His name carries the weight of four generations of horsemen, and it rings out in the Thoroughbred industry just like the names of horses he has worked with: Barbaro, Street Sense, Havre de Grace, Artie Schiller, and Keeper Hill, just to name a few.
During the closing weekend at Del Mar, however, Headley Bell's name rang out in an entirely new way: the 63-year-old was announced as the official breeder of his first graded stakes winner. Juvenile colt Analyze It had just dominated the G3 Cecil B. DeMille Mile by 4 ¼ lengths in only his second career start.
“Of course, I was excited,” Bell said. “But what was most exciting was the way that he did it; he looks to be a very proper horse.”
Analyze It, from the freshman crop of Point of Entry, is the latest in a long line of talented horses to have been raised on his family's land.
Bell's grandfather, Hal Price Headley, operated the 2,000-acre Beaumont Farm where he raised and raced champions like Alcibiades and Menow. He is likely best known as the founder and former president of Keeneland.
Alice Headley, Bell's mother, was left 248 acres of Beaumont, which she re-christened Mill Ridge Farm. The farm eventually grew to over 900 acres. Hal Price Headley also left his daughter four mares, one of which was Attica (Mr. Trouble). On a 1964 mating to Sir Gaylord, Attica produced the future European Horse of the Year Sir Ivor, winner of both the Epsom Derby and 2000 Guineas.
Alice married South African-born veterinarian John Chandler, who had practiced in Newmarket, and Mill Ridge became one of the hottest places for Europeans to get into American bloodstock. John Chandler also served as the president of Juddmonte Farm for 25 years.
Headley and Chandler bred and raced Kentucky Oaks winner Keeper Hill and saw Mill Ridge-raised Point Given and Giacomo find victories in a trio of 3-year-old classics.
The Nicoma Bloodstock agency, which Bell started in 1979, was born with the goal to assist Mill Ridge clients with their mating and purchasing decisions; it was named for one of the farm's foundation mares, a five-time stakes producer. Two of Nicoma's earliest successes were Trempolino and Suave Dancer, both of whom won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
In 2008, Alice Chandler stepped down from the day-to-day management of Mill Ridge, and Bell took over. Price Bell, his son, started his active involvement in Nicoma Bloodstock in 2010, and the father-son partnership founded the increasingly popular Horse Country Tours business in Lexington in 2015.
“I have been extremely fortunate to work with the clientele of Nicoma and Mill Ridge,” Bell said. “It has been quite fulfilling. As the group begins to age, however, it has opened up some new opportunities.”
When the recession hit in 2008, Bell saw another opportunity at the sales. He began purchasing a select few mares on his own, and one in particular caught his attention at the 2014 Keeneland January sale.
Sweet Assay was owned and bred by Nicoma client John Toffan and consigned to the sale with Mill Ridge. The daughter of Consolidator, whose next two broodmare sires are Unbridled's Song and A.P. Indy, did not garner much attention in the ring, and when the bidding stalled Bell decided to bring her back to the farm under his own name: she hammered for $14,000.
“She was a very fast filly on the track, winning two starts in California at 5 ½ furlongs, and I thought she was a great value for the price,” Bell explained. “I've always been a fan of Dynaformer, and her purchase coincided with the retirement of five-time Grade 1 winner Point of Entry. I sent Sweet Assay to him because Shug McGaughey told me that the colt was one of the best horses he'd ever trained.”
The resulting colt, the mare's first, was Analyze It. He brought $130,000 as a yearling from Pat Hoppel at Keeneland and later $190,000 as a 2-year-old from Bradley Thoroughbreds. Racing for William Lawrence and trainer Chad Brown, the colt is undefeated in two starts this year.
“Pat is such a horseman, and Analyze It was one of the few horses he bought that year,” said Bell. “He always loved him in his early training, and it was outstanding that Bradley purchased him as well. It was fortunate that he got into the right hands from the start and was given every possible chance to succeed. It's very exciting.”
Today, Bell has a total of 12 mares in his own name at Mill Ridge. While acknowledging how impressive Analyze It has been in his short career, Bell laments the fact that Sweet Assay has been unable to produce another sibling thus far.
“Nature can be very cruel,” he said. “She had her second Point of Entry foal die of pneumonia, and she slipped a cover by Temple City the next year. She is currently in foal to Point of Entry once again for 2018.”
Watching his mother, at age 91, still driving herself to Mill Ridge every morning to oversee the farm's operations (albeit in a slightly less official capacity), Bell has found the business to be at a turning point.
His clientele is aging, and several are beginning to step away from the game. At the same time, the Thoroughbred industry as a whole is changing rapidly, and Mill Ridge/Nicoma is poised on the edge of that transformation.
“I believe it is an opportunity for someone,” Bell said, then clarified, “someone who loves horses as much as we do and wants to give them the best chance for success. Mill Ridge has the track record behind it, but a lot of people believe they can't get in here. Right now, there is an opportunity for the right person to join the team as Price and I carry on the family tradition.”
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