'These things come back and bite you' - Race Day proves worth with Derby hopes
Michele MacDonald talks to Spendthrift's Mark Toothaker about the son of Tapit
Breeders in America know well the adage that as soon as a stallion is sold abroad, he is likely to suddenly soar in success, his progeny winging across racetracks like lightning bolts fuelled in equal
measure by complete unpredictability yet undeniable brilliance.
Race Day, a now 11-year-old son of Tapit, is the latest horse to prove the maxim.
About a year and a half after being sold by Spendthrift Farm to stand in South Korea, Race Day has improbably distinguished himself with two three-year-old sons - from a crop of only 31 colts and 58 foals overall born in 2019 - to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
His sons White Abarrio, winner of the Grade 1 Florida Derby, and Barber Road, runner-up in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, have given Spendthrift’s managers reasons to both swell with pride over the
accomplishments and chafe under a bittersweet cloud that shadows them after the sale.
Those sentiments now have the Lexington farm considering exercising a clause in the sale agreement to repatriate Race Day to America should White Abarrio, who was bred by Spendthrift, or Barber Road excel at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
“We definitely have talked about it, and we have had other farms talk to us about it as well,” says Spendthrift stallion sales manager Mark Toothaker.
“If things go well, then that’s an option we could certainly exercise. We’ll just have to see if that’s something that [Spendthrift owners] Eric and Tammy [Gustavson] and [general manager] Ned [Toffey] would want to do. It’s hard to guess the future right now. We’ll just have to wait and see how the Derby plays out and go from there.”
The decision to sell Race Day came about in 2020 because the stallion had not achieved anything like what his offspring are doing this spring, and the number of mares he was covering, after beginning his stud career with his first season in 2016, was not robust, Toothaker noted.
“That’s just part of the business,” he says. “When the numbers start falling off on the stallions and you’ve got new shooters you’re looking to bring in, sometimes the ones whose numbers are starting to fall are the ones who get moved on down the road. Unfortunately, that’s what took place.
“Race Day was a very nice horse. We just couldn’t get the big horse [by him], and we felt like we had an offer to move him that was a sufficient offer, so the powers that be decided, ‘Let’s go ahead and take some money off the table and move him on.’
“These things come back and bite you."
There is plenty of precedent for the kind of situation Spendthrift finds itself in regarding Race Day.
Some stallions, including the late Empire Maker as well as Daredevil and Take Charge Indy, have been reacquired and brought back to America after stints in Japan, Turkey and Korea respectively.
Toothaker said that while a reacquisition clause isn’t always included in sale agreements, Spendthrift inserted on one in the Race Day deal because the stallion had enough promising offspring on the ground in 2020 to merit such an arrangement.
“At least that’s an option on the table,” he says.
Race Day’s life saga has been one featuring a pattern of the horse outperforming apparent expectations, even if it took some time for him to gain success.
Bred by James Miller, he was reported not sold at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale on a bid of $120,000. Raced initially by WinStar Farm, Race Day won maiden special weight and allowance races in Kentucky as a three-year-old prior to being sold for $285,000 to Jake Ballis’s Ghost Bloodstock at the 2014 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
The finely made grey out of the More Than Ready mare Rebalite, a half-sister to Kentucky Oaks winner Lite Light, then proceeded to win three of his next four starts for trainer Todd Pletcher and new owner Matthew Schera. Those victories included the Grade 2 Oaklawn and Grade 3 Razorback Handicaps as Race Day found his best strides at age four.
Toothaker, sent to Oaklawn Park in March 2015 on a mission seeking deal to stand either American Pharoah or Tapiture, just happened to run into Ballis at the track on the day of the Razorback after finding himself unsuccessful for the other colts.
“It was such a crazy deal,” Toothaker recalls of how Race Day came to Spendthrift. “The horse won and basically we had an outline of a deal when we were walking back from the winner’s circle across that muddy track.
“It’s funny how things in this horse business work out. He wasn’t a horse on our radar and we wound up buying him and here he is with two horses in the Derby. You never know in this business what is
going to happen, and this was just one of those things.
"I just happened to run into Jake that day and the horse was a Tapit from a nice family and so we thought, ‘Why not take a shot?’ And here you go.”
Spendthrift offered Race Day to breeders as part of its 'Share the Upside' programme. By paying only an $8,500 fee for a single season to the horse in 2016, breeders earned a lifetime breeding right.
“We don't believe there's a better offer under $10,000 in the industry,” Toffey said at the time.
Approximately 70 breeders qualified for lifetime breeding rights in Race Day, Toothaker says, and those rights remain attached to the horse.
“If he was to come back [to America], they would be back in business,” he adds. “And I know everyone who has a breeding right would love for us to bring him back. And who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see. If it warrants it, we’d love to do it.
"But if one of these colts doesn’t have a big performance in the Derby, then probably it wouldn’t make as much financial sense. We’ll just have to wait and see. We’re watching like everybody else.”
Overall, Race Day has sired 270 foals of racing age, including 62 current two-year-olds, and he has 53 registered yearlings, according to American Jockey Club records, which also reveal that he has eight
black-type winners. In Korea, Race Day covered 89 mares in the 2021 season while under the ownership of Lee Kwang Lim, according to the Korean Stud Book.
While Race Day didn’t immediately set the racing world on fire, Spendthrift has the valuable dividends associated with breeding White Abarrio as the farm has retained that colt’s dam, the Into
Mischief mare Catching Diamonds, and her Lord Nelson yearling colt.
White Abarrio was not much to look at as a youngster, Toothaker recalls.
“He was nothing when we sold him as a short yearling [for $7,500 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s winter auction] in January  — he was just kind of an immature looking horse," he says.
"No-one would have ever dreamed he would go on to do what he has done. But he sure has become a horse that has a real legitimate shot in the Derby."
Spendthrift is also the breeder of another Derby contender in Tiz The Bomb, a son of the farm’s stallion Hit It A Bomb who was sold for $330,000 as a yearling, and also retains that colt’s dam, the Tiznow mare Tiz The Key, and her yearling colt and filly foal by Mor Spirit and Gormley respectively.
Toothaker says: “We’ve got a lot to be excited about with having two that we bred being in the Derby. That’s a real feather in the hat for our breeding programme."
In the meantime, Spendthrift remains on the competitive hunt for more good stallion prospects, including those by the aging superstar Tapit. The farm was underbidder on the $1.7 million Tapit colt sold to Lane’s End Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. April auction on April 21.
“We’re always looking," says Toothaker. "We just have to get our hands on another one."
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