The post below appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.
The star of the opening session of Keeneland’s November sale was the late Edward P. “Ned” Evans. Decades of collecting choice racers and producers had placed his Spring Hill Farm at the top of the tree among élite home breeders, and with the opening of the dispersal of his racing and breeding stock, Evans certainly has earned a standing ovation from the breeders and horsemen seeking to acquire some of his select animals.
The Spring Hill stock, selling through the Lane’s End consignment, included the session-topping lot, Grade 1 winner Christmas Kid (by Lemon Drop Kid) at $4.2 million, and 11 of the 14 lots bringing $1 million or more were from the Evans dispersal.
The bare statistics from the first installment of the Evans dispersal were staggering: 63 horses sold for gross receipts of $40,684,500, an average of $645,786, and a median of $320,000.
For most of us, the numbers are large to grasp, but the philosophy that produced this outstanding collection of racers and producers is more easily understood.
Chris Baker, farm manager for Evans at Spring Hill, talked with me several months ago about the approach that Ned Evans had used in developing and replenishing the bloodstock that fueled a racing operation focused on producing competitors for graded stakes, primarily in New York and Florida.
Baker noted that one of the “essential things about breeding horses for a racing program is the importance of speed.” Indeed, it is. All good horses are fast, and all really good horses have the ability to go faster than their competition at some point in a race.
So, “at Spring Hill, we paid a lot of attention to things that our trainers told us about fillies and also about the young horses we sent to the track. Were they quick and easy to train, were they slower-maturing, and so forth. Then, if they succeeded enough to bring home and add to the broodmare band, we knew more about them and about how to mate them to get better racehorses.”
In addition to the importance of speed in any racing program, especially one based in America, Baker said that “the big races are around two turns, and we were always conscious about the need for developing horses with the potential to stretch out.”
The desire to mix speed with stamina has been one of the primary goals for breeders of the Thoroughbred since men first matched their horses. The strains of the breed tend to breed off in one direction or the other, and the efforts of master breeders must be focused on reinforcing one quality without losing the other.
Thus, when the broodmare Kobla was offered for sale in 1999, Evans purchased her for $1.05 million. The mare was a full sister to champion Ajina, and both are daughters of the very tough international racehorse Strawberry Road. An influence for rugged constitutions, as well as stamina, Strawberry Road was one of the best horses used at the late Allen Paulson’s Brookside Farm operation, and Kobla came out of one of the Brookside reductions.
Bred to the immensely fast stallion Elusive Quality, Kobla produced a big, scopy colt named Quality Road. As a racer for Evans, Quality Road won the G1 Florida Derby, Donn, Metropolitan Handicap, and Woodward Stakes.
Quality Road retired to stud in 2011, and many of the mares in the Spring Hill dispersal are in foal to this promising young stallion.
Although he is an unproven stallion, the name of Quality Road tells us quite a lot about the bloodstock that Evans developed and that has captured the interest of breeders and racing men around the world.
Evans followed the “quality road” in selecting bloodlines, choosing mares with good families and mating them with successful, often premium, sires. The results were then selected for excellence, retaining the best, and repeating the process. It worked.
And in following Evans down the quality road, I wonder whether the business may not be evolving somewhat to place more emphasis on depth of pedigree and excellence of ancestry, especially when present in a horse of outstanding physique.
If this proves an enduring trend, it may be yet another benefit from the late breeder’s years of service to the sport.