Larry Best among weanling buyers staying one step ahead in Kentucky
He has paid $2.675 million for four colts and a filly in recent days
After encountering the deepest, most vibrant September yearling market in America since 2006, some owners have jumped into the November bloodstock sales looking for quality weanlings who they believe will be less expensive now than they would be if purchased as yearlings in 2019.
Larry Best, a relatively new owner who has rocked yearling and juvenile sales with select, expensive purchases totaling more than $20 million over the last few years, was among the most active weanling buyers during the first three days of sales, paying a total of $2.675 million for four colts and a filly.
Best pointed to what he called the “explosion in valuation” of yearlings in September, with Sheikh Mohammed’s attendance at the Keeneland yearling sale spurring higher costs at the top end of the market, as the primary factor in his decision to secure weanlings.
“I looked around and I didn’t see the sheikh today so I thought maybe this is smart,” Best said with a smile after buying a Pioneerof The Nile colt who is a half brother to two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome for $600,000 at Fasig-Tipton. “When you invest in weanlings, it’s even higher risk but you’re also paying less than at the yearling sales. The prices of yearlings by the top sires continue to explode.
“I’m trying to pick up quality prospects. You’ve got to guess a little bit on how they’ll pan out, but I think maybe it will be a wise part of an overall strategy. I’m trying to moderate (spending) a bit by purchasing well-bred weanlings,” he explained.
At Keeneland on Tuesday, Best bought the top two weanling colts sold at that venue, including a $600,000 purchase from the first crop of juvenile champion and Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist who is out of a half-sister to champion and $4.2 million November sale-topping mare Lady Eli.
“This is just a bet on good breeding - I love Lady Eli,” Best said, adding the colt has “good conformation (and is the) right size for the foaling date (April 10). It was worth a bet.
“Given how it stood out on this day, at this time, I felt it was going to go for somewhere between $450,000 and $600,000. As usual, I had to pay more than I wanted to. They’re never cheap,” he added. “This one, I think was one of the better ones in the show today. I feel fortunate.”
Later in the same session, Best - who uses the stable name OXO Equine - bought a $525,000 Quality Road colt out of a half-sister to the dam of multiple Grade 1 winners Paulassilverlining and Dads Caps. His earlier purchases at Fasig-Tipton included a $450,000 Quality Road colt and a $500,000 Medaglia D’Oro filly who is a half sister to Grade 2 winner Stonetastic from the family of Group 1 winner Our New Recruit.
“Last year, I bought two weanlings and they’ve grown nicely and I’m going to race them - I’ve got them in my portfolio to race. So, because those two worked out so far, I figured I’d come and take a higher-risk gamble on weanlings and have more shots on goal long-term.
“Anyone in horse racing knows you’d better be prepared for high risk. But so far, so good,” he added.
Best reported that when he acquires fillies, he seeks strong pedigrees so the individuals can be bred and retain value for possible future sale if they do not become successful runners. He now has a trio of his previous filly purchases in foal.
“Hopefully I’ll get live foals in three or four months. I have a Medaglia D’Oro, an Uncle Mo and a Tapit in foal. I am inbreeding now, but not by design, (rather) as a kind of backdrop to creating value long-term, getting some return back.”
While searching for value in weanlings, Best did not encounter more competition from Sheikh Mohammed and his team, as he had at the September Yearling Sale. However, Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Estate, which was the second leading September yearling buyer after Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin, did scoop up weanlings at Keeneland while employing a similar philosophy of seeking value.
Shadwell paid $1.685 million for three weanling colts and one filly during the opening Keeneland session, topped by a $500,000 Speightstown filly out of a half-sister to the stable’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Godolphin Mile winner Tamarkuz, who is also by Speightstown. The filly’s dam, the First Samurai mare Lemon Gin, is also a half-sister to St James’s Palace Stakes winner Without Parole.
“We always buy five or six or so weanlings; we have for years,” said Rick Nichols, general manager of Shadwell Farm in Lexington. “Just nice foals with good pedigrees. If you get the right ones, they would cost you twice as much next year.”
Among Shadwell’s successful weanling purchases in the past is multiple French stakes winner Qurbaan, a now five-year-old son of Speightstown who has evolved into a Grade 1-placed, Grade 2 winner in America.
That level of performance encouraged Nichols to sign the Keeneland ticket for Shadwell to acquire Qurbaan’s weanling brother for $360,000. The chestnut colt bred by Coolmore-affiliated Lynch Bages is out of French stakes winner and American Grade 1-placed Flip Flop, by Zieten.
Shadwell’s other weanling purchases at Keeneland were a $425,000 Into Mischief colt and a $400,000 Union Rags colt.
Over the first three days of the November sales, the top weanling has been the $1.9 million Pioneerof The Nile filly out of Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Stopchargingmaria sold by Three Chimneys Farm through Taylor Made Sales Agency to Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm at Fasig-Tipton. Pope, who also bought Stopchargingmaria for $4.4 million at that auction, indicated she might resell the filly next year.
Pope both sells commercially and races. In addition to the Pioneerof The Nile filly, she also bought the top weanling filly at Keeneland, spending $800,000 on a gray daughter of Tapit out of champion female sprinter La Verdad.
Other major farms that have bought weanlings at Keeneland that they may race or resell include Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables, which acquired a $300,000 Tiznow colt and a $290,000 Street Sense brother to Grade 1 winner Street Fancy, and Calumet Farm, which has bought five weanlings so far for a total of $410,000 led by two colts by young stallion Honor Code.
More from the breeding stock sales in Kentucky: