When Always Dreaming pulled away from his opponents to win the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6, two of the people cheering loudest for the elegant bay were Irishmen from different counties of the Emerald Isle.
Those two were Mike Ryan and Gerry Dilger. Operating under the name of Santa Rosa Partners, they are the breeders of Always Dreaming. They bred the colt from the stakes-winning mare Above Perfection (by In Excess), who lives at Dilger’s Dromoland Farm.
The breeders “first met in Kentucky in 1976 or 1977,” Mike Ryan recalled. “I was working at Windfields Farm in Canada, had come down to the Keeneland July sale for my vacation, and Gerry was working at Murty Farm, which was the name of the property next door to Keeneland at the time, [now the Keeneland Entertainment Center and Library complex]. We have been friends ever since.”
The years between have been prosperous for the friends, and Santa Rosa Partners bought G3 winner Above Perfection for $450,000 out of the ClassicStar dispersal at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s 2006 November sale. The In Excess mare was then 8, had three previous foals, and was carrying a filly by Dixie Union. Twenty-one months later, the resulting yearling sold out of the Dromoland Farm consignment for $340,000 to W.K. Warren Jr. at Fasig-Tipton’s 2008 Saratoga select yearling sale.
Returned to the sales at Fasig-Tipton’s Florida sale in 2009, the filly sold for $435,000 to Grace Stables. Named Hot Dixie Chick, she became the first graded stakes winner bred by the Santa Rosa Partners, and Hot Dixie Chick’s greatest success was a victory in the G1 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga.
Now Hot Dixie Chick’s half-brother, Always Dreaming, is the partnership’s first classic winner.
Like Hot Dixie Chick, Always Dreaming was born and raised at Dilger’s Dromoland Farm outside Lexington. Dilger said, “Since this colt was born, he was nice. Always was a nice young horse that we thought had class. He developed into a nice-sized, straightforward yearling with good angles. We followed our usual sale approach in preparing him, and they’re all treated the same. The big majority are raised here, and the staff here work with them all along, trying to keep them happy.”
Always Dreaming, on his day in the spotlight at the September sale, had developed into a robust and very appealing type of premium commercial yearling. He had the size, the muscular development, plus the look and attitude of a serious racing prospect.
As a result, “we were very happy with what we sold him for. He showed himself well, took the sales experience very well. A number of people out there at the September sale were interested in him,” Dilger recalled. And that’s what made the colt sell so well.
The colt brought $350,000 from Steve Young, agent, and subsequently, a number of entities have purchased equity in the colt. The colt now races for MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, Teresa Viola, St Elias, Siena Farm, and West Point.
At that price, Always Dreaming ranked 11th among the 80 yearlings by Bodemeister that sold in 2015, and he is the most accomplished by far, thanks to his classic victory.
Dromoland has sold the past two Kentucky Derby winners. At the 2013 Keeneland November mixed sale, Dilger, Ted Campion, and Pat Costello purchased a weanling colt by Uncle Mo for $180,000 that they returned to the sales at the 2014 Keeneland September auction, where they sold the progressive youngster for $230,000 to Mike Ryan and Niall Brennan, who pinhooked him through the 2-year-old sales the following season.
At the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream sale of juveniles in training, that bay colt sold out of Brennan’s consignment to Dennis O’Neill, agent for Reddam Racing, for $400,000. Unbeaten at 2 and named Nyquist, that colt won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, was 2-year-old champion colt, and took home the roses at last year’s Kentucky Derby.
After Nyquist’s successful first campaign, Darley purchased the stallion rights to the colt, and Nyquist is standing his first season at stud at Jonabell.
One of the mares scheduled to be bred to Nyquist this year is Above Perfection.
Ryan is optimistic about Nyquist’s prospects, and he believes the mare fits the freshman stallion well. “She’s a big, strong, deep mare,” Ryan said. “Great substance to her. Stands about 16.1 – 16.2. Was brilliantly fast on the racetrack and has a great rear end on her.”
Those physical assets have been significant contributions to the mare’s two fastest foals, and Ryan said, “Always Dreaming covers the ground so effortlessly I think his mechanics – the way he moves – help him.”
The motion of the Derby winner isn’t the only thing that is moving. For the partners, like all breeders, “the day he won the Florida Derby was special because winning a G1 is a great accomplishment,” Ryan said. “Winning our biggest race here in the States is past anything. Breeding a good horse is a great satisfaction, but at this level, it’s amazing.”