Carrie Willwerth Brogden established Machmer Hall in 2001 in Paris, Ky., with husband Craig Brogden and mother Sandy Willwerth. The commercial operation is named after a building that honors Carrie's great-grandfather, who was once Dean of the University of Massachusetts.
A graduate of James Madison University in Virginia with degrees in psychology and biology, Carrie Brogden took time out of a busy schedule that included a trip to Ocala for the recent OBS Winter Mixed Sale to answer questions about the farm's recent successes – both in the sales ring and the racetrack – punctuated by Spellbound's victory Jan. 19 in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita Park. Spellbound was bred in partnership with Darley and sold as a weanling for $190,000 by Select Sales, in which Carrie Brogden is a partner.
From a practical standpoint, what does it mean to a breeder when a filly like Spellbound gets her first graded stakes win?
It has just added to the “pinch me” year that we have had. I think having a filly like Spellbound, out of a mare that we foaled, named and raised, like the dam of G3 Old Hat winner, Sweet Whiskey, gives credit to the program that has now taken over a decade for us to grow. In addition, it is great having a major horse run on the West Coast now. Most of the major runners off our farm, with the exception of the G1 winner Black Seventeen and 2013 G2-placed Miss Pippa, have run on the East Coast.
Spellbound was a foal share with Darley. Was that unusual for Machmer Hall?
VERY. We have done only four in six years. Two to Bernardini as Spellbound's dam is back in foal to him on a foal share with a buyout clause, one to Distorted Humor and one to Midnight Lute. I really feel that if you have a mare on your farm you pay all the bills on, you should be proud of putting a stud fee into her. The reason that we bred Layreebelle to Bernardini is we thought it would give her a chance of having two big runners for her with stud fees that we would not normally spend that much on. We always keep our stud fees to $75,000 and under. Layreebelle is booked back to Animal Kingdom for 2014.
You, your mother and husband Craig established Machmer Hall in Kentucky in 2001 when the state's breeding industry was healthy. The financial crisis really hurt the business and forced some breeders out. How did your operation get through that period?
With our line of credit that, thankfully, Fifth Third let us maintain. I think now all the people that survived, stayed in it, tightened their expectations and improved their broodmare bands can reap the rewards related to supply and demand now propelling our industry.
Timing is obviously very important when making buying and selling decisions. What factors go into a decision to sell a mare like Life Happened (the dam of multiple graded stakes winner Vyjack), who was purchased for just $4,500 and sold for $750,000 in November?
She became too valuable for me to sleep comfortably at night. We do not treat any of our horses any differently no matter what their value. When the half sister to Zenyatta was prepping on Machmer Hall for the sale, she was treated just like all the other sales foals. I think that if you are going to have mares in that league, you need to have 10 of them to spread the risk. The only bad thing to Layreebelle and Baby Betty, the dam of current GSW Sweet Whiskey, is that they are named after dear family members. Layreebelle is named after my children, Layne.. Reece and Isabelle. Baby Betty was my much beloved Grandmother's nickname as a child and tears sting my eyes just as I type this thinking of her and how much she meant to me when she was alive. My future advice to all breeders would be to not name any horses after deceased relatives to take the emotion out of it if they ever come up for sale.
You're a big believer in the importance of the land where horses are raised. What differences do you believe the land in Kentucky makes?
Well, I have seen it with my own eyes time and time again. Our mares were the same that they had been in Virginia and had not really produced squat. When we moved them here to Kentucky, multiple G1 winner Premium Tap was from the first crop of the foals we foaled and raised in Kentucky.
We have since greatly and drastically improved the quality of our broodmare band but most of the time we spend in the $75k and under range to acquire these mares. I think that the land is absolutely tremendous in Bourbon County, Kentucky. There were five Kentucky Derby starters in 2013 all raised in a six-mile radius of our farm. That says something.
What philosophy does Craig bring to the operation from his background as a horseman in Australia?
He had worked for several programs but he always told me that he learned the most from the late great Dr. McCarthy at Watercress Farm. You can have the greatest land in the world but if the horses are not raised out on it, tough and strong in big groups, the land does you no good. Craig worked in two farms in Australia. Horses are handled a lot less while they grow there and are raised in giant thousand-acre fields, but he saw the bone and soundness created with the hearty growing. Our foals/yearlings only ever come in at night during freezing rain and that would be a rare occasion. They do come in Monday-Friday in the a.m. to eat breakfast, get looked over and get their feet picked out and then they head back out. I cannot express how much I believe that this land in several counties of Kentucky is different, magical and amazing to anywhere else in the U.S.
Does it hurt the commercial appeal of horses to raise them in this manner?
Just look at our sales results. :) We have a rigorous but not over-kill yearling prep program. I do think that this program has helped me going forward to the 2-year-old sales many times … supporting horses that would otherwise be hit for bogus vet issues (that is another article!) that I know are sound.
I will say that if yearlings have problems or unsoundness in yearling prep, I have often seen that translate to the same problems on the track. Several of the 2-year-old consignors have learned that about me and will ask me what I think about a horse that Machmer Hall has raised before they buy them. Our personal philosophy is that the only day they have to look like sales horses is the day they step onto the sales grounds. The rest of the time, they should look like and be treated like racehorses.
What do you think is driving the current resurgence in the bloodstock market?
Supply vs. demand mostly, the favorable tax laws, breeder's incentives and a more positive feel about the economy.
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