The following post first appeared at Paulick Report.
Horses and stories go together. So it’s natural that most of the stallion prospects coming to Kentucky would have a back story. These range from the homespun charm of General Quarters, who was owned and trained by former educator Tom McCarthy, to the historic significance of Orb, who became the first Kentucky Derby winner for the Phipps and Janney families after decades of breeding and racing Thoroughbreds.
With a horse like Orb, he comes to stud as one of the highest-profile horses of the year, sporting a high-class race record with the gleaming Kentucky Derby trophy as its centerpiece. Furthermore, he is by one of A.P. Indy’s best sons in Malibu Moon out of a quality daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. So the story is icing on the cake.
For horses who don’t have websites or fan clubs but are considered significant enough racehorses to merit a chance at stud, the story can be critical.
One of the most interesting stories is the history of Keep Up, a 6-year-old son of leading sire Unbridled’s Song out of multiple Grade 1 winner Keeper Hill, a daughter of top broodmare sire Deputy Minister. Winner of the G1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs and Spinster Stakes at Keeneland, Keeper Hill was a star performer for co-breeder Mill Ridge Farm, which brought her home as a broodmare, and Keep Up is her fourth foal.
Born April 29, Keep Up was a good-sized foal, a robust weanling, and then an increasingly promising yearling. With his size, looks, and conformation, Keep Up would have been a premium yearling, but disaster struck.
When the grooms at Mill Ridge went to bring up the yearlings, the strapping bay was lame, and the veterinarians who examined him found the colt to have a fracture to the accessory carpal bone in his left knee.
It was an odd fracture, disheartening to those accustomed to handling the lively colt, and it should have spelled the end to an athletic career for the colt, perhaps an end to his life.
Headley Bell recalled that the “vets told us he had about a 10 percent chance to recover and race. But we took the chance, had the vet insert a screw to hold the fracture, and gave Keep Up seven months of stall rest.”
That Keep Up had the constitution to cope with the injury and the character to prosper during his stall rest is a tribute to the colt’s quality heritage and to the care he received from the staff at Mill Ridge.
The big bay was the house horse, from the farm’s great racemare, and his close association with the grooms and yearling staff made him a farm favorite. So when Mill Ridge sent the youngster into training, he carried a legion of hopes.
As often happens, the hopes took time to bear fruit.
Keep Up kept growing, and that, in addition to concern over his earlier injury, delayed his racing till the end of his 3-year-old season. The colt won a maiden special at Gulfstream the following year in his third start, continued to improve, and by the end of his 5-year-old season, he won three races in a row, including the Grade 3 River City Handicap at Churchill Downs.
The horse won another stakes this season at Arlington Park, and he retires with seven victories in 18 starts, with lifetime earnings of $300,545. That’s a good race record but not one that is good enough to earn a place at stud in Kentucky.
Unless there’s a reason to believe the horse possesses hidden potential.
In explaining the decision to keep the horse and stand him at Mill Ridge, Headley Bell said that personal considerations played a role, and “considering his pedigree, heart, class and imposing good looks, we wanted to give him a chance at stud.”
Bell noted that “this is also a practical business. As a result, we needed to find an approach that gave Keep Up a worthy opportunity, and after a good deal of consideration we decided that we would use the “Share the Upside” incentive program introduced by Spendthrift and successful with their stallion Into Mischief. This program allows the small breeder an opportunity to participate in a stallion and dream. We invite breeders to come to Mill Ridge and inspect Keep Up. They will like what they see.”
Keep Up enters stud for a fee of $5,000 live foal. Breeders who participate in the Share the Upside program with him will agree to breed a mare to the horse for two years at $4,000 on a live-foal contract and will earn a lifetime breeding right in the horse.
The stories we tell about horses have some themes in common, and one is that the next decision might result in the “chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance.”