By Alan Carasso
For half a century, Arthur Boyd Hancock III has called Stone Farm home. It is a tract of land where, as the nursery’s website succinctly states, the team is ‘trying to raise you a good horse.’ To say they’ve achieved that goal over the years would be an understatement of monumental proportions.
The list of animals that have grown up on that stretch of Bourbon County Bluegrass include stakes winners too numerous to mention; horses from A to Y, including Classic-winning and Classic-placed runners like Gato del Sol, Risen Star, Strodes Creek, Horse of the Year Sunday Silence and Menifee. And then there is Fusaichi Pegasus, whose victory in the GI Kentucky Derby 20 years ago this weekend (see replay below) was the culmination of a plan hatched a half-dozen years prior.
A Fever Sent From Above…
The Loblolly Stable-bred and raced Angel Fever (Danzig) was the year-younger full-sister to Pine Bluff, a dual graded winner and twice Grade I-placed at two who added the GI Preakness S. and was third in the GI Belmont S. in 1992. She was also a half-sister to Loblolly’s 1987 GI Arkansas Derby hero Demons Begone (Elocutionist).
Angel Fever was trained by Tony Reinstedler for John Ed Anthony’s operation, winning her maiden by 11 lengths at first asking at Churchill a few weeks after the conclusion of the 1992 Triple Crown, but she was retired after suffering an injury when second in that year’s Colleen S. at Monmouth Park. Then four, she was entered as part of a large Loblolly draft (Longfield Farm, agent) to the 1994 Keeneland November sale, carrying her second foal by Forty Niner.
“She was a very good-looking mare. She had all you looked for in a mare,” Hancock said. “We were told she had a lot of ability and we loved her pedigree and we loved her physically, so we decided to try to get her. We were fortunate to get her.”
When the hammer fell, the board read $525,000. It was a transaction that almost didn’t happen.
In early 1994, John Adger, who befriended Hancock in the late 1960s, invited the horseman to Houston to meet successful businessman Robert McNair and his wife Janice. Adger also famously introduced Hancock to Tom Tatham, who purchased a controlling interest in Halo from Windfields Farm and relocated him to Stone Farm and later bred Halo’s most prolific stallion son, the aforementioned Sunday Silence.
“We had dinner, we hit it off, I liked Bob and Janice and they liked me,” Hancock said. “I told them, ‘Don’t get in the business unless you’re prepared to lose what you invest because it’s a tough game.'”
A partnership had nevertheless been struck. And the fortuitous nature of the relationship was on display on the first day of the 1994 November Sale. The Hancock/McNair/Adger trio had done their due diligence in researching hip 55.
“I’ve always been a fan of John Ed Anthony and the way he ran his operation,” Adger explained. “He had some outstanding broodmares. Arthur and I were enamored with Angel Fever, like a lot of other people, of course. I was walking up the back ring and saw Dr. [Gary] Lavin, who took care of the horses for the Anthonys. I walked up to him and said, ‘Doc, is there anything about Angel Fever that’s not in the catalogue that I should know about?’ And he looked at me and smiled and said, ‘John, all you need to know is she’s not the only the best filly or mare Ed’s ever had, she’s his best racehorse.'”
Hancock–on the aisle–McNair and Adger sat in that order, left to right, in the pavilion, with Hancock the ‘designated bidder.’
“I bid up to $475,000 and somebody bid $500,000,” Hancock recollected. “That scared me, that was a lot for me. So I shook my head no.”
McNair was short on experience where it came to Thoroughbreds, but long on business acumen and possessed of the resources to go into battle.
“He said, ‘I’m out, I’m out,'” Adger said of Hancock. “Bob looked at me and said, ‘What do you think?’ and I said, ‘Well, Bob, we got the green light from a fella that knows more about it than any of us, why don’t you let us bid a time or two again?’ He said, ‘Bid again, Arthur.'”
“So I bid the $25,000 and damned if we didn’t get her,” Hancock said. “I always told Bob that if it hadn’t been for him, we would never have gotten her.”
In the fall of 1994, Hancock sold the McNairs the parcel of land that would become Stonerside Farm.
‘Superman’ Is Born…
Mr. Prospector was relocated from Florida to Claiborne Farm, the farm owned by Hancock’s brother Seth–six years his junior–in 1980, and he was something of a no-brainer choice for Angel Fever in 1995 and 1996.
“As I remember, it was a pretty good outcross,” Hancock said. “Angel Fever had speed and we knew Mr. Prospector could sire horses with speed. I remember liking the nick–it was the Raise A Native line on the Northern Dancer line through Danzig, not much inbreeding. John and I talked about this and we agreed that it would be the right way to go.
“I called Bob and I said, ‘Bob, John and I think we should breed Angel Fever to Mr. Prospector,’ and he said in his southern accent–he was from North Carolina, originally–‘Well, Arthur, I haven’t studied it yet, but if you and John feel strongly about it, then it’s OK by me.'”
Angel Fever foaled a filly in 1996, and that produce got the partnership ‘out’, financially speaking, when she fetched an even $1 million from Bob and Beverly Lewis at the November sale later that year. Hancock was on hand when Angel Fever produced a colt Apr. 12, 1997.
“He was the damndest foal,” he recollected. “There were about four of us standing around there and it was only four, five or six minutes after he foaled and he had his front legs stretched out in front of him. Most of them don’t do it that quick. And he started looking at each of us, moving his head and I said, ‘Look at this damn foal! He’s looking at us like a dog would look at you.’ I’ve never seen a foal do that. He stood up in 35 or 40 minutes, which is a good sign, it shows courage and athleticism. When he stood up, I said, ‘Oh my God, look at this foal. I’m going to nickname him Superman.'”
Growing Up Wasn’t Always Straight-Forward…
The Angel Fever colt was unflappable from the time he was born into his yearling season. His constitution was on full display on a March day in 1998.
“I remember the weatherman said, ‘There’s going to be a skiff [i.e. dusting] of snow, today,'” Hancock said. “Well, we had about 20 inches and it drifted and it was over waist-deep in the drift in the barn where he was. I went up to help the boys turn out–the whole farm was kind of locked in–so I went and got him myself. I was wading through the snow which was about up to my belt. I’ll never forget–he kind of stopped, kind of looking down at the snow. I said to the boys, ‘He’s studying this damn snow!’ I’ll never forget that. Another thing he would do if you walked out to see the yearlings in the afternoon, he would come out of the pack to come up and say hello. He was a very curious, inquisitive, intelligent horse.”
But the colt’s preparation for the 1998 Keeneland July sale did not always go as planned.
“I remember getting him ready for the sale,” Hancock said. “John Hayes was the yearling manager at that time. We turned [the colt] out and he sort of threw a fit. He had a temper and he threw a fit trying to get away from him. John took that shank and sort of got into him and the horse started backing up. It scared me–I thought he was going to sit down on the blacktop–but he learned from that and he was never more any trouble.”
He continued, “The first day at the sale he was studdish–screaming and everything and I thought, ‘We’re ruined. We’ve got this beautiful yearling, great pedigree and no one is going to buy him.’ He did that all day long. John Hayes said, ‘Just relax, Mr. Hancock. He’ll hopefully get better.’ Now, I’ve seen them when they didn’t get better, but with him, the next day he did it some and then he tapered off and started acting good. I told people that he’s just a young man, feeling good and he’ll calm down. And, thank God he did, but I’m going to tell you, I didn’t sleep too good at night!”
The Star of the Show…
Hancock and partners felt they had a seven-figure yearling on their hands, but that is not to say there weren’t some anxious moments before the Angel Fever colt was offered as hip 228, the second-last horse to go through the ring of the boutique July Sale on the evening of Tuesday, July 21.
“The horse was coming into the ring and John [Adger] says, ‘Oh my God, we’re in trouble,'” Hancock recalled. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ I thought something had happened to the horse. He said, ‘Look over there, our two big money men have teamed up,'” referring to Satish Sanan, who was seated alongside Coolmore’s John Magnier and Demi O’Byrne. “I made up my mind that I was going to bid something and try to put a syndicate together, because we loved that horse. He was the best-looking yearling we’ve ever had. But I didn’t have to. Mr. Sekiguchi was sitting out there with John Ward, who picked him out for him, and I couldn’t believe it. We would have been tickled to death with a million and a half, $2 million–he brings $4 million. We were high-fiving one another, we were thrilled.”
The following day, the Stone Farm phone rings. The secretary patches the call through to Hancock.
“Mr. Satish Sanan is on the phone,” the secretary said.
“I didn’t really know him at the time,” said Hancock . “As soon as I said hello, he said, ‘Arthur, I wanted that damned horse!’ I said, ‘Well it’s too late now!'” he said with a hearty laugh.
Sanan’s Padua Stables signed for the next three highest-priced colts during that session, including a $1.6-million son of Mr. Prospector–Video, and also acquired the filly that would ultimately become GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Cash Run (Seeking the Gold) for $1.2 million. Sanan spent $13 million at July that summer.
Fusaichi Pegasus Takes Flight…
Turned over to trainer Neil Drysdale, who orchestrated the Classic season in 1992 of the part Japanese-owned A.P. Indy, Fusaichi Pegasus went on a five-race winning streak in 2000, scoring in the GII San Felipe S. and GII Wood Memorial S. before becoming the first favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1979 to take the Derby.
“It was just wonderful,” Hancock said. “It was a great feeling to see him do that. We were all very proud of him. Just a wonderful feeling. I was happy for Mr. Sekiguchi. They’re kind of like our children. We were all on cloud nine.”
Added Adger: “Arthur did a great job getting him to the sales and we were just thrilled when he won the Derby. He was a gorgeous animal. That was a very exciting day. I can still see that big bay rolling down the outside of the track.
“That was an exciting time,” Adger went on. “And Arthur–he’s the Derby man. He’s either raised them or bred them. He’s got about as fine a record in the Classics as anyone I know. He’s something else.”
Following the Derby, Sekiguchi was welcomed at Stone Farm for some tea, a kimono in hand for Hancock’s wife Staci.
“He had that very formal air about him,” Hancock remembered. “He didn’t say anything for about 30 seconds and I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is he thinking about?’ [Sekiguchi] kind of bowed his head and said, ‘Arthur-san…you are a genius!’ I said, ‘Mr. Sekiguchi, you bought a yearling from us, paid $4 million for him, won the Kentucky Derby with him and sold him as a stallion. You, Mr. Sekiguchi, are the genius.'”
Hancock says he put together a high-powered team of Kentucky horsemen in an attempt to stand Fusaichi Pegasus at Stone Farm. He lost that particular battle to one of Fusaichi Pegasus’s underbidders, but whatever disappointment might linger from that small upset, is trumped by the considerable success he has tasted in a long and prosperous career. For example, Angel Fever, who passed away at age 14 in 2004, contributed mightily to that success, her progeny having accounted for better than $18 million in bloodstock sales.
The correlation between seven-figure auction purchases and racetrack plaudits is not always one-to-one. Fusaichi Pegasus was an exception to that rule and clearly still occupies a spot near and dear to Arthur Boyd Hancock III.
WATCH: Fusaichi Pegasus storms home to win the 2000 Run for the Roses