With her victory in the Grade 2 Buena Vista Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 23, Vasilika (by Skipshot) now has won 12 of her last 14 starts, with earnings of $938,595, and that enviable record is made all the more remarkable by the fact that the first two of those victories came in claiming races.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer claimed the mare 13 starts back out of a $40,000 claimer at a mile on turf at Santa Anita. That was the fourth time that Vasilika had been claimed, and Vasilika was claimed for the first time out of a $25,000 maiden claiming race at Gulfstream Park in January of 2017 from owner-breeder Mikhail Yanakov, who races under the nom de course of Olympia Star, Inc.
In February of 2018, Vasilika was claimed by Hollendorfer, and since then, the chestnut mare has been nearly invincible. At one point, Vasilika had eight consecutive successes, culminating in a pair of G2 wins in the John C. Mabee Stakes and Goldikova Stakes, as well as her G1 victory in the Rodeo Drive.
Unbeaten in her two starts of 2019, she is far and away the best racer to date by the Kentucky-based stallion Skipshot, who ranks as the best racing son of his sire, Horse of the Year Skip Away (Skip Trial). A winner of 18 races, including the G1 Breeders' Cup Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup (twice), Hollywood Gold Cup, Woodward, Donn, and Pimlico Special, Skip Away earned $9.6 million and was also second in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Retired with considerable fanfare to stand at the Hopewell Farm of Rick Trontz, Skip Away was a fairish sire. He got 21 stakes winners from 511 foals but only four of those won graded stakes, and Skipshot was the only G2 winner. His full brother Skip Code won the G3 Grey Stakes at Woodbine, and Skipaslew (Golden Gate Derby) and Sister Swank (Valley View Stakes) completed their sire's list of graded winners.
That's not good enough in Kentucky, even more so now than 20 years ago when Skip Away entered stud, and G2 Swaps Stakes winner Skipshot was given no chance by Bluegrass pragmatists.
Even Dan Considine, who stands Skipshot at his Considine Farm in Bourbon County, told the owner that “they're not going to pay attention to this horse, not going to give him any real credit till this horse has two graded stakes winners. Then they'll look and say, 'Holy cow, this horse has done something!'”
Vasilika comes from the first crop by her sire, who has been largely supported by Yanakov. The breeder said that he had “around 35 to 40 mares that I used to breed to Skipshot, now just 15 mares or so. I think this year or next year, breeders will use him more.”
That interest has had to build bit by bit because of the lack of interest in sons of Skip Away, the commercial sale malaise from the Great Recession, and the relatively small number of foals that the horse had at the races until the last year.
At this point, Skipshot has 63 foals of racing age, according to statistics from Equineline, and that includes 16 2-year-olds. That is about half the number of a single season's foals by a contemporary popular and commercial stallion.
Yanakov, however, is accustomed to swimming against the tide of statistical probability. He acquired Skipshot, for instance, in a package deal of 20 horses in 2009. He said, “My friend in Russia bought Skipshot at a 2-year-old sale,” paying $120,000 for the colt at the 2009 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's March sale of juveniles in training.
“When he sold them to me,” Yanakov said, “including Skipshot, as part of the package, I give the good horses to Jerry” Hollendorfer. For Yanakov and Hollendorfer, the chestnut son of Skip Away won the G2 Swaps, was second in the G3 Affirmed at 3, and then third in the G2 San Pasqual and G3 Tokyo City Stakes at 4 and 5. Then the owner needed a place to stand his star racer at stud.
Yanakov and his friends in Russia had come to know Considine through his extensive quarantine services for horses coming into or going out of the country.
Considine said, “We do stallion work all the time because we help a lot of the farms to shuttle stallions from Kentucky to the Southern Hemisphere and to other countries. So it's no problem for me to stand a stallion; everything is in place, and Skipshot is such a level-headed, solid kind of animal. That said, he is a stallion. He feels good, but he's easy to breed, good libido.”
As a result of their familiarity, “Dan already boarded my mares and babies from 2009,” Yanakov said, “and so I stand Skipshot there with Considine.
“Lots of people tell me not to breed to a Skip Away son, but I love him and his female family. I also know that he had only maybe 50 percent of his power because of multiple surgeries. So I know he was a very good horse, better than his racing record.”
With those insights and a determination to try this horse's stock on the racetrack, Yanakov has become a trainer for his own racing stable. “When I put Vasilika in a claiming race,” he said, “I told everybody, 'She's going to win by 20. She's a really nice horse.'”
I believe they are hearing him loud and clear now.
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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