Next Shares' impressive score in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland on Oct. 6 caught many off guard, as evidenced by the Archarcharch gelding's 23-1 odds, but David Meah saw it coming from 2,100 miles away.
Eleven months earlier, Meah was seated in the Keeneland sales pavilion signing a $190,000 ticket for Next Shares late in the evening of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale's racing-age sessions. In doing so, he placed a heavy bet on himself, his eye, and the horse that paid off, and could continue to do so in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Meah watched the Shadwell Turf Mile from his southern California home with his daughter Skylah after they were done setting up the stable for his wife, trainer Anna Meah, at Santa Anita Park.
“My reaction was a lot of yelling at the TV screen, cheering him on from about the five-sixteenths pole to the eighth pole,” he said. “Then I was pleading with the jock to gear him down and save it for Breeders' Cup, as he had already demolished his rivals; and there were some seriously talented Grade 1-proven horses behind him, so take nothing away from them.”
The racing-age auction market has become fertile ground for the bloodstock agent and exercise rider, who has developed a unique eye for an experienced runner.
Next Shares is the latest on a growing list of English-born Meah's successful purchases of horses that have been under tack, often at relative modest prices.
His recent hits from the juvenile sales include Grade 3 winner Gas Station Sushi. From the racing-age catalogs, Meah has picked up Grade 2 winner Madam Dancealot and Grade 1-placed Kathy's Song. He also had a hand in the purchase of Grade 1 winner Union Strike.
Meah's vested interest in bloodstock is still fairly recent, having begun down the path in earnest while working under trainer Richard Baltas, who has gone on to train many of Meah's purchases. Developing an eye for horseflesh is one thing, but Meah said what sets him apart is his knowledge of how the horse works from the saddle as an exercise rider, and how he can apply that to the horse he sees before him on the sale grounds.
“For me, I'm always around the horses and I get on the horses, so a horse of racing age is something I'm just with all the time,” he said. “Obviously, I'm galloping 2-year-olds too. I'm still training my eye for yearlings, but I love horses of racing age. I feel like I'm comfortable reading the form, whether it be here, England, Ireland, France, I've got a good angle on the form and a good read, and know a lot of people, so I can ask questions and get some inside intel.
“To top it off, having a lot of success with horses in training helps when you're trying to present one to someone and saying, ‘This one reminds me of Kathy's Song,' or ‘This one reminds me of Golden Apples, a filly I used to gallop,'” Meah continued. “There are a lot of things to compare to, and we're fairly proven with the racehorses, so I find it a lot easier to move the horses once they're bought.”
Of course, there is the perception that offerings in racing-age auctions are often of the “scratch and dent” variety. Meah acknowledged that finding a talented, clean-vetting horse in the sales can often pose a challenge, but it also offers its own advantages.
In particular, racing-age horses usually come with at least a few starts under their belt and significant time at the racetrack. This prior form can help Meah and his team analyze what has worked so far with the horse, and what a new set of hands could differently.
“With horses of racing age, obviously they're going to have little things here and there, but you've just got to see what you're willing to live with and what your comfort level is,” Meah said. “You know they've already been running. You know the trainer they were with previously and how they train. That's one thing me and the team tries to do, is get a gauge on how the previous trainer does things, so we try to learn all the time how the trainers train, what they do and don't do, and that gives us a good edge depending on where we want to send it, and who we want to send it to.”
Meah also stressed the importance of having a good veterinarian when assessing horses that have been through the wear and tear of racetrack training.
“We have a good vet, Dr. Phil Hammock, who we trust entirely,” he said. “He knows exactly all the people I buy for – who they are, how they train, their methods. He'll tell us, ‘This horse has got this issue, but with that trainer and the way he trains, you're going to be fine…This horse has a chip, something going on here, something going on there. You can work with this horse, you're going to be fine. Don't let it put you off. It's going to put some people off and you're going to get a discount.'
“We put a lot of money into the vet,” Meah continued. “We vetted 25 or 30 horses [at the Fasig-Tipton Summer Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale] and bought three, but if you don't vet one and pay $50,000 for it and you get it off the van three days later and it falls to pieces…we've got a $6,000 vet bill today, but we got horses that we trust can get off the van and go right to the races. You save money in the long run by vetting them out. You get one bad one and you've lost all the money.”
Meah described Next Shares as “an absolute ten” when he first put eyes upon him at last year's Keeneland November sale. The gelding had arrived to consignor Elite Sales' shedrow about 24 hours before he was scheduled to sell, having come straight from winning an optional claiming race at Aqueduct.
Then a 4-year-old, Next Shares came into the sale with a Grade 2 placing at age two, but he had since settled into the allowance ranks. Still, Meah was bursting at the seams thinking about the potential he saw in the horse.
“I didn't really think of anything else that night except how excited I was to see him again tomorrow,” Meah said. “The team hadn't seen him yet and I was raving about him all night, I called Richard [Baltas] in California and said I've found one we can't live without. We chatted about it briefly and I said we could maybe get him for around $150,000. We left it at that and said we'd talk about it tomorrow.”
“The first thing we did the next morning was go there and he had the team in awe (Nathan McCauley, Seth Wilkey, Nick Esler),” Meah continued. “He looked fantastic, and his legs were ice cold and tight. I was 125-percent committed to trying to buy him. I called Richard again and asked him to help fund the horse or call a few guys, and he said to roll the dice and go to $150,000, and between us, we could sell him after the fact.”
Next Shares entered the sale ring and the bidding quickly jumped to $130,000. The number continued to grind higher, eventually past the $150,000 price the team had agreed upon, but Meah was determined to take the horse home. He had the final answer at $190,000, but then he was faced with more questions.
“I was delighted but very scared, too,” Meah said. “I called Richard and told him I got him. When I told him $190,000, he didn't say much. At this point I start calling all my clients and everyone had the same opinion: he's four turning five and a gelding. How do we get that money back?
“I bumped into Mark Taylor of Taylor Made as I left the pavilion and he asked me if I was okay. I must have looked worried. I told him I just bought a gelding that will win a Grade 1 next year and I don't think anyone will buy into him. He said he would get the ball rolling and invested 10 percent, I was delighted. I just got one of the smartest men in the game – who only buys race fillies, if he's buying into racehorses – to invest into my $190,000 4-year-old gelding.”
It was a morale boost, but Meah was still financially in over his head. Later that night, he called a new client of his, Christopher Dunn, who eventually took a 45 percent stake in Next Shares. Others trickled in for pieces of the horse over the coming days – enough to cover the costs and put the gelding in training with Baltas. Michael and Jules Ivarone then entered the partnership in the spring.
Next Shares entered the race at Keeneland off a win in the Old Friends Stakes at Kentucky Downs, and his 2018 campaign also featured a runner-up effort in the G1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes and thirds in the G1 Shoemaker Mile Stakes and G3 Thunder Road Stakes.
With so many different parties coming together on the horse, a formidable crowd greeted Next Shares on the Keeneland turf course following his Shadwell Turf Mile win. Meah, the catalyst for it all, was not among them, but he knew he had a good horse well before the trophies were handed out.
“The first day I got on him my faith was assured,” Meah said. “He felt like one of the best horses I'd ever swung my leg over. He only jogged that day but he felt like a true rockstar and Grade 1 horse.”
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