LEXINGTON, Ky. — Victory in the G2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga put the Smarty Jones colt Backtalk in the winner’s circle for the third time in three starts.
Following an eye-catching debut over five furlongs at Churchill Downs, Backtalk became his sire’s first graded stakes winner in the Bashford Manor (G3), also at Churchill.
The colt’s most recent success in this week’s Sanford has made him one of the contenders among the leaders of his generation, and when getting up in the final strides for his come from behind victory at Saratoga, Backtalk looked quite like his maternal grandsire Affirmed and appears ready to tackle longer distances.
That opportunity is likely to come in the G1 Hopeful Stakes. Paul Bulmahn races Backtalk in the name of his Gold Mark Farm LLC, and Gold Mark’s farm manager Todd Quast said, “The Hopeful is the next logical place, but the thing about him is that he shouldn’t be winning at five and six furlongs. He should love a mile and more.
“We know how good he is, and we’re letting him tell us when he wants to go on to the next one. Tom Amoss is a very good evaluator of the horse’s condition and readiness, and he is a crucial part of developing this colt and putting him in a position to show his best,” Quast said.
Backtalk is also the most promising racer for Gold Mark in its short history. Quast said, “We bought the property in 2002, rebuilt it, and the 2,200-acre farm is now state of the art. We have outstanding facilities for stabling and exercising. This is a passion for Mr. Bulmahn, whose business in Texas is oil and gas, and my desire to work with the best was developed from 11 years with Wayne Lukas. From 2002 through 2006 we were building houses, barns, and the synthetic track.”
Now Quast is building Gold Mark’s racing stable and future breeding operation. He said, “We buy 20 to 25 horses every year with the intention of doing what Backtalk is doing. We buy about one-third colts, two-thirds fillies, and I train them on the farm in Ocala, along with horses from other select owners.”
In addition to his success for Gold Mark, the chestnut colt is also the latest gold nugget for the racing and breeding operation of John Sykes, who purchased the dam of Smarty Jones and sold her through Brent Fernung’s Journeyman Bloodstock after the chestnut son of Elusive Quality had established his classic credentials with victories in the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Retired to stud at Three Chimneys Farm after his only loss (in the Belmont Stakes to the highly ranked second-crop sire Birdstone), Smarty Jones drew enthusiastic support from some breeders, including Sykes.
In fact, his regard for the classic winner was such that he sent one of his best broodmares, the Affirmed stakes winner Apasionata Sonata, to the classic winner. Sykes had purchased the stakes-winning mare, once again through Fernung, for $325,000 at the Keeneland November sale just days after selling I’ll Get Along, the dam of Smarty Jones, for $5 million at Fasig-Tipton.
Fernung recalled the purchase and said, “Apasionata Sonata was a big, leggy mare who was maybe a little light in the hip. She had a big shoulder and forearm and had that longer, two-turn body. And she fit a criteria I was looking for, having a big enough body, enough length between withers to hip that gave her the space to carry a nice foal. She wasn’t as attractive as I’ll Get Along, but she had the same presence to her.”
“My pedigree considerations are a little different from some other people. That she was by Affirmed was a plus, and she was a stakes-winning mare, which was another big positive.”
“The foal she was carrying at the sale turned out to be [graded stakes winner] Bsharpsonata. For such a nice filly as she became, she was somewhat nondescript as a foal. She was kinda small and crooked early on but really improved when we put the tack on her, and she was all racehorse.”
Since the broodmare’s first foal was rather small, the mare was bred back to Giant’s Causeway, and Fernung recalled that Apasionata Sonata had a “giant moose of a colt, and I decided we needed to strike a balance here. Breeding her to Smarty Jones seemed to achieve that balance, and apparently worked pretty good.”
Backtalk was among the last crop of foals that Sykes bred at Cloverleaf Farm in Florida. In midsummer 2007, he acquired property in Kentucky that is now called Woodford Thoroughbreds and “sent that little guy [Backtalk] up to Kentucky when he was four or five months old,” Fernung recalled.
That was the last time Fernung saw Backtalk until “I saw him in the back walking ring at Keeneland when Todd Quast bought him [for $250,000], and he was by far the best-looking colt that mare had produced,” Fernung concluded.
Quast said, “Backtalk was a very good-looking individual. He was smart, and he carried himself well. Our plan is buy horses that look like athletes and have enough page that they could become stallions if they prove themselves at the racetrack. The year before we had tried to buy a filly by Smarty Jones named Be Smart, and I didn’t get her bought, but Wayne did and asked if I would break her, and seeing her physical type in this colt was a lot of the thought behind buying him.
“We had liked Be Smart a lot here on the farm,” Quast said, and she went on to race well at the track, winning a maiden special at Saratoga and then running second in the G1 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland.
He continued, “A lot of sires have their better runners in a particular physical type. A bigger, scopier horse that had a little more size were the most obvious traits Be Smart and Backtalk both possessed. And the athleticism they showed at a walk was there too.
“In fact, this colt got loose at the sale, and I got to see him make some moves that were a little different before I caught him, but it showed that he had some finesse and natural grace, along with good size, balance, and a big engine.”
All those qualities are aids to the chestnut star from the second crop of Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones, and Backtalk’s will to win has put him in the winner’s circle every time.