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In discussing the breeding of Hollywood Starlet winner Killer Graces with breeder Brian Kahn, he gave considerable credit to Neal Clarke and Connor Doyle of Atlas Farm, who board the filly’s dam and granddam for Kahn and raised Killer Graces. Kahn said, “The fellows really liked this filly, and their advice about her development and quality was important in the decision to keep her and put her in training,” rather than send the daughter of Congaree to the yearling sales.

That led me to discuss the filly with Clarke, along with the general operation at Atlas Farm. In particular about the decision to put Killer Graces into training rather than into the sales ring, Clarke said, “When she was coming along as a yearling, Brian asked us about Killer Graces, and we told him he ought to race her. She was a nice filly. Now, you wouldn’t say at the time that she was a Grade 1 winner, but she was too nice to give up on.”

With the depressed yearling market in 2010, putting a Congaree filly in the ring would be the same as giving up on her, and it would be the financial equivalent of giving her away, or nearly so. Clarke addressed the reasons for advising to race, rather than sell through the ring.

He said, “First of all, Congaree was struggling in a commercial sense. Second, this mare was young, [and for her value to improve, she needed the filly to go into the right hands] and for what he’d likely have gotten in the sales ring, he was better off to take her racing. She looked like she had good potential and looked like a filly who would sell well when she made a start. This was something that he’d done well with before, and the plan went well. As it happened, she was second [in her début], but the buyer showed up and bought her and then won a stakes with her.”

The buyer was trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who a couple of years ago had bought Blind Luck after her first race, which she won, and then trained the filly to win the G1 Hollywood Starlet and many other important races. Killer Graces races for Hollendorfer and partners.

Killer Graces, the second foal out of the Old Trieste mare Heatherdoesntbluff, was also the second filly out of the mare that Kahn had taken to the races this way. The first was an In Excess filly named Rockin Heather, who is a winner and multiple stakes-placed.

Clarke said, “As a yearling, when you turned loose Rockin Heather, she had incredible turn of foot. She was really quick and athletic, and we advised Brian that he would be better off keeping her to race, which turned out really well. Now he has a stakes-placed half-sister to a Grade 1 winner. She’s at the farm now” in Kentucky.

Rockin Heather is likely to be bred, rather than go back to the races, and she would be the third generation of this family that Kahn has at Atlas. Clarke recalled that Brian “bought Heatherdoesntbluff privately, then quickly followed by purchasing her dam Michigan Bluff at the sales.

“Heatherdoesntbluff is a big, strong, good-looking mare, and the second dam is about the same. Brian had faith in them and in the approach. He’s paid a lot of bills and really deserves to have this kind of success. The mare throws some precocious foals, big and early and strong,” and the market will reward that when combined with the right sire and sales package.

Kahn had the right colt with the yearling out of Heatherdoesntbluff this year. A stretchy and athletic son of Candy Ride, the colt went into the ring with both the mare’s first two foals as black-type performers, and there was an update to announce that Killer Graces was a stakes winner already.

The colt brought $260,000 at the Keeneland September sale with Mark Casse signing the ticket as agent. Clarke said, “With the yearling, Casse really liked that colt. That was the principal point, then we were able to tell him that the 2-year-old was now a stakes winner, and that really put the seal on it. But Casse is a sharp guy, and the important thing is that he thought the colt was a really nice individual.”

The last point is central to the success of Heatherdoesntbluff. She gets good athletes. Clarke said “She’s a good-sized Old Trieste mare, grand, big, pretty mare. Really athletic foals. Killer Graces was very broad-chested, wide bodied, very correct and clean, a really nice sort of filly. Her half-brother by Candy Ride is well-balanced and very nice. There’s no reason he shouldn’t go on and follow both the sisters.”

The fact that Heatherdoesntbluff “can get you a really nice individual,” Clarke said, is something she inherited from her dam, the Skywalker mare Michigan Bluff, a G3 winner on the racetrack. Clarke said, “Michigan Bluff is a real pretty mare, throws the same foal every year, and Heather is one of her nicer ones. Brian kept the filly this year, the most like Heather, and she will go into the racing stable and follow the same program like Killer Graces.”

Seeing clients like Kahn succeed with the horses they raise is important to Clarke and Doyle. They thrive when their clients thrive, and that has been a challenge for every horsemen in the Bluegrass the past several years. But Atlas has ridden the rough times out and looks forward to better things.

Clarke noted that “we have about 50 mares, another 10 seasonal, with yearlings and foals. It’s an uncertain business, as the past few years have reminded us, but when it goes right, that makes it all worthwhile. It’s a passion that gets rewarded and deservedly so.

“We’ve got some great land to raise horses on, which has been developed now for several years. The yearlings chill out there and do really well. The only issue is paying for it, and we keep it full and stay busy all the time. Everything is rolling along, and right now there looks like there’s a glimmer of hope for better days ahead.”