Stonestreet, Agent McElroy Strike it Big With European Buys


Napa Spirit (Ire) winning at Keeneland Friday | Coady


When Napa Spirit (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) won Friday's first race at Keeneland, bloodstock agent Ben McElroy was more relieved than ecstatic. Some six months earlier, he purchased Napa Spirit at the Goffs Orby Yearling sale in Ireland with a set goal in mind. He was looking for a unique type of horse, one that could win in the U.S. and Europe, would be fast and precocious, like the grass and be a good fit for the Royal Ascot meet. Friday's win was the latest sign that he had more than accomplished his mission.

It was the second win in as many days with a 2-year-old European import for the team of McElroy, Stonestreet Stables LLC and trainer Wesley Ward. Thursday's first race at Keeneland was won by their filly Ruthin (GB) (Ribchester {Ire}), who was bought at the Tattersalls October Yearling sale in Great Britain. Both will soon be on their way to Ascot for what their connections hope will be a successful ending to a story that took McElroy to the major yearling sales across Europe last year.

McElroy bought five yearlings in Europe last year for Stonestreet, a list that includes Twilight Gleaming (Ire) (National Defense {GB}), who finished second in her debut Apr. 8 at Keeneland.

McElroy isn't alone. More and more U.S. stables have been buying at the European yearling sales in recent years, looking for horses that can thrive in the U.S. Stonestreet and McElroy hit with the same formula last year. Campanelle (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) was bought for 190,000 guineas at the 2019 Tattersalls October Yearling sale and went on to win two group races, the GII Queen Mary S. at Royal Ascot and the GI Darley Prix Morny.

“There is more turf racing now than ever in the U.S. and the prize money is very good,” McElroy said. “And horses stay sounder longer when they race on the grass.”

With Ruthin, McElroy stuck his neck out. Selling for 350,000 guineas (the equivalent of $474,776) she is from the first crop of sire Ribchester (Ire) (Iffraaj {GB}) and was the most expensive yearling by that sire sold at auction last year.

“Ribchester was a very high-class racehorse trained by Richard Fahey,” McElroy said. “He won the (GI) Queen Anne S. at Royal Ascot and was very impressive in that race. He is son of Iffraaj, who is the sire of Wootton Basset (Iffraaj {GB}), who has turned into a sensational sire. I had a good feeling all along on Ribchester, based on the fact that he was precocious, very talented and is by Ifraaj.”

It was no surprise when Ruthin won Thursday, leading all the way in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden on the grass to win by six lengths. Sent out by Ward, who dominates the spring 2-year-old races at Keeneland, she was the 3-5 favorite.

“With the way that filly was working they had very high expectations for her,” he said. “We knew she had a lot of ability. She is a strong-willed filly. Every time we looked at her she reminded me more and more of Campanelle.”

The expectations for Napa Spirit weren't quite as high. He sold for €420,000 or the equivalent of $539,926. Sent off at 2-5, he lagged near the back of the pack early before his late rally carried him to a 1 1/2-length win.

“The colt is the bigger and stronger horse of the two and I think he needed that run,” McElroy said. “He is a very, very laid back horse, so we were relieved that he won in his first start. I was kind of nervous going in. Wesley thought he might need the race and that he will improve off the race. He's not as push button as the filly is.”

McElroy said he is a fan of Napa Spirit's sire, Invincible Spirit.

“Invincible Spirit is the sire of Kingman,” he said. “He stands for €100,000 and is a real high-end stallion. When I purchased (Napa Spirit), he was in early at that sale. For what he was physically and that he is by that sire, I'm not saying he was cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but we certainly didn't overpay for him. It's not like we were picking from the top. We were looking for horses that suit Wesley and what we thought might suit Ascot.”

One of the most prestigious race meets in the world, Royal Ascot, awaits Ruthin and Napa Spirit. Ward, by far the most successful U.S.-based trainer at Ascot, said Ruthin will go next in the Queen Mary. Napa Spirit's next start will be in the GII Coventry S.


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