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The following post first appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.
Owner Rick Porter and trainer Larry Jones aren’t hiding their light under a bushel basket. The Saint Liam filly Havre de Grace is their bright and shining light, and they have mapped out an ambitious and exciting program that they hope will earn their bay filly a national championship over the next couple of months.
Already a Grade 1 winner, Havre de Grace took the next step up the ladder with her impressive victory over colts in the G1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday. The expected next steps are the Beldame at Belmont Park, where Havre de Grace could cement domination over fillies, and then the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, where victory would bring a likely selection as Horse of the Year.
When Dillman got into Thoroughbred breeding in the 1970s, one of her early broodmares was the Tom Rolfe daughter Cacti. A chestnut out of Vanity Handicap winner Desert Love (by Amerigo), Cacti produced European classic winner Diminuendo as her second foal.
Winner of the English Oaks, Irish Oaks, and Yorkshire Oaks, Diminuendo was sired by the Sharpen Up horse Diesis, who stood his entire career at Mill Ridge Farm outside Lexington. The breeder said, “And that’s when I developed my relationship with Alice Chandler. We’ve been with Mill Ridge many a year. Diminuendo was such a lovely, classy filly, and, my, she was a tough filly too.”
Even though Dillman had produced a major racehorse from her breeding program almost immediately, she did not try to expand and produce 10.
Dillman does not want to overproduce. She said, “I don’t like to have more than four or five mares. That’s a good number for us. We only have 45 acres here, and it is easy to accumulate horses. We reseed every year, and we have good pastures because we work at it every year.”
On good pastures, a breeder can grow strong and athletic horses, and the point of living on a beautiful farm is not to have a factory.
Instead, Dillman said, “I run a nursery. The mares go to Mill Ridge months before their due dates, and they stay there to be bred and 60 days after they are declared in foal before I move them the hour drive back to Louisville. We have the mares and foals, wean the foals, and sell yearlings through Mill Ridge at the sales. Depending on my numbers, if I have a lone colt, like the Bernardini this year, he gets sent to Mill Ridge in December. He runs with the young men and gets strong there. The fillies stay here. The year Havre de Grace was born, I had three fillies: a Medaglia d’Oro, a Kitten’s Joy, and the Saint Liam.”
They were all nice yearlings, Dillman said, but the bay daughter of Horse of the Year Saint Liam was the leader of the pack.
All three went through the September sale, and Porter acquired the Saint Liam filly, later named Havre de Grace, for $380,000. Dillman put the two other fillies in training and has the multiple winner Megadream (by Medaglia d’Oro) training at Belmont.
The Bernardini colt mentioned above is a half-brother to Havre de Grace, and he sold at last month’s Saratoga select sale for $1.2 million to John Ferguson, agent for Godolphin. He and Havre de Grace are out of the Carson City mare Easter Bunnette, whom Dillman acquired at the sales through Mill Ridge.
Dillman recalled a conversation she had at the 2003 Keeneland November sale with Alice Chandler and her son, Headley, who now runs Mill Ridge. “I was talking to Alice and also to Headley about the mares in the consignment, and this one was out of such a grand family,” she said. “One of the families you cannot get into. But Easter Bunnette is not a great big strong mare, and she didn’t walk well at all. It was going to turn a lot of people off. So I just kept bidding, and eventually they let me have her.”
Dillman purchased Easter Bunnette for $450,000 as a 5-year-old, carrying her first foal to a cover by Dynaformer. This is the same cross (Dynaformer over Carson City) that produced Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who had been born earlier that year and was a weanling at Mill Ridge at the time of the sale.
Out of stakes winner Toll Fee, Easter Bunnette was a winner on the racetrack, like Dillman’s other star producer Cacti. Of greater import is that Easter Bunnette’s second and third dams were both named Broodmare of the Year. Second dam Toll Booth (Buckpasser) produced seven stakes winners, and third dam Missy Baba (My Babu) produced six.
The great production records took a skip with Toll Fee, but her daughters are breeding on, with The Bink (Seeking the Gold) having produced G1 winner Riskaverse, two other daughters have produced G3 winners, and now Easter Bunnette has her star in the firmament.
Dillman recalled Havre de Grace as a yearling: “She was a big, strong, good-looking filly. She was always very smart, always very alert, and the leader of her group. She was a big, strong, stand-up yearling, but I believe she’s grown into something more than I expected.”