Thor-Bred Stables Back in Action at Barretts

by Jessica Martini 
    Erik and Pavla Nygaard's Thor-Bred Stables proved quick out of the gate when it was first established in the mid-2000s, with Grade I winner Rigoletta (Concerto) leading the way, but the economic downturn of 2008 caused the couple to cut back on their burgeoning breeding operation. As the economy improved, however, the Nygaards resumed their involvement in the industry and three youngsters from the first crop of the resurgent Thor-Bred Stables are scheduled to sell at next week's Barretts March Sale of Selected 2-Year-Olds in Training in Pomona, California. 
    The trio, consigned by Eddie Woods, includes a homebred colt by Any Given Saturday out of the Thor-Bred-raced Play It True (Yes It's True) (hip 35), as well as a pair of pinhooking prospects in hip 8, a filly from the first crop of GI Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, and hip 82, a daughter of freshman sire Desert Party. 
    “We sold four in the 2012 sales in Florida and now we're back with a bit more,” explained Pavla Nygaard. “We sold one colt at Saratoga last summer, the first homebred since we restarted.” 
The Nygaards first became involved in racing in 2005 when, Pavla Nygaard laughingly admits, “We jumped in with six feet, I guess you would say,” and bought a 900-acre farm in Ocala. 
    “I had a personal horse that was off the track, so I was involved from that perspective and my husband had gone to Saratoga to watch races, but it wasn't on our radar screen as far as doing it as a business until we purchased the farm,” she said. “The farm had an existing boarding and training operation on it, so that led us to get some of our own horses and learn more and get more involved in breeding and in pinhooking.” 
    Among the successes from those early years of the operation was Rigoletta. Purchased for $35,000 out of the 2010 OBS April sale, the filly went on to win that year's GI Oak Leaf S. Thor-Bred was also represented by Grade I-placed Reforestation (Forestry) and graded placed Sekira (Holy Bull). 
    The Thor-Bred operation currently includes a six-horse racing stable and a broodmare band of around 16 boarded at Drew Nardiello's Chesapeake Farm in Lexington. 
    Between the Barretts March, OBS March, OBS April and Barretts May sales, Thor-Bred expects to send 14 juveniles through the sales ring this spring. 
    Nygaard said her goal was to create a “small and select” commercial broodmare band and she thinks the talented team she and her husband have assembled will give the operation the flexibility to succeed. 
    “I think that's where we are a little bit lucky,” Nygaard said. “In the sense that, where some people have a very specific program that they stick to, we have more freedom, given that we have the farm and we have a good team that we work with, both where our mares are boarded and where our foals are born, as well as the training program that we have at the farm. We recruited Benny Betts out of retirement this summer and he has brought a lot of really good credentials with him. He worked with Bobby Scanlon for eight years and worked hand and hand with Bobby and David Scanlon with their program which developed a lot of really nice horses, like Bernardini and Lion Heart.” 
    Nygaard also expects to remain active in the pinhooking market. 
    “I think it will depend very much on how our operation goes this year, how much we will do going forward,” she said. “At this point, we're very excited, but you never know how things are going to go. I would say between 15 and 20 [to pinhook] would be a good number for us. It also depends on how it goes at the farm–this year we kept things more or less quiet because we wanted to set up our operation for our own horses. For next year, we would be looking for outside horses to come and join us.” 
    Nygaard works with bloodstock agent Marette Farrell to identify pinhooking prospects. 
“Both Marette and I will go and look at horses and then we compare notes as far as what we like and what we don't like,” Nygaard said. “Both of us look at things in a similar way. First and foremost, we look for horses that look like they are going to be athletic. We pay attention to pedigree, but we don't buy on pedigree–certainly we don't buy on pedigree alone. We look at the individual. We look for something that has potential, nice movers, and horses that have the attitude and class to be a good horse. It is obviously very intangible, but it's one of those things that, if you see it, it's there.” 
    She continued, “More than other people perhaps, we're willing to overlook or forgive conformational flaws, or at least some degree of that. We might be willing to overlook certain vet issues, if they are developmental or if they are something we can work with. With the team that we have, we are willing to take a little risk.” 
Nygaard said she was happy with how Thor-Bred's three Barretts offerings progressed this winter while based with Betts at the family's Ocala Jockey Club Farm, but she admitted there would be some anxious moments ahead. 
“All three are doing very, very well,” she said. “They've been well prepared, they did very well for their last work on the farm and they've done everything to date that you could ask for and now they still have another 50 hoops or so to jump through. We'll have to see what happens.” 
    “It's extremely exciting on one hand, but it's also extremely nerve-wracking,” Nygaard continued. “Up until this point, there were a lot of things that we thought we could control and now there are going to be a lot of things that we can't. You can do the best you can do to prepare them to breeze a good eighth, but you can't control all the different things that are going to go on at the sales. It just gives you lots of extra things to worry about. You don't know how they are going handle the particular track at Barretts and, even though you can make assumptions, you just don't know. And we'll breathe a lot easier, or a lot worse, I guess, as it may go, after the breeze show.” 
    Nygaard thinks her horses are in good hands with Eddie Woods's consignment. 
    “We wanted to work with Eddie at the Barretts sale because he is known to sell horses well, but also have them continue well on the track, so that their best performances are beyond the sale arena,” she explained. “Also, there seemed to be good synergies with the horses we were going to take. We have a colt that is a beautiful mover on the track. He is by Any Given Saturday. Last March, Eddie sold Earth Connecter, a colt by the same sire that has done quite well in Japan so far. Our Super Saver filly out of Lilly Ladue (Chief Three Sox) seemed very much the type that you would see coming to Eddie's barn and, as it turns out, Eddie has trained and sold a number of horses from her family with success. Eddie and Benny, from our farm, have been in contact on the training regimen of the horses going to the sales, and so it seemed like a good way to work with these horses going into the sale.” 
    Nygaard is particularly excited about Thor-Bred's Super Saver filly, who is out of stakes winner Lilly Ladue, a half-sister to Grade I winner Lucifer's Stone (Horse Chestnut {SAf}). The filly was a $30,000 purchase at last year's OBS August sale. 
    “She is actually fairly young,” Nygaard pointed out. “She is a May foal, which seems to be kind of crazy to be taking her to an early sale from that perspective, but she's matured incredibly well and the look in her eyes is the kind of thing that I would look for if I was buying a horse. She's got class, she's got poise, she's got the body. She's got a lot of things going for her.” 
    The same could be said of the expanding Thor-Bred empire. Asked about her goals for the operation, Nygaard said, “Going forward, we would like to maintain a very small, but select, racing stable. We would like to have a small and select broodmare band where the majority of the progeny will get sold either at yearling or 2-year-old sales and a select one or two may get held over with a view to racing–that would likely be a filly that we think is likely to do well and then end up in the broodmare band.” 
    “For the farm, we would like to see a thriving facility,” she continued. “It's a 900-acre farm, so there is lots of space to work with, with the training center and otherwise. We'd love to see good horses come out of that facility, have them do well at the races and in the sales ring and have satisfied clients, as well.” 
    Thor-Bred takes the next step in its reemergence when the Barretts March training preview gets underway Thursday at 10 a.m.

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