By Sid Fernando
Somewhere on the grounds of OBS on Tuesday, the two unacquainted men who bred Dialed In's (Mineshaft) only two Grade l winners to date–Gl Kentucky Derby-bound Get Her Number and Super Stock–quite likely passed each other unaware of the other in that random way of the universe that plays with degrees of separation.
I assume this because I was on the phone with Phil Robertson, who co-bred Get Her Number with his wife Brenda, when Pedro “Pete” Gonzalez, the co-breeder of Super Stock with his grandson P.J. Gonzalez, phoned me. I was finishing up my call with Robertson, who was three hips away from selling a 2-year-old, and immediately returned the Gonzalez call when I hung up with Robertson.
The first thing I noticed when Gonzalez started speaking was a distinct background voice that had also been present in my call with Robertson. For all I know, they could have been standing within feet of each other when speaking to me about why they sent their respective mares to Darby Dan's Dialed In in 2017.
Of course, there was every reason to send a mare to Dialed In that spring because the stallion, who'd stood his first four seasons for $7,500, had dramatically defeated Lane's End's Union Rags (Dixie Union) for the champion freshman sire title on the last day of the year, in the very same race at that–the $100,000 Gin Talking S. at Laurel. Dialed In's Ms Locust Point won the race, earning $60,000, while Union Rags's daughter Aiden's Rag Doll finished fifth. The margin separating the two stallions had been only $35,194 before the race. It was a victory for David versus Goliath, because Union Rags had been syndicated for more than $12 million and stood for a $35,000 fee.
Breeders came in droves to Dialed In in 2017 despite the doubling of his fee to $15,000, and among the 231 mares bred to the stallion that year were Robertson's homebred Bernstein (Storm Cat) mare Fancier, the dam of Get Her Number, and Gonzalez's homebred Super Girlie, the daughter of Closing Argument (Successful Appeal) who produced Super Stock.
Robertson and Gonzalez are small breeders with a lot in common–the former owns 15 mares while the latter has seven–and both have small farms, Robertson's in Versailles, Gonzalez's in Ocala. Roberston is retired from the construction business and shuttles between his lake home in Granbury, Texas, and the Kentucky farm, while Gonzalez, who's also retired from the construction business, drives back and forth from his base in Miami to Ocala to check on his stock. Both men are passionate about breeding and are also exceedingly polite, and if they'd bumped into each other at OBS, I have no doubt that they'd have had a heck of a conversation about horses, construction, and the thrill of having bred a horse slated for the Derby, by the same stallion as it turns out.
With two potential Derby starters, Dialed In joins Into Mischief, the hottest and most expensive sire in the country at a fee of $225,000, as the only two stallions with multiple runners intended for the Classic at this writing. However, Dialed In's two colts are Grade l winners whereas Into Mischief's three–Mandaloun, Highly Motivated, and Soup and Sandwich–have only one Grade ll win amongst them in graded company.
This is a terrifically complimentary comparison for the Darby Dan horse, who started as the favorite in the 2011 Derby after winning the Gl Florida Derby, a fixture that's turning out to be the premier sire-making race in the country with such alumni as Nyquist (Uncle Mo), Constitution (Tapit), Quality Road (Elusive Quality), Scat Daddy (Johannesburg), Empire Maker (Unbridled), and Harlan's Holiday (Harlan) in the recent past.
Altogether, Dialed In won three of seven starts and earned $941,936. He'd been bred by the partnership of W.S. Farish, Madeleine Pickens (previously married to Allen Paulson), and Skara Glen Stables, and he was purchased for $475,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga by Robert LaPenta's Whitehorse Stable, which has a penchant for A.P. Indy-line horses. Dialed In is from the immediate family of Paulson's champion filly Eliza (his second dam) and Gl Santa Anita Derby winner Dinard, and he was trained by Nick Zito in a come-from-behind style that's frequently associated with the best of Zito runners. It's not, however, the preferred front-running style that's popular with breeders and stud farms, and after Dialed In's eighth-place finish in the Derby and only two more combined starts after that in 2011 and 2012, the horse was somewhat forgotten and wasn't among the most sought-after stallion prospects for 2013, allowing Doug Cauthen and Darby Dan's Robert Hammond to secure him for stud duty to stand at John Phillips's historic nursery at a fee of $7,500.
A good-looking stallion standing 16.1 hands with plenty of substance to him, Dialed In has since defied the odds, much like Into Mischief in his early years when his stud fee once touched $7,500 before his first-crop runners took off. Dialed In started off hot, too, getting multiple Grade ll winner and Grade l-placed Gunnevera, who's earned $5.5 million, and five other black-type winners from his first crop. By the time Robertson and Gonzalez had contracted to send their mares to the stallion In in the spring of 2017, Gunnevera was well on the Classics trail. He finished seventh in the Derby but subsequently showed he handled a mile and a quarter when placing in the Gl Travers S., the Breeders' Cup Classic, and the Dubai World Cup, a good sign for Get Her Number and Super Stock in the Derby.
Gunnevera is one of 15 black-type winners for his sire through five crops (not including 2-year-olds of 2021), and his accomplishments from two to five helped Dialed In win the freshman sire championship and see a bump in his fee from $15,000 in 2017 to $25,000 in 2018 and 2019. However, by 2020 the stallion was down to $20,000, and this year he's serving mares for $15,000, which illustrates the difficulties stallions face with their second, third, and fourth crops as mare books get watered down after the first year at stud. This is particularly acute for horses standing for cheaper fees. Note that to date Dialed In has only three black-type winners from his second crop and just one from his third crop.
During these lean years, Dialed In nevertheless showed he could get quality runners, even if they weren't black-type winners. For instance, the 4-year-old Finnick the Fierce placed in a Grade ll race at two and last year was third in the Gl Arkansas Derby, the same race that Super Stock won two weeks ago for Steve Asmussen with Get Her Number a fast-closing fourth. Last year, Get Her Number, trained by Peter Miller, won the Gl American Pharoah S. at Santa Anita, becoming his sire's first top-level winner.
Grade l Breeders
Phil and Brenda Robertson have raced some good horses, including graded winners Reigning Court and Savorthetime with Asmussen, and they've bred some others, such as Group 2 winner Sander Camillo, a Dixie Union filly they'd sold as a yearling for $160,000 in 2005 that later sold to Godolphin as a broodmare prospect for the equivalent of $6.9 million at Tattersalls in 2007.
Phil Robertson didn't want to sell Get Her Number, which he did last year with Ciaran Dunne's Wavertree at OBS April for $45,000 to trainer Peter Miller. “He was always a good-looking colt. The sale was postponed to June last year with Covid,” Roberston said, “and with Covid and how uncertain things were with the economy, I just figured it was the right thing to do financially.”
The colt's dam, Fancier, had been bred and raised by the Robertsons and was a winner of three races from 10 starts, but “she was a mare that was hard to get pregnant. She wouldn't cycle right.” Her second dam was the Group 1-placed Irish River (Fr) mare Shy Princess, a half-sister to Gl Breeders' Cup Mile winner Opening Verse, and though her extended family was deep, her immediate family was light and her foals catalogued with two “blank dams,” a commercial kiss of death. On the advice of his veterinarian, Robertson had sold her in foal to Astern for $1,300 at Keeneland November the year before her son won his Grade l race.
Robertson said he'd sent the mare to Dialed In because “she was a tall, lighter mare with a lot of leg, and he was shorter and stockier. He had more substance, and she needed that.”
Pete Gonzalez sent his homebred mare Super Girlie, the dam of Super Stock and a winner of seven races from 39 starts and $121,728, to Dialed In mainly for pedigree reasons. “My mare mixes well with A.P. Indy and Storm Cat, which is how Dialed In is bred, and he has Mr. Prospector in the pedigree, and she's got Mr. Prospector, and I wanted to inbreed to Mr. Prospector. I love speed, and with A.P. Indy there is distance, but I wanted to get more speed for distance.”
Gonzalez and his grandson also bred Super Stock's Gl-placed half-sister Boujie Girl (Flashback), who Peter Miller purchased from the OBS April sale for $65,000 three years ago. Earlier, in 2012, Miller had purchased the Gl La Brea S. winner Heir Kitty (Wildcat Heir) from OBS April for $32,000, and Heir Kitty was produced from a half-sister to Super Girlie and was also bred by Pete Gonzalez, in partnership with Jorge Herrera.
Gonzalez sold Super Stock as a yearling at Keeneland September through Taylor Made for $70,000 to Keith Asmussen and Erv Woolsey. “He was a really nice yearling. My farm manager in Ocala, Ivan Gardea, prepped him early, and then I sent the colt to Ramiro Salazar at Phoenix Farm in Midway to get him ready for the sale. We thought he'd bring more,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, a Cuban-American, has been breeding horses for 25 years and attributes his success to his wife, Georgelina. “I thank her for it all, and for always supporting me,” he said. “You know, when Super Stock won the Arkansas Derby, I became the first Cuban-American to breed the winner of that race. How do I know? I did the research.”
If Super Stock wins the Kentucky Derby, Gonzalez will have more research to do. If Get Her Number upsets the Classic, the Robertsons will get just compensation in historical prestige for culling his dam. And if either wins, Dialed In's profile will be elevated to a whole new level than the high plane it's on now, thanks to Robertson and Gonzalez.
Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.