting a Grade II podium behind Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil) in the Santa Anita Oaks. All very welcome accomplishments in a second foal. But then, at Keeneland 10 days ago, Speech sent her dam’s value through the roof: she not only won the GI Central Bank Ashland S., but broke the track record.

Speech, then, is one of those rare Thoroughbreds for whom everyone has been a winner, offering productive value for her purchasers at every stage. (These, meanwhile, include Madaket Stables, who made a private deal to enter partnership with Eclipse.) But the ultimate dividend, for her breeder, is now the chance to cash in a dam who is still only 10 years old. A contract with WinStar Farm was signed a couple of days ago, through the agency of BSW Bloodstock.

“I mean, this is a life changer for me,” Rice says candidly. “I can’t turn down good money. But I’m like, ‘Okay, if I sell her, I’ll just do it again.’ When I started with my first mare, maybe 15 years ago now, my goal was to do what I could within my budget and just keep upgrading, upgrading, upgrading. Well, this was like the flash in the pan, the ultimate upgrading, all in one minute and 41 seconds.

“For a small breeder like me, this is really fantastic. I am just ecstatic, and so grateful to everyone involved in raising, breaking and training Speech: from the wonderful people who bought her from me, to SBM who sold her to Eclipse, and of course the trainer who has her now [Michael McCarthy]. What a great job everyone has done with this filly, every step of the way.”

But it was Rice herself who set Speech on the right path. At the time, she was still married to Jones and–with his mares and boarders also on site–could measure her progress against a bunch of other foals.

“She was always so pretty, and showed us her class even when she was just tiny,” Rice says. “Her mother, out in the field, was kind of leader of the whole group of mares. And then when we weaned the filly, she took on the same attitude. She was always number one in the feeder pen. But the funny part is that when the babies would start to run, she would just pick up her head and kind of lope along at the back of the pack, nice and easy. If she needed to, she’d sprint to the front, but she really never showed that she wanted to be out there. She was beautiful and all, but the way she acted in the field, she didn’t really have that ‘go, go, go’ like a lot of them do. Yet here she is, three years later, and beats them all up.”

She gives much credit to Kathie Maybee in Kentucky, who takes her mares to be bred back and sends the babies home with immaculate manners. But Rice must have quite a knack of her own, judging from her record with only three other mares up to this point. One was a $2,000 mare who produced a graded stakes-placed earner of $350,000; another, a gift from a client of Linda Rice, came up with two black-type performers who earned $450,000 between them.

Scribbling Sarah herself is now back with Maybee, having last week tested in foal to West Coast, but her yearling colt by Unified is with Rice on an 18-acre farm north of Ocala acquired by Taylor and Jose. Rice laughs that she is there “to mow their grass” but you can hear in her voice how much she loves the environment, and raising a colt that is now a half-brother to a Grade I winner.

“He’s a cute little thing,” she says. “Not huge, just average size, but he’s beautiful. The mare throws pretty foals every time. But he’s an April foal and just wasn’t big enough to be put in the November Sale [last year]. And now I know why! God’s looking out for me again: ‘You need to wait to sell this foal.’ Maybe now he’ll get big and tall. But if not, I’ll put him in a 2-year-olds in training sale next spring.”

Sadly, Scribbling Sarah lost a Midnight Lute foal this year; while her 2-year-old Upstart colt was sold relatively cheaply. He was entered at OBS just three days after the Ashland but was scratched. “Niall Brennan said he really liked the colt,” reports Rice. “And he said that before the filly won the Grade I.”

But such are the habitual, uneven fortunes of this business–more than redressed, clearly, by this sudden home run. It’s a story that gives renewed hope to anyone who can stretch to 75 banknotes for a mare.

Certainly Rice, a schoolteacher’s daughter, could never have imagined any such denouement when bumping into Wayne, a few years after he had quit her high school to become a jockey.

“He took me to the barns at Penn National in my platform shoes and dress pants,” Rice recalls. “And I was like, ‘You want me to walk in there?! That’s mud.’ But then he taught me how to clean a stall. And when I touched the horses, and experienced those babies learning to run, that was so exciting for me. To see a 2-year-old after the first breeze of their life, coming back to the barn with their eyes big, just all lit up. That took my heart, and it’s been my passion ever since.”

Needless to say, Rice’s principal pride as a “breeder” on the Turf will always remain her children. Taylor was runner-up for an Eclipse Award, as an apprentice jockey, and “pretty much self-taught, just a natural” according to her mother. With Ortiz as “sire”, moreover, Taylor’s two children have certainly been bred to keep the dynasty going.

“And Kevin has two children as well, carrying on the family name,” Rice says. “Those kids have horses, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, pot-bellied pigs and a goose! And Adam has done very well for himself, by winning races and selling 2-year-olds; and older horses, too, like Shekky Shebaz (Cape Blanco {Ire}), who was placed at the Breeders’ Cup last year. [Third in the GI Turf Sprint.] Both my boys are blessed to be making a fine living buying, breaking, training and selling.”

But Rice has now secured a professional legacy in the business, too. If Scribbling Sarah now warrants the kind of covering fees that can only be sustained by a bigger program, an umbilical connection of pride will endure.

“She’ll still be mine,” Rice says. “And I’ll call her ‘my mare’ the way I call Speech ‘my filly’. People can say: ‘She’s not yours, you sold her as a yearling.’ But I pulled her out of her mother.

“I wish WinStar the very best with Scribbling Sarah and her future foals. There were so many people calling to buy her, and I sincerely thank God, the buyers, the underbidders and my advisors for looking out for my best interest. This has been a true blessing, an exciting and life-changing experience.”

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.