Lebherz, Metanovic See Big Returns Supporting Smiling Tiger On A Budget

by | 12.26.2018 | 9:57pm
Miss Sunset and jockey Mike Smith win the $100,000 Spring Fever Stakes, Sunday, February 25, 2018 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA.© BENOIT PHOTO

Bloodstock agent Mersad Metanovic was given fairly simple marching orders from Phil Lebherz during the 2013/2014 mixed sale season: Find mares to support his new stallion Smiling Tiger, and do it as frugally as possible.

Two of those broodmare purchases – Tuscan Sunset and Perfect Feat – were secured for a combined $43,500, and they've since accounted for over $2.9 million on the racetrack and in the auction ring on their own account and through their foals.

Though they were both part of Smiling Tiger's first book, the ways the two broodmares have benefitted the owners, bloodstock agent, and stallion have stemmed from diverging paths.

The working relationship between Metanovic and owners Lebherz and Alan Klein was already strong by the time Smiling Tiger was retired to stud. Metanovic had a hand in the $40,000 purchase of the horse through trainer Jeff Bonde at the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Summer Yearling Sale, and Smiling Tiger finished as a multiple Grade 1 winner. In 2012, Metanovic bought eventual champion juvenile She's a Tiger for the owners.

Though they'd been successful on the track, the ownership group was inexperienced when it came to owning broodmares, much less standing a stallion, but they knew they needed the former to ensure the success of the latter.

“We were all learning as we went along,” Metanovic said. “[Lebherz] gave me a very small budget of what I could buy, and I just started looking around California and Kentucky.”

At the 2013 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, Metanovic landed the $36,000 Tuscan Sunset, a winning Trippi mare with a modest produce record, in foal to Into Mischief. The covering sire's first foals were 3-year-olds, and the appeal of his early runners was as much an attraction as anything the mare brought to the table herself.

“The fact that she was carrying an Into Mischief was the big reason,” Metanovic said. “She had a good physical, she had a good walk to her. She was always good-minded. She was clean, good-footed. She had all the attributes that I'm always looking for in a mare. I just totally believe that you've got to have good feet.”

The partnership added Perfect Feat, a winning Pleasantly Perfect mare in-foal to Acclimation for $7,500 at the 2014 Barretts January Mixed Sale. The mares were brought back to Lebherz's Premier Thoroughbreds in Oakdale, Calif., to foal out and prepare to enter Smiling Tiger's first book.

Tuscan Sunset's impact on the operation came quickly and in big swipes. The in-utero foal she carried through the sale ring became Miss Sunset, a filly kept by Lebherz and Klein, and placed in the barn of trainer Jeff Bonde.

After dominating the California-bred stakes ranks at two and three, Miss Sunset was successful in her first graded stakes attempt, taking the G2 Raven Run Stakes in 2017. She continued to compete regularly in graded company, and she finished her career with a start in this year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Churchill Downs, with final career earnings of $891,895.

“We had offers on her, but there was no reason not to try for the Breeders' Cup,” Lebherz said. “She'd already proven her value.”

Already in Kentucky for the Breeders' Cup, Lebherz and Metanovic followed Miss Sunset from Churchill Downs to the Fasig-Tipton November Sale, held a day after the race, where the filly sold to Breeze Easy LLC for $825,000.

Tuscan Sunset had two Smiling Tiger foals after Miss Sunset, but when the decision was made to enter her in this year's Keeneland November sale, Premier Thoroughbreds farm manager Dennis Yokum suggested sending her to a Kentucky stallion to appeal to the commercial market. They chose Claiborne Farm rookie Mastery, and sold the mare to SF Bloodstock for $200,000.

“Our expectations for Miss Sunset were around $750,000 to $800,000, and we got $825,000,” Metanovic said. “With the mother, we thought that was about right. Maybe we left a few bucks on the table, but when you buy her for $36,000 and the returns are at almost $2 million, how greedy can you be?”

Having just let go of two valuable commodities to his broodmare band, Lebherz bought two mares at the same Keeneland November sale, one in partnership with Klein. Both were daughters of Pleasantly Perfect, with a combined purchase price of $108,000.

Lebherz said the logic behind those purchases came from the success Perfect Feat, the Pleasantly Perfect daughter who has become incredibly successful when paired with Smiling Tiger.

Her first visit to Smiling Tiger resulted in Spiced Perfection, a filly who on Wednesday gave her sire his first G1 winner when she took the La Brea Stakes on opening day at Santa Anita Park.

The following season, Perfect Feat had the colt Cruel Intention, who is unbeaten in two starts in his juvenile campaign. He won on debut by 5 ½ lengths, then took the Golden State Juvenile Stakes by a neck, both at Santa Anita.

Neither of Perfect Feat's runners by Smiling Tiger campaign for Lebherz and Klein, but the benefits of their success were clear, and look to become clearer with the newly-minted black type. Spiced Perfection sold as a yearling from her sire's first crop for just $6,500. Two years later, Cruel Intention topped the California-sired offerings of this year's Barretts Select 2-Year-Olds In Training Sale, going to bloodstock agency Solis/Litt for $200,000.

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