Vincent Viola preparing for Always Dreaming's stud career at WinStar
Upping quality the name of the game for the billionaire breeder
A son of a truck driver from Brooklyn, Vincent Viola is the quintessential self-made man, having earned status as a billionaire after taking public an electronic trading company he founded and acquiring the Florida Panthers National Hockey League team.
All that aside, however, Viola’s heart belongs to thoroughbred racing and breeding, and he is now beginning to plan for the stud career of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, a colt he co-owns, while also actively buying and selling yearlings.
“This sport is probably what I'm most passionate about,” Viola said as the closing session of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale was beginning on Tuesday.
His activities during the day underlined his comment. Prior to the start of the session, he joined WinStar Farm chief executive Elliott Walden, trainer Todd Pletcher, agent Steve Young and co-owner Anthony Manganaro in filming a promotional video about Always Dreaming.
Then he arrived at Fasig-Tipton on a mission to buy and sell. While Viola doesn’t like to say much about the bloodstock holdings and goals he shares with his wife, Teresa, in their St Elias Stable, they seem to be aiming higher and higher on both sides of the ledger.
“I can tell you that we’ve always been buyers and sellers,” said Viola, who acquired his first claiming race competitor in 1996 and who today has over 100 horses including more than 30 in training and 25 to 30 broodmares.
When the Saratoga sale had ended, Viola had sold two high-dollar yearlings St Elias had bred.
Hip 137, a Tapit filly out of the stakes-winning Galileo mare Twirl, brought $875,000 from celebrity chef Bobby Flay while consigned by Dromoland Farm, and hip 39, a Curlin filly out of a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner and young stallion Liam’s Map, drew $850,000 from Peter Brant’s White Birch Farm.
Switching roles to that of a buyer, Viola acquired a pair of colts by Into Mischief and More Than Ready for a total of $550,000 in the closing session, with his sole equine adviser, JJ Crupi, signing the tickets.
“More quality - you nailed it,” Viola confirmed when asked if obtaining better bloodlines while both buying and selling is a key philosophy for St Elias at this time.
Marketing Always Dreaming, the now four-year-old son of Bodemeister who won both the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby in 2017, and choosing possible mates for him is a high priority as the colt’s ownership group gets closer to calling time on his racing career.
“We haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do. We had a wonderful day today talking about him; we talked about his pedigree, we talked about his Florida Derby, we talked about the fact that he ran on four different surfaces and did very well on all of them,” Viola said.
In the promotional video they filmed, Viola said the message was that “people should not forget” all the colt accomplished.
“We’ll make the final decision [regarding retirement] in October. He’s on the track; if he comes back and races, it will be because he’s as good as he was in the Florida Derby. Even if he’s just close, we’re not doing it,” Viola said, adding that he wants the Always Dreaming to be at the top of his game if he races again.
If retirement beckons instead, Viola said plans call for Always Dreaming to stand at WinStar next year - and he is already thinking of which of St Elias’s mares he might bred to the Derby winner.
“I was saying to the guys that I have a [stakes-winning] mare, Sweet N Discreet [a sister to Grade 2 winner Discreet Dancer], so I’m thinking about breeding her to Always Dreaming. It would be phenomenal,” Viola said.
Sweet N Discreet is emblematic of Viola’s emphasis on quality. She was acquired for $1.1 million, with Crupi signing for the transaction, at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton November sale.
Sweet N Discreet has a juvenile filly by Noble Mission named Sweeter Than Wine and a yearling filly by American Pharoah who has been entered in the Keeneland September yearling sale as hip 476 in the Gainesway consignment.
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