By Katie Petrunyak
Less than 48 hours after what was arguably her greatest achievements in the horse business, Rosilyn Polan was back at Keeneland with a pair of yearlings slated to go through the ring on Sunday. Earlier in the week during Book 2 of the Keeneland September Sale, her City of Light colt out of the Tapit mare Anchorage became the probable sale topper when he sold for $1.7 million to Woodford Racing, Talla Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds.
But now it was on to Book 3 and the spirited breeder and consignor was ready for round two.
“Of course, as beyond exciting as the Anchorage colt was, now that I'm here with another consignment, that's really behind me and this is where my focus is now,” Polan said at Barn 28 as she stood alongside the stalls of her Accelerate colt and Sharp Azteca filly. They wouldn't bring quite what her first offering sold for, but the duo did fetch over $160,000 combined.
Although the owner of Sunday Morning Farm had her mind set on her final two offerings of the auction, it was clear that most other salegoers were still fixated on her farm's earlier success as a steady stream of well-wishers dropped by to extend their congratulations.
“People have been so genuinely happy for me, people I don't even know,” she said. “People ask me if I expected that [result]. Well nobody ever dreams of even getting to a million dollars. I knew people would like him, but nobody even thinks of liking him for that kind of money. The words haven't been invented yet to describe that feeling. The only thing that would have made the day more perfect would have been to have my daughter Laiken there. She is always such a good help to me and is my best cheerleader.”
The day before Polan's City of Light colt entered the sales ring, another colt by the Lane's End first-crop sire, consigned by Woods Edge Farm, brought $1.05 million.
“I had told a friend of mine, 'Oh darn, I wanted to be the most expensive City of Light at the sale,'” Polan said with a laugh of still a bit of disbelief.
But even after achieving such a monumental goal, the breeder went home that night to commemorate the achievement by catching up on barn chores.
“My celebration is all right here,” she said, pointing towards her heart. “The best thing about what I do is that I go back home and work. I have fly masks to tend to and stalls to tend to. That keeps me grounded and keeps my happy. It fills me up.”
Polan had held a similar celebration ceremony last year, when her Practical Joke colt brought $575,000 at the same auction. Now of course named Wit, he brought attention to his breeder earlier this summer when he became a GIII-winning 'TDN Rising Star.'
“I can't compare the two horses or the two feelings,” she said when asked to describe the similarities between her experiences with Wit and with this yearling colt. “I will say that with both of them, I just felt so special.”
Polan did admit that with Wit, she had not realize how well he would be received until after he was on the grounds at Keeneland.
“He was just so laid back about it but when he came to the sale, every time he came out of his stall he got bigger and had more presence and was loftier.”
But this City of Light yearling was different, she said. “The Anchorage colt was always that way, whether it was at the farm or the sale, he was always coming out of his stall saying, 'Let's go.' At the sale people would comment to me, 'It's four o'clock in the afternoon and he's still marching.' But that was always his type.”
To Polan, his powerful-but-easygoing stride and eye-catching presence was reminiscent of what she saw in the colt's dam six years ago at the Keeneland November Sale.
“I was trying to buy a mare in foal to Will Take Charge,” she recalled. “I wasn't able to buy anything so I went and looked at every RNA after the sale. I looked at quite a few before I saw Anchorage, but from the second I saw her I went, 'Oh yeah, this is it.' I mean she just fills your eye and she's got so much presence. She's a big, heavy mare that looks like she would hit the ground hard, but when I brought her home and turned her out, she went off across the field and her feet never hit the ground -just like mine after that sale.”
Polan sold Anchorage's first Will Take Charge foal for $130,000 at the following November Sale. That filly, named Tijori, won on debut to earn 'TDN Rising Star' status. Bred back to the same sire, Anchorage produced a Will Take Charge colt that brought $280,000. Now named Abaan, the Todd Pletcher trainee broke his maiden earlier this month at Saratoga by over seven lengths.
“She continues to produce fabulous runners,” Polan said proudly. “At home, she's my special mare. I'm sure everyone's going to say that if I sell a million-dollar horse out of her, of course she's my special mare. But she just is. She's such a queen and she's the gift that keeps on giving.”
Polan recalls the stunned sensation she felt when Anchorage foaled her City of Light colt last February.
“I felt like the luckiest person in the world,” she said.
As the newborn stepped up on wobbly legs, she thought back to the photo of trainer Michael McCarthy sending City of Light off to Lane's End alongside his young daughter when the champion retired in 2019.
“In the picture, there he was on the van and the daughter was boo-hooing because she couldn't believe that her horse was leaving. So I got in touch with Allaire [Ryan] at Lane's End and asked if I could send her a picture of this foal because he was so special and I wanted to show this young girl that her horse was not gone. That was my first picture of the foal and from the minute he stood up, some horses give you that feeling and some don't. This one was, 'Oh my gosh, wow.'”
According to Polan, the stunning bay didn't lose an ounce of 'wow factor' from the moment he got to his feet to when he went through the ring at Keeneland.
“He was a beast on the farm and never really went through a gangly stage,” she explained. “All summer as we've been sales prepping him, he would handwalk 45 minutes up these hills and then he would go in the stall and lay down. He would sleep flat out all day long and sometimes I would have to wake him up to feed him. He just had a good attitude. There was nothing super sweet about him; he's always been a man.”
While the colt's stall now stands empty back at Sunday Morning Farm, it will soon be filled by his half-sister by Omaha Beach that was foaled in March.
“She is like the farm princess,” Polan said with a big smile. “I don't spoil them and I didn't make her that way. She was just born that way.”
Also on the farm is Wit's younger brother– this one a son of none other than City of Light.
Polan said she currently has eight mares in her broodmare band.
“I count them 40 times a day and then I forget,” she jokes, and then shares what she looks for in potential additions to her band. “It's the same thing when buying a mare as choosing what stallion to breed to: If they make my knees weak then that's the one I want. I don't get emotional about it to where I'll spend whatever it takes. With my mares I have to have a price limit and I'm just lucky that I've been able to have been so lucky.”
And luck, Polan believes, is what it all comes down to in this business.
“Everyone says they're glad to see that the small breeder can do this. Well honestly, the big breeders deserve it just as much as anybody because look at the financial responsibility that they put on the line to be who they are. I think it has more to do with luck than it has to do with hard work or intention or being out there every evening going through your fields, because we all do that. We all work hard and some of us get lucky and some of us haven't had our luck yet.”
However modest Polan's outlook on the reasoning behind these recent successes, she will keep the fond memories tucked away to ponder daily as she raises up the next crop of future runners at Sunday Morning Farm.
“I think it's what keeps us all working in the Thoroughbred business,” she said. “It's the carrot in front of the old nag, or whatever they say, and it's just amazing to think that a payoff like this can happen to anybody.”