By Jessica Martini
Gerry Sandin, who grew up near Bay Meadows Racetrack and played Little League with future trainer Bill Morey, always knew he wanted to own racehorses one day. The California native finally made the dream a reality when he purchased a son of Curlin at the OBS March 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale this year and he was cheering the colt on from his Bay Area home when Pico d'Oro became his first winner while breaking his maiden in stakes company in the Runhappy Juvenile S. at Ellis Park Sunday.
“That was my first win and it happened to be a stakes win,” Sandin, a global operations manager for Apple, said while still savoring the victory Monday afternoon. “It was a pleasant surprise–I was on a high for the second half of Sunday, it was tough to go to sleep last night.”
Sandin traces his love of racing back some three decades to time spent at Bay Meadows as a kid.
“My uncle used to work at the front gate at Bay Meadows, so before I was even of legal age, he would let me in,” Sandin recalled. “I would go watch them in the paddock, I would handicap them, learned to read the Daily Racing Form and Andy Beyer's Speed Figures. The first time I was there at Bay Meadows and saw those horses turning for home and the thundering as they were charging down the stretch, I was hooked.”
Sandin didn't have to look far to find a trainer when he was ready to buy a horse, even if he did eschew his longtime friend's initial advice.
“Billy Morey and I are old friends,” Sandin said. “We grew up right around the corner from one another in the California Bay area. His dad was a [CTBA] Hall of Fame trainer [William Morey, Jr.] in Northern California. Billy and I played Little League together and I always knew that he would follow in his father's footsteps in a training career. He always told me the best way to get involved was just to buy a piece of a horse so you could understand the operational side of this business. I never invested early on, but just last year he made the move out to Lexington and I was ready to make my initial investment as a solo operator.”
Of the decision to forego a partnership, Sandin explained, “I wanted to make sure we did it the right way. As a solo operator, you get to call all of the shots, you get to pick your races and everything else.”
The two friends traveled to Ocala in March and purchased a pair of juveniles, first going to $255,000 to acquire Pico d'Oro (hip 241) and then going to $35,000 for a daughter of Malibu Moon (hip 530) now named Luna Tigress.
“One of the first horses that I saw at Bay Meadows was A.P. Indy,” Sandin explained. “I saw him race there and I've always been enamored with the A.P. Indy bloodlines. Most of the horses that I do buy will somewhere have that bloodline in them because I'm a huge fan. With Pico especially, the cross between Curlin and a Bernardini mare, to me, is the best nick in the business.”
Pico d'Oro came in slightly under Sandin's budget at OBS, but bidding didn't go without some anxious moments.
“Pico came through the ring and I started bidding on him,” Sandin said. “My initial bid was $235,000 and someone got over me at $245,000 and I went to $255,000 and the announcer is saying, 'Going once, going twice…' and then the color commentator guy interrupts and says, 'Folks, we have a son of Curlin here, you really ought to pay more for this horse.' And I am thinking, 'What are you doing? Drop the gavel! Drop the gavel!' My heart was beating 1,000 beats a minute. Luckily, nobody bid further. I only had a budget of $300,000. So I had a little more room, but not a lot. If a couple more people had gotten interested and it quickly escalated up another $100,000, I would have been out.”
Following a troubled late-closing runner-up effort behind Medicine Tail (Kantharos) in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Ellis Park in July, Morey had picked out some potential maiden races for Pico d'Oro's next start, but Sandin had more ambitious plans.
“Billy came up to me with the maiden special weight races that were three weeks out and fit with the timing of his recovery and when he would be ready next,” Sandin said. “I looked at him and I said, 'OK, but what about the Ellis Juvenile? I think Pico could have run past Medicine Tail in that race when we were blocked, but I also think, given another furlong, it will be better for him.' So we nominated him and then we saw how the field came up. Nobody was overly scary to us and I thought we had a good chance. The race seemed overloaded with speedster types and Pico stalks and pounces. I thought it set up well for us.”
Pico d'Oro got off to a slow start in the seven-furlong Juvenile and Sandin admitted he was initially worried his plans had gone awry.
“When I saw the start, I was a little nervous because he generally doesn't drop that far back,” Sandin said. “But it was all speed, so it was our plan to relax him early and let him finish. When I saw that first quarter in :22 and change, I was like, 'All right, they are beating each other up up front. This is going to work well for us.' And he slowly started to make his move going into the turn and picking horses off one by one and towards the end of the turn when he swung past a wall of horses, I thought he was looking good, he was guaranteed at least second. Medicine Tail had built a three- or four-length lead going into the top of the stretch, but I thought as long as we could keep the clear room on the outside, I knew Pico would keep coming. It was a long stretch run and he really bore down there under a little left-handed urging from Joe [Talamo] and he got him in the last sixteenth and kept drawing away.”
Pico d'Oro could make his next start in the graded stakes ranks.
“We are looking forward to stretching him out another furlong,” Sandin said. “I think we are probably going to target the [GIII] Iroquois S. at Churchill on Derby Day for his next appearance.”
“Luna Tigress had a chip in her knee and had to have surgery,” Sandin said. “She is just about to start training and hopefully she will be ready to race in late September. Bronze Beast is just starting training and just like Luna we are hoping to get him out for an initial race in late September.”
Sandin doesn't have a specific target number of horses for his racing stable, but does plan on a long-term investment in the sport. And he may be active at the upcoming yearling sales.
“I may end up going with Billy to the September yearling sales,” Sandin said. “But we are definitely look to invest every year at the 2-year-olds in training sales. I have had success with the 2-year-olds with Pico, but I like buying horses based on pedigrees more than works. For me the pedigree is what I'm looking for. Year to year, we are going to have to take a look at yearlings and 2-year-olds in training sales.”