Buying & Breeding The Best
Oct 19

Marvin Katz and his business partner Al Libfeld have been collecting high quality trotting broodmares for years. Their exquisite taste in bloodlines often had them bidding on six-figure yearlings. About six years ago the pair decided to change the way they do business.


From Above (Nigel Soult photo)

“We were breeding for ourselves and racing our own horses. We decided it would be best if we bred the mares, raised the offspring and sold all of the yearlings,” said Katz. The exception was an occasional filly to be retained for their broodmare band.

Last year the pair teamed up for their first Breeders Crown breeders credit when Martiniontherocks captured the two-year-old Crown Filly Trot at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. This year, with the Crown closer to the home base at Woodbine, Katz and Libfeld hope to witness two extraordinary colts from their foal class of ’09 when From Above and Magic Tonight go for the gold.

Katz still sounded extremely upbeat about the two prospects less than a week after the pair of colts they bred, captured back-to-back Grand Circuit divisions at Lexington’s famed Red Mile during the two-week stay in Lexington.

Though he wasn’t there to make the winner photo, Muscle Massive, a colt Katz co-owned, won the 2010 Hambletonian. When From Above won the Bluegrass Stakes two weeks ago, trainer Greg Peck asked Katz to join the owners in the winner’s circle and he happily obliged. “You get the same kind of feeling as the breeder as I did as an owner,” said Katz.

Both colts were sold as yearlings at the 2010 Lexington Select sale a year earlier with From Above going to Peck and Jeff Snyder, Patricia Bolte and Guida Racing Stable for $165,000 and Magic Tonight going Adam Victor & Son and trainer Noel Daley for $55,000.

“We had a very good sale in 2010,” noted Katz, “I believe we had the highest average price among all breeders at $66,000 from that sale.”

This year’s sale proved a little less successful but not because the Katz and Libfeld consignment lacked quality.

“We sold one for $180,000 and another for $100,000 in Lexington, but we didn’t have the numbers we expected,” continued Katz. Seven or eight of the mares that were in foal caught a virus and aborted their foals. It’s difficult to measure the loss, but Katz lamented that many had been in foal to the very popular second crop of Donato Hanover.


Magic Tonight (Nigel Soult photo)

With the colts drawn into the same elimination on Friday, October 21 right next to each other, it's even harder to separate Magic Tonight (post six) and From Above (post seven). The latter showed marked improvement from the first to second week of Lexington.

With Chris Loney in the bike for Peck in the Bluegrass, From Above was relaxed off the pace and rallied sharply in the stretch to score in a career best 1:57 mile. A week later Peck elected to put Brian Sears in the bike.

Sears, of course, was a guiding force behind Peck’s Horse of the Year, the sensational Muscle Hill. Again From Above tracked his rivals from off the pace, with Sears sitting patiently. In the stretch the son of Donato Hanover exploded past his rivals to post a confident 1:54.4 score in the International Stallion Stake.

For Magic Tonight it was an entirely different story. The Andover Hall-sired colt was aggressively handled by Ron Pierce in his first Grand Circuit test and just blew away his competition, coasting off by eight lengths and leaving heavy favourite American Gangster in his wake.

The 1:55.1 mile seemed to have the colt well within himself. A week later the fractions were softer and Pierce was able to conserve the colt a bit, posting another easy triumph in 1:55.4.

While both colts are of high quality, the difference in yearling price was more indicative of one being from Donato Hanover’s first crop, and the fact that From Above’s immediate family is identical to that of 2010 Hambo winner Muscle Massive.

Katz and Libfeld have remained staunchly committed to the breeding industry. But Katz thinks much needs to be done to divide the purse money percentages more equitably, with the breeders in mind.

“I just don’t think it makes any sense to offer $10,000 claimers a purse of $12,000, when yearlings purchased for $50,000 and above can’t race for a decent purse,” he said emphatically.

The grim reality is that too much of the purse pie is being spent on overnight horses and the result is a changing dynamic in the breeding business.

“You can see how the breeding business is contracting. Less and less mares being bred means tracks don’t have the depth of horseflesh to fill fields adequately,” said Katz.

Katz applauded the efforts in Pennsylvania and Ontario where yearling buyers can race in the main sire stakes or choose to race for less money in second-tier events.

“That is helpful, but you have to offer yearling buyers significant purse money to recoup on their investment,” offered Katz.

The recent rule change for future stakes races which calls for prospective stallions to race at four is a subject Katz touched on from a personal standpoint.

“We raced Dream Away and after he won the Meadowlands Pace and finished the year strongly we had the opportunity to stand him at one breeding farm and retire him, or go with another breeding farm and return him to the races as a four-year-old. We decided to go with Stonegate and bring him back at four. He ran into Red Bow Tie (a gelding) that year and finished second six times.” Needless to say Dream Away’s value as a stallion dipped significantly.

As breeders, Katz and Libfeld are hoping for big things to happen in the championship forum at Woodbine on October 29. To go along with the pair of talented freshman trotting colts they bred, the pair will also be rooting for Metro champion Simply Business, a juvenile pacing colt they own shares in with partner Sam Goldband and trainer Jimmy Takter’s group of Brixton Medical, Order By Stable and Lou Camara, the Muscle Massive partnership.

So is it more difficult to breed a Breeders Crown winner or buy one?

“They are both pretty hard to do,” maintained Katz.
(Jay Bergman for Breeders Crown)

 



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