Breeding two horses that win graded stakes in less than a week is a notable success, made more notable by the fact that John Mayer’s Nursery Place is a relatively small operation. Nursery Place, in partnership with Happy Broadbent and Jim Wilhite, bred the 5-year-old Hopkins (by Quality Road), who won the Grade 3 Palos Verdes Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 5, and the farm is one of three partners that bred the 3-year-old Litigate (Blame), who won the G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay six days later. (Editor’s note: The Jockey Club lists Nursery Place as sole breeder of Hopkins.)
Both horses were raised and sold by Nursery Place, as well, and through several decades of work in breeding and raising horses, as well as selling them, Mayer and his associates have developed a reputation for producing good horses.
As a result, the right buyers will have a look at them, and both the graded winners sold out of the Nursery Place consignments. Mayer said, “We were well-paid for them, and now we just hope that they keep on doing well for their owners.”
Bred in Kentucky, Hopkins is the second stakes winner and fourth stakes horse out of the Salt Lake mare Hot Spell, who was second in a stakes at Golden Gate. Her other stakes winner is Saratoga Heater (Temple City), and she has a pair of stakes-placed racers in Of a Revolution (Maclean’s Music), who was second in the G2 Gallant Bob and third in the G3 Swale, and Malocchio (Orb), who ran second in the Sorority at Monmouth.
With those kinds of relations, people came to see Hopkins when he was presented as a yearling, and they clearly liked what they saw because the powerful bay brought $900,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September yearling sale. Expected to travel to Dubai for the upcoming Golden Shaheen Stakes, Hopkins races for SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Golconda Stable, Siena Farm LLC, and Robert E. Masterson.
The Palos Verdes was the third victory in seven starts for Hopkins, who has a trio of seconds. His only unplaced effort was a sixth in the G2 San Antonio on Dec. 26.
His dam will be bred to first-year sire Olympiad (Speightstown) this year. On selecting the mating, Mayer noted that “a good many years ago, a wise man told me to breed quality older mares to promising young sires and my nice young mares to proven, older sires.”
With that philosophy, Mayer planned matings for his nice young Mineshaft mare Salsa Diavola. “We started her off like she was a good mare, with the mating to Ghostzapper,” Mayer said, “but it was the third foal (Litigate) who got her off the mark” with a stakes winner.
Bred in Kentucky by Nursery Place, John Donaldson, and Happy Broadbent, Litigate has now won two of his three starts, earning $182,590 for owner Centennial Farms. The bay was well-received at the 2021 Keeneland September yearling sale and sold for $370,000 to Centennial for one of its partnerships. Litigate was the top-priced yearling colt for his sire in 2021.
Now, Litigate is the second stakes winner of 2023 for his sire, who ranks as a top value sire in the Kentucky stallion market at $25,000 live foal. The stallion has Litigate on the Kentucky Derby trail, and his other stakes winner of 2023 is Godolphin’s Wet Paint, who will be pointing for the Kentucky Oaks in similar fashion to last year’s winner Secret Oath (Arrogate), who took the path from Oaklawn Park to Churchill.
The partners’ faith in Blame has paid off further. Litigate’s dam Salsa Diavola is in foal to Blame and “is due in a couple of weeks,” Mayer noted. The partners haven’t decided who to send her to in 2023 … yet.
“I’ve been partners with these fellows for 25 years,” Mayer said. “In doing this sort of thing, you develop relationships, and ours has worked very well. We normally buy young mares and sell them in foal. We got lucky, and it didn’t work out to get Salsa Diavola sold,” when she was bought back for $130,000 carrying her first foal to Ghostzapper.
Since then, the mare has become a graded stakes producer, like nearly everything in her family, tracing back through her dam Miss Salsa (Unbridled), the dam of G3 winner Pacific Ocean (Ghostzapper); her dam Oscillate (Seattle Slew), dam of stakes winner and sire Mutakddim (Seeking the Gold); her dam G1 winner Dance Number (Northern Dancer), the dam of champion juvenile Rhythm (Mr. Prospector); her dam champion Numbered Account (Buckpasser), dam of G1 winner and leading sire Private Account (Damascus); then back through multiple top producers to Numbered Account’s fifth dam La Troienne (Teddy), dam of champion Bimelech and several major producing lines, and herself a half-sister to Prix de Diane winner Adargatis (Asterus).
This is the family that keeps coming back, generation after generation. Litigate is the latest.
Mayer said that “this sort of success is great for my kids and for the people on the farm; it jazzes them up. But you can’t live on the expectation of having a week like that, not if you want to survive. There has to be something in it, day to day, that gets you out of bed and provides some kind of personal reward. Because, at the core, it’s just farming.
“But it has been a real nice week.”