With Valiant Force, Spendthrift's Rangel Is a Royal Ascot-Winning Breeder

R. J. Rangel | Spendthrift

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He's the first one to admit he's a “little guy,” a small breeder who owns two mares, two breeding rights, and all the good and bad luck that comes along with any such small operation. Losing his farm in the economic crisis of 2009 was just about as bad as it gets. Winning a race as a breeder at Royal Ascot? Just about as good.

Ramon (R. J.) Rangel says he never would have had the opportunity he experienced Thursday–when Valiant Force (Malibu Moon) whom he co-bred with Spendthrift Farm won the G2 Norfolk S. at Royal Ascot–without the kind of breeders incentives advanced by Spendthrift Farm's founder, B. Wayne Hughes–incentives, he says, designed to help the little guy.

Hughes liked to call Spendthrift `the breeders' farm,' and when Valiant Force charged home a winner Thursday, it was because of the breeding initiatives that Hughes liked to preach–with a little kindness thrown in from across town at Mill Ridge, and a lot of hard work by Rangel himself.

Valiant Force's story starts when Mill Ridge's longtime clients John and Jerry Amerman had a homebred filly, Vigui's Heart (Quality Road), for whom they were looking for a home. “She was not going to make it to the races,” said Mill Ridge's Price Bell. Rangel, now 57, had shown horses at sales for years for Mill Ridge, and had been a breeder on a small scale. They knew he took good care of his horses, so they thought of him for the mare. “R. J. is a friend and he and his family are really good horse people, and so we decided to facilitate this for the Amermans, to find this mare a nice home. We reached out to R. J. and he and his family said they'd love to have her.”

The filly was young at the time, and Rangel cared for her until she was three, and decided to breed her.

Rangel realized that his investment of the work caring for her would be rewarded. “I got her when she was young,” he said. “She was a weanling, turning into a yearling, and when she was three, I decided to breed her to something with speed. She's a big, leggy mare, and I wanted to put some speed into her, so I went to Malibu Moon. Obviously, I couldn't afford the stud fee at that time. I think he was $50,000. I asked for a foal share, and thanks to Spendthrift, because Ned Toffey gave me the opportunity to do the foal share. And I got this nice baby. For the first baby, he was a good size, a lovely weanling, very correct. Anybody would love to have this mare. She's a nice mare and I was lucky to get this foal. I gave it to Mill Ridge to sell because they were the ones who gave me the mare.”

Bell recalled, “He was a beautiful weanling that R. J. raised and prepped, and he sold for $75,000. It was a huge sale for him, and he said, `you know, when I worked here, there was always that one person who would give everyone $100 or $200 to say thank you. So, would you please tip everybody that?' I remember selling the horse and seeing the pride in his eyes, having sold a horse for that kind of money. And he just immediately wanted to take care of all the people in the barn.”

The economy hasn't always been kind to Rangel, who had worked his way up to owning a 70-acre farm in the early 2000s, only to lose it all in the economic downturn of 2008-'09.

“To make a long story short, I ended up losing everything, and I was homeless,” he said, after the bank repossessed his property. “I had to go live with my brother, and I started working at the sales, traveling around.” Finally, he wanted to settle down and stay in one place and Toffey gave him a job at Spendthrift, where he now serves as the assistant yearling manager.

Rangel works until 4 p.m. every day, and then heads to the farm where he boards his horses, to give them the care they need. “I go there before work. I go there after work and I try to take care of them. I have been very lucky to work, and do well, and make the extra effort every day. It's been a great ride. I love the horses. I love the industry. I'm just a little guy who plays on the small side.”

Vigui's Heart failed to get in foal to Lord Nelson in 2021, so Rangel has no yearling to sell this year, but in November, he will be back at Keeneland with her weanling by Mitole. Naturally, he'll sell her with Mill Ridge. She is currently in foal to Vekoma.

A native of Guadalajara, Rangel came to the United States with his father, who was a groom in California for Jack Van Berg, and he got his own start as an exercise rider. But when he first came to a horse sale in Kentucky, he says, “I realized this was the place where I wanted to be, because this is where the best is.”

He watched the Norfolk on his phone, and had staked $2 to win and $2 to place on Valiant Force, “just to support him,” he explains. “I couldn't see him because the screen was so small,” he said.

“But with two furlongs to go, he was still on the lead. With one furlong to go…still on the lead. And finally, he started to pull away. And it really touched me.” He collected $300 on the bets.

At the end of the day, he said he's grateful for the help extended to him by others in the industry.

“The guys here at Spendthrift, they work with you, they give you little breaks here and there. I asked for the foal share and Ned was very nice and gave it to me. I'm very thankful for Mill Ridge, the people that gave me the mare. I'm thankful for Spendthrift. The reason I got back into breeding was that Wayne Hughes, he always tried to help the breeders and they've got all these deals going and I saw that opportunity to come back in at a small scale and be more careful. I've been blessed because everything has gone the right way. It's all about hard work, dedication and luck. But I'm very grateful for all the people who always try to help the little people.”

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