As the serving chairman of the Breeders' Cup, as the owner of Watercress Farm in Bourbon County, Ky., and the breeder of several dozen Thoroughbred foals annually (72 in 2017, for instance), Fred Hertrich III has a very serious and lasting commitment to the sport of racing and to breeding the Thoroughbred.
One of his proudest breeding achievements came last fall at the 2017 Breeders' Cup when the filly he co-bred, Rushing Fall (by More Than Ready), won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Rushing Fall has continued to show her quality this season, winning the G2 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland and then the G2 Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga last month.
The 2018 Saratoga race meeting was an especially memorable one for Hertrich, who is co-breeder of a pair of G1 winners from last month's sport at the Spa.
In the Whitney Stakes on Aug. 8, the Bellamy Road gelding Diversify ran the competition ragged to claim victory in the historic all-age event by 3 ½ lengths from Mind Your Biscuits (Posse). That was the third consecutive victory of 2018 for the 5-year-old, who earlier won the Commentator Stakes and Suburban at Belmont Park. Last season, Diversify won the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and is clearly one of the best older horses in the country.
Seventeen days later on Aug. 25, Catholic Boy (More Than Ready) tipped over the apple cart for a couple of the leading 3-year-olds in the G1 Travers Stakes, racing in second behind the Irish-trained Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy), then bounding away through the stretch to win by 4 lengths over the half-brother to champion Beholder and leading sire Into Mischief.
A pair of G1 winners at one of the saltiest race meetings in the world is no small accomplishment, and in a wide-ranging interview, breeder Hertrich offered his views on the pragmatic process of breeding Thoroughbreds.
With regard to purchasing Catholic Boy's dam, the Bernardini mare Song of Bernadette, Hertrich said that he and his partners “are always looking for mares. That's what we do. At the time, she was in foal to Bodemeister (Empire Maker), and we thought that Bodemeister was an up and coming stallion, liked the cover, the date. Another plus is that we thought she was one of the most correct and prettiest mares by her sire.” So, Hertrich acquired her at the 2013 Keeneland November sale for $140,000 and sold the resulting foal, the subsequent winner Chichmeister, for $150,000 at the November sale as a weanling the following year.
The bare facts of that transaction make the process of breeding and selling profitable racehorses seem simple. It's not. But then Hertrich is not taking a simple approach either. He said, “We're looking at mares every day in the private market or at the sales. What we do begins with what we see at the sales of yearlings, 2-year-olds, and on the racetrack. We are looking for certain characteristics in the mare, plus the covering sire, if she is in foal.”
Getting a reading on the athleticism and character of the prospective broodmares and sires to use in his program offers a lasting edge to Hertrich and his partners. And he said that ethic pervades everything they do in breeding stock at the 600-acre Watercress Farm west of Paris, Ky., on Highway 460 that he began with the late veterinarian Phil McCarthy more than 30 years ago.
“Every one of our horses is on my farm in Paris, with the exception to those participating in the New York program. About 10 would be foaling up there. We've been fortunate enough to sell some very good horses up there,” including Diversify, who sold for $150,000 at the Fasig-Tipton New York-bred selected yearling sale.
In addition to the New York-bred auction, Hertrich and partners sell at the Saratoga select yearling sale, Keeneland September, and the Fasig-Tipton October yearling auction annually, as well as spotting horses elsewhere, depending on their maturity and progress.
Placing a yearling in a sale depends on how the breeders and their team “analyze every horse and feel which point would maximize its potential. For instance, if a foal is very forward, we would sell as weanlings; most sell as yearlings in the auction that seems to fit their progress.”
Catholic Boy, for example, sold at the Keeneland January sale and is the first Travers winner to come out of the January auction.
Hertrich has a sense of humor about participating in the great gamble of breeding racehorses. He said: “We are commercial breeders. So, we have to breed to commercial stallions. There has to be a value in the stallion's progeny that will endure for two or three years because of the time it takes to get a foal, raise it, bring it to auction. If you catch Into Mischief on the way up, you are golden; if you bought into the Forestry myth when he was hot, you got crushed.”
Spoken like a sensible businessman who has won a few, as well as lost a few.
With “positions in about 25 stallions,” Hertrich and his partners are players in the great game for the long term. They obviously enjoy the challenge, and the thrill of victory is hard to beat.
And surely one of the great delights for them, as for any participant in the sport and business at any level is “possibility.” Although the game is not for the faint of heart, Hertrich advises men and women who love the fun and excitement of sport to enter with a long view of its potential: “The thing you don't want to do is come in and think you're going to buy the game,” he said. “It's too complicated and uncertain for someone to come in and smother the odds with money and expect outsize results.”
Instead, he said, work out a logical program, pick good people that you enjoy working with, and take pleasure in every success along the way. Not a bad way to look at sport or life, is it?
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in Central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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