Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: The Search For A ‘Lebron James’ Yearling

by | 08.09.2019 | 2:23pm
Josh Stevens with fiancée Leah Ward

Like all good Louisvillians, Josh Stevens was taught how to celebrate the first Saturday in May. There are parties to be held, heaping piles of delicious food, light-hearted wagering pools between family and friends, and any number of smartly coordinated dresses and bow ties befitting the occasion.

Every year Stevens would join his family around the television screen to cheer home the horses during the greatest two minutes in sports, and every year he fell a little bit more in love with Thoroughbred racing. No one in his family was directly involved in the sport, however, so a job working with these celebrity horses seemed like an unattainable dream.

The 30-year-old bloodstock agent's burgeoning career brought him full-circle earlier this year, and a horse he picked out of the OBS April sale entered the starting gates for the 2019 Kentucky Derby. The depth of Stevens' emotion touched on both pride and amazement in the weeks leading up to the Run for the Roses.

While Louisiana Derby winner By My Standards was slightly disappointing when finishing 11th at Churchill Downs, another 3-year-old colt has since taken up his mantle. Mr. Money, owned like his stablemate by Chester Thomas, captured Saturday's G3 West Virginia Derby to run his win streak to four straight graded stakes races this year, earning just over $1 million. 

“He's such a fun horse to watch,” Stevens said. “I'm very proud to have been able to help Mr. Thomas step into the upper levels of racing so quickly… As an owner, he had career earnings of $2 million when we started looking for nicer horses. Just this year he has earned almost that much again.”

Mr. Money, a son of Goldencents, was a $130,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale and always appeared to have talent. After Mr. Money broke his maiden last September, trainer Bret Calhoun encouraged Thomas to supplement the colt to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; he finished fourth after bobbling at the start and a three-wide trip.

It took a few more starts to help Mr. Money find his rhythm, including initially stepping him back in distance to a flat mile, but his commanding win in the West Virginia Derby could indicate the colt is ready for better competition. The Pennsylvania Derby is on the list of potential targets, as is a return trip to the Breeders' Cup.

Stevens, who started his own bloodstock business in 2014, still feels the need to pinch himself when he looks at the success he's found thus far. Mr. Money is not his only millionaire graduate; in fact, he's the third millionaire Stevens has picked out in just five years of operation.

The first two were both on behalf of Gunpowder Farm. Breaking Lucky, a $100,000 weanling at Keeneland November, reached the million-dollar mark in 2017 with multiple Grade 1 placings. Divisidero, a $250,000 yearling at Keeneland September, is a multiple Grade 1 winner and still running at age 7, with earnings of over $1.5 million.

“It's hard to believe because no one in my family was involved with horses, beyond a couple of backyard-types we sometimes rode around the house,” Stevens said. “So I just never thought a career in horse racing was an option, much less to find myself in the Kentucky Derby.”

His career got it's first boost when Stevens discovered the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program, and he latched onto the idea that working with racehorses was a real possibility.

“Most of the kids in my classes were the sons or daughters of trainers or owners,” Stevens said. “I started way behind the curve, but I think I've done well to catch up now.”

An internship at Margaux Farm was his first big step into the bloodstock realm, and Stevens stayed on for several years after graduation. When new client Gunpowder Farm wanted to step up their buying at the sales, Margaux encouraged Stevens to make the leap.

His business has grown organically since then, building on the success of Divisidero and Breaking Lucky and his connections with their trainers, as well as his short-listing technique of essentially ignoring the catalog page until the very last cuts are made.

“I want to buy an athlete,” he summarized. “It can be hard to describe what that looks like, but I'm looking for the Lebron James to come walking out of the barn. Then I'll look at his conformation to see if there are any flaws, and decide whether I can live with those, and finally I'll look at the catalog page to find out if I can afford him.

“A lot of times I'll follow one up to the sales ring just to see what happens, and he'll be outside my budget. But I think that's a good thing because I'm not lowering my standards just to be able to buy a horse. Then, when I follow one to the ring and I end up with the winning bid, I feel like I got the best possible horse for my client.”

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