By Katie Ritz
In the front field of Timber Town Stables along Lexington's Leestown Road, a quiet gray grazes contentedly while keeping a close eye on her two-month-old foal napping nearby.
The mare takes a step towards you when approached, but the foal remains in a deep slumber, her four limbs stretched out in all different directions as she enjoys the afternoon sunlight. She opens her eyes slowly when you speak, begrudgingly making her way onto her nimble legs only when coaxed
While she enjoys the care-free life of a newborn now, the young filly has much to live up to someday when she steps onto the track. Her mother, Unrivaled Belle (Unbridled's Song), is a three-time graded stakes winner and Breeders' Cup Champion. Her full sister, TDN Rising Star Unique Bella (Tapit), is a three-time GI winner who was named champion female sprinter in 2017 and champion older dirt female the next year.
Timber Town owners Wayne and Cathy Sweezey have monitored the filly's development since she was foaled earlier this year on March 19.
“The foaling itself was pretty normal,” Wayne said. “Unrivaled Belle is fairly professional when it comes to that.”
This filly marks Unrivaled Belle's sixth foal, and the third foaled at Timber Town since owner Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm went to $3.8 million for the elite mare in 2016. The champion mare has checked back in foal to Tapit for next year.
“This baby wasn't very big at birth, but has grown nicely,” Wayne said. “She's very correct and we won't have to do any sort of corrective work, so that will make our lives easier.”
Wayne said he found several comparisons between the foal and her dam. “I would say the baby is going to grow to be pretty much like the mare. They have the same shoulder and hip, both very well conformed in front.”
Last September, the Timber Town consignment sold Unrivaled Belle's 2018 Tapit colt, now named Vanishing Point, for $1.5 million to Japanese interests.
“He was exceptionally correct and handsome,” Wayne said of the now two-year-old colt. “He was a well-balanced individual, and this filly will also be really pretty when she grows up.”
But Wayne said he suspects that this year's filly will not find herself in the sales ring come next fall.
“I would guess that Mandy will probably keep this one. She favors grays and this one is going to be gray at the end of the day. I wouldn't be surprised if it stays in the racing division.”
The Sweezeys have enjoyed a close relationship with client Many Pope for decades.
“I was at Darby Dan for 20 years prior to starting Timber Town. When Mandy came on board 24 years ago, her goal was to sell a horse at the Fasig-Tipton July sale for a hundred thousand dollars,” Wayne recalled.
That goal was quickly met through one of Whisper Hill's first sells. A colt named Sam P. (Cat Thief) was sold as a yearling in 2005 for $200,000 and went on to place third in the GI Santa Anita Derby before making it to the Kentucky Derby.
“As time went on, we had higher goals and everything fell into place over the years,” Wayne said. “When Cathy and I started Timber Town, Mandy joined our operation. She's by far our largest client and she obviously has the finest mares. It's been a pleasure to work with these mares because I don't know that there's a band of broodmares anywhere as fancy as these unless you go to some of the big farms. Her dedication to the program makes it that much more fun to work for her.”
While the breeding season rolls on no matter the circumstances, this spring looks very different at Timber Town.
“The pandemic has kept Mandy from coming up here, and I know that has upset her because this is her favorite time of year,” Wayne said.
On the management side of the business, social distancing protocols have kept the Timber Town team from accompanying their mares to the breeding shed.
“All of our mares usually go the breeding shed with someone from our farm,” he said. “Being a horseman, I want to know what kind of cover I got. So that's been frustrating for me, but on the flip side, we're having a super year as far as getting mares in foal, so it's still business as usual.”
In the meantime, they've embraced the trend of an enhanced social media presence occurring at many major farms throughout the Bluegrass.
“Our social media manager, Michelle Pitts, did a live video in the front field with Unrivaled Belle,” Cathy said. “We were astounded with how many people were sending comments and questions. Michelle was like 'hang on guys, I've never done this before!' People loved it.”
But racing fans aren't the only ones in awe of the stacked roster at Timber Town Stables. Wayne and Cathy said that every day, they are grateful for the quality of stock on their farm.
“Every night we jump in the Polaris and go for a cruise around the property,” Cathy said. “We look at the mares and foals and the new trees almost every single night. We try not to take anything for granted because we're very fortunate, especially this time of year when it's so beautiful.”
There's quite the stacked roster of mares and foals to enjoy on their scenic drives. Songbird (Medaglia d'Oro), Plum Pretty (Medaglia d'Oro), Havre de Grace (Saint Liam), and Groupie Doll (Bowman's Band) join Unrivaled Belle as some of the top GI winners roaming the Timber Town pastures.
“It's fun to have horses here that have competed against one another,” Wayne said, citing Unrivaled Belle's win over eventual 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.
“We're very lucky,” Cathy said. “But let me tell you–in the beginning with the likes of Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty– I mean if you really thought about it, you wouldn't sleep at night.”
“We could handle it then, it was just a whole lot to think about,” Wayne added.
Cathy agreed. “Those days are over. We can handle it now.”