By Brian DiDonato
As the agent for the powerful partnership of Mike Repole's Repole Stable and Vinnie Viola's St. Elias (involved in $10,435,000 worth of Keeneland September '20 expenditures, mostly together on Classic-leaning colts); the buyer for upper-market players Robert and Lawana Low ($1,535,000 on four head last September); and in his role as Vice President, Bloodstock for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners (part of $4,267,000 in buys at KEESEP '20 including the $2-million topper), there aren't many, if any, agents with more money behind them these days than Jacob West.
Considering Eclipse partnered on the $800,000 topper at this year's Fasig-Tipton July sale, and the Lows purchased the second-priciest lot at Fasig Saratoga in the form of a $1.6-million Uncle Mo colt, plus with the success Repole and Viola have already had with last year's yearling buys, it's a pretty safe bet that West will have his hand in his fair share of the priciest acquisitions at the upcoming Keeneland September sale.
We caught up with West days before Repole and Viola are set to be represented by a pair of September buys Monday in Saratoga's GI Hopeful S.–'TDN Rising Star' and GIII Sanford S. winner Wit (Practical Joke, $575,000) and game first-out winner Power Agenda (Nyquist, $120,000)–to find out how he approaches auctions in general and specifically the industry's largest yearling sale.
This year's September sale will be held from Sept. 13 to Sept. 24. Visit theworldsyearlingsale.com for more information.
TDN: Do you do much pedigree work before the sale?
JW: I'm more of a physical guy than a pedigree guy. I think that when you find the top physical and go back and look at the pedigree, you can kind of use that as gauge for an appraisal. I try to focus solely on the athlete and find the athlete, and then go back and look at the pedigree and make an appraisal of what I think the horse will bring if he passes the vet.
TDN: Do you make many farm visits to inspect KEESEP entries before the sale?
JW: I do. I've seen probably 400-500 horses already and I've got some more spots to go to still. I try to cover as much ground as possible.
[If there's one I don't love at the farm] I think you still have to go into the sale with a little bit more of an open mind. There may be a horse that you liked at the farm and you see him at the sale and he unravels. And vice versa, there might be a horse you didn't like at the farm and you go see him at the sale and you like him. They change so much so quickly. I think you'd be foolish to knock off horses to try and create a short list from the farm. I do it more to try to get a gauge on what's out there; what the quality's going to be in Book 1 vs. Book 2 and so forth.
TDN: Are you an iPad guy or a catalog guy?
JW: I'm a catalog man. I use the iPad when I do my farm visits because it's easier to keep track of what you've seen, but when I'm at the sale I've got to have paper in my hand. Plus, it's easier for me to keep my catalogs and look back for reference. I get calls all the time from people asking me if I saw a filly before they drop a claim and things like that.
TDN: What's your shortlisting process like?
JW: I work closely with Todd Pletcher at the sales. I try to cover as much ground as I possibly can–it's pretty easy to cover ground in Books 1 and 2, and with this new format I guess maybe Book 3 as well–but when you're dividing it up with a Hall of Fame trainer who has bought multiple Grade I winners, it's good to know that if you cut the barns in half and the other half is him working, and you swap lists when you meet halfway, that works out pretty well.
As I get into the later books, I think at that point it's easier to sort through some of the pedigrees [and not look at every horse]. Eddie Rosen, Mike Repole's pedigree consultant, has told me, “In this business, there are proven failures.” So if a mare's 0-for-10 with her produce record, there's really no point in thinking that you're going to be the one who's going to buy her next foal that becomes a champion.
Plus, if you have a good relationship with the consignors, they're always pushing to sell their horses, but as you're marking the card they may say to you, “Hey, you're missing a nice horse–let me add it on” or they might say there's no reason to look at a certain horse.
I know there's a lot of people who look at every horse and have these massive teams, but it's hard for me to rely on somebody unless it's Todd, or Todd's dad or a handful of other people at the sales.
TDN: What's the first thing you look at when a horse comes out of the barn at the sale?
JW: Presence–that's 1A, and 1B is athleticism. Good horses come in all forms, shapes and sizes, but luckily for me I spent 10 1/2 years at Taylor Made Sales Agency so I got to see some of the best horses that we sold who went on to be good racehorses, and also in November we sold top fillies [coming off the track]. I got to see what those horses look like, and characteristics that they had that you could look for going forward. That was the best way to learn.
I always tell people who are new to the industry, go out and look at stallions, because they're the best racehorses we have. You can't get a view of what a good horse looks like without going out and seeing these studs, and for fillies go to the November sales and just kind of hang out by the barn and as these horses come out for inspections, take a look at them.
TDN: Is there a certain physical characteristic or type that you tend to gravitate towards?
JW: With my clientele, they want to win Classic races. It might almost be a little bit of a mistake if we end up buying a sprinter. Pedigree will have to come into play there, especially for Mike and Vinnie if we're buying potential stallion prospects–they don't care how good the horse might look if he doesn't have the pedigree to back it up that they can go and sell to become a stud.
Mr. and Mrs. Low's number-one goal is to win the Arkansas Derby, so for them I can't buy something that's by a turf stallion out of a big turf family to try and go win the Arkansas Derby–that's not going to happen.
So, things like that come into play, but to me, at the end of the day, the walk is what's most important. I know some sprinters don't really have great walks, but most two-turn, Classic-distance horses have easy ways of going and take care of themselves. And that all begins at the walk.
TDN: How do you figure out which of your owners end up on which horses off your list?
JW: It's a function of price. Mr. and Mrs. Low have kind of a rifle target–they know typically what they're going to spend. We've been the underbidder or maybe haven't gone as strong on other horses, but when a horse fits the profile or mold of what they want, they give me the thumbs up [to fire].
Mike and Vinnie are a little bit different because they're going to buy a number of horses and there's a big scale there. But they're not typically going to close their eyes and go buy a horse. Like I told everybody last year, it doesn't show up in the sales results, but they carried the yearling sales last year because of how many horses we were the underbidder on.
TDN: Both Repole and Viola have their own teams of dedicated advisors. How do you incorporate their work with yours and Todd's physical evaluations?
JW: With them, I do a list, Todd does a list, and Vinnie has his own team made up of Monique Delk and a handful of others who are very instrumental as well. We compile those lists and [Repole's pedigree advisor] Eddie Rosen and [Viola's pedigree advisor] John Sparkman have already done their pedigree lists too. So we sit down and check the score sheet, and if we all match up and they vet, then it's a go at whatever price we decide on.
TDN: How do you stay focused and organized during the September sale?
JW: Going home every night, eating as healthy as you can, trying not to stay out late, and staying organized with your catalogs and lists and all that are very important.
TDN: What's something you've learned or changed your mind about from when you started seriously shopping the sales?
JW: I think you learn from your failures more than anything. You look back and see, well I bought this horse who had X, Y and Z and that didn't work out–so that's not going to work for me… If you've been burned by a certain thing, be it stallion, mare, whatever it is, you kind of learn from that. I think it's very hard to say, “I've got a certain type that I buy and it's got to be that type physically.” If you get into that, you might be missing out a little bit. But over the years, I've definitely learned what doesn't work for me.
TDN: What do you remember about Wit when you bought him?
JW: I remember what stall he was in with [breeder and consignor] Rosilyn Polan… He hit everyone's list and the stars kind of aligned. He was a big, strong, mature horse. He's a May foal, and you never would've thought that when you saw him. To me, he was a perfect blend of his father and his broodmare sire [Medaglia d'Oro]. That's one of those that I think benefitted from working with a team–Mike and Vinnie are so smart to get the opinions of multiple people. When the opinions match up, that's a good thing.
TDN: Fellow Hopeful contender Power Agenda obviously cost significantly less than Wit at $120,000 at the same sale. What do you remember about him?
JW: He came later in the sale. He was a beautiful horse who moved well. To be honest, he wasn't a horse who had a lot of flash, but he was just athletic.
TDN: Eclipse, along with Robert LaPenta, Gainesway and Winchell Thoroughbreds purchased last year's September topper, a $2-million Tapit colt (hip 435) out of GISW Tara's Tango (Unbridled's Song), from Stonestreet, who also stayed in. He's posted a last breezed Aug. 28. How's he doing?
JW: He's now named Capensis and he's doing well. He's at Todd's barn at Belmont and training forwardly. He's one of those horses who we've had to say, “Whoa” a little bit and not “Go” to make sure we didn't end up chewing him up too much, but it's worked out well.
He was started down at Stonestreet, and they did a phenomenal job getting him ready. We discussed whether or not to send him to Saratoga or keep him at Belmont and point for a fall campaign, and that's what we ended up deciding to do. We said, 'Let's take the foot off the gas pedal and let him grow up and develop more” and that's set him up for more of a fall campaign.
TDN: These stallion-making partnerships are one of the most noteworthy bloodstock market trends of the last few years, with the Repole/St. Elias group sending a large number of colts to Pletcher; of course The Avengers with Bob Baffert out in California; and now the Brad Cox Colts Group that popped up at Saratoga. What impact on the market do you think these groups have?
JW: The obvious answer is that well-bred colts who have the physical to match the pedigree are going to bring more money. I think you saw that at Saratoga. But at the end of the day, you can have so much money and buy so many horses, but there are only so many horses who really fit the mold of what everybody's looking for in that instance. So, you know if you have a horse who carries a top pedigree, is a top physical and he vets, you're going to get paid [as a seller]. And it's all about these breeders having that.
But I think it also opens up opportunities for other buyers on horses who might suffer a little bit on pedigree or conformation. There's an opportunity to go in and buy those types. Well-bred fillies always sell well, but it may also open up some opportunities for fillies too.
TDN: Wit was obviously a freshman sire success story coming out of Practical Joke's first crop. Any first-crop sires this year you're paying particularly close attention to heading into September?
JW: I think we're at a very interesting time in the industry in North America. I can't think of another time when we've had the stallion power that we have now, between Into Mischief, Tapit, Medaglia d'Oro on down and young horses coming along like Gun Runner. The proven stallions who are out there are really damn good. There's a reason why they rank at the top and why everybody wants their progeny. As far as first-crop sires go, I've seen quite a few Good Magics that have been very nice and we've bought two already [for Eclipse], so I'd probably give him the thumbs up.