The article below appeared earlier this week at the Paulick Report.
The story behind Kantharos, winner of the Bashford Manor Stakes for 2-year-olds at Churchill on July 3, is the kind that keeps people breeding horses. In short, it’s a great longshot story. A breeder with limited means took a free mare, bred her to promising young sires, and has produced a fleet of good racers.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Then you ought to try it sometime. It’s a hell of a thrill if a breeder gets anywhere close to this level of success in producing two graded stakes winners from a mare’s first four foals.
The Fourth of July weekend has been a tremendous one for Lena Hedberg, who breeds under the name of her farm, Hedberg Hall, located near Mount Sterling, Ky. Hedberg has only a handful of mares but gets some good stock out of them, and the 3-year-old and 4-year-old half-brothers to Kantharos also raced in stakes this weekend, although without winning.
The mare at the center of this story is Contessa Halo, a daughter of the superb Argentine-based stallion Southern Halo, who spent a few seasons covering mares in the Northern Hemisphere at Ashford Stud.
While in Kentucky, Southern Halo sired Contessa Halo, along with some other nice horses like More Than Ready.
Although Contessa Halo made only a pittance of $5,000 at the Fasig-Tipton November sale in 1998, she proved a decent racehorse, winning three races from 15 starts and earning $69,875.
Bloodstock agent Elizabeth Blythe had purchased Contessa Halo for owner Michael Carpenter and trainer Stephen Dunn, who had some success with the mare on the track but none after she went to stud. From her first two seasons of breeding, Contessa Halo got in foal each season but resorbed and produced no foal the following year.
After those experiences, the owner was ready to bail on that money pit. Hedberg recalled, “Elizabeth Blythe called me and said that Contessa Halo was available for free, but I had to pick her up that day, which I did.”
Then Hedberg had a new mare and needed to find a stallion for her. Due to finances, Hedberg needed an inexpensive season, and to add to the uncertainty of making ends meet with this mare, “there was no black type in the first two dams,” Hedberg said.
Blythe suggested that Hedberg “should go with a no-guarantee season to get ahead at the sales, because if I paid full price, I would be hard pressed to make money.”
Following that advice, Hedberg took a shot and bought a season to Whywhywhy with no guarantee of getting a live foal from a mare who had yet to produce one. Talk about a gambler!
Once again, however, Hedberg proved lucky. She said, “Contessa got in foal on the first cover, and then I held my breath until she delivered Ikigai, which in Japanese means ‘good vibes, good things,’ which he was.”
Ikigai was a nice young colt when Hedberg sold him as a short yearling in the Keeneland January sale for $35,000. That was a decent profit and much needed for her operation.
But the colt was pinhooked back through the Keeneland September sale, by which time he had become a truly smashing individual, and brought $400,000. Hedberg candidly stated that the shock of the sale was so much that she cried.
The breeder then sold yearlings by Even the Score (Bonifacio for $40,000) and Ecton Park (Halos in the Hall privately to Bengt Thomasson to race in Sweden).
As a result of these sales, Hedberg had made a little money along the way with the mare. More importantly, the mare’s first foal, Ikigai, had filled in black type for Contessa Halo by winning the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Stakes early in 2009.
By the time that Hedberg’s fourth consecutive foal out of the mare, a colt by Lion Heart, went through the yearling sales at Keeneland last year, the breeder was due a tidy profit.
Kantharos was a good-looking colt who brought $80,000 for Hedberg at the September sales, and he was pinhooked earlier this year at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s March auction of 2-year-olds in training for $250,000.
A powerfully made chestnut, Kantharos made a very good impression in Ocala both in his work leading to the sale and in his presentation at the grounds through the consignment of Eddie Woods. A really pleasing individual, Kantharos caught the eye of John Moynihan, who bought the colt for Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stable.
After a nine and a half length victory in the Bashford Manor, Kantharos is expected to go to Saratoga for further racing.
This is good news for Hedberg. Following Kantharos, Hedberg bred Contessa Halo to Flashy Bull and the mare aborted. Contessa Halo has a Speightstown filly at side and is back in foal to Flower Alley.