When you visit Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, it’s easy to sense the history of the land as you walk the grounds. After all, the farm has been managed with great care and attention by the same family for six generations. Since 1962, when Alice Chandler inherited 286 acres and four broodmares from her father, Hal Price Headley, Mill Ridge has invested in the long-term breeding and raising of winning thoroughbred racehorses.
Your investment in buying and selling thoroughbred racehorses should take the same long-view approach. It’s something thoroughbred bloodstock agent Headley Bell and his family know a lot about.
“When working with a thoroughbred bloodstock agent, it’s important to think about time,” says Headley Bell, principal agent for Nicoma Bloodstock since 1979 and Managing Partner of Mill Ridge Farm since 2008. “It can’t be understated--this is a long-term investment. When you visit Mill Ridge and see foals and mares, you get a better understanding of what that consists of. It’s a long, patient game, but it begins with falling in love with a horse.”
Broodmares and Foals
Although there are several investment classes in buying and selling thoroughbred racehorses, Mill Ridge and Nicoma Bloodstock have been extremely successful when it comes to breeding and raising celebrated thoroughbred racehorses. Broodmares and foals at Mill Ridge Farm are cared for with the highest level of attention in the industry. They’re allowed the space to grow and be nurtured as foals--it will take four to six months before they are weaned (no longer nurse on the mare)--with the long-term goal of racing in their not-too-distant future.
How long is the long-term when purchasing a broodmare? Consider this: if you don’t purchase a broodmare in foal, you must first pair the mare with the chosen stallion based on the bloodlines for both horses -- known as mating. Which horse has endurance? Which has spontaneous speed? All factors are important when mating two winning lines. Once pregnant, the mare is considered “in foal” with a gestation period of 11 months.
“If you're lucky, that mare will give birth to a healthy foal,” says Headley. “And we never take that for granted. We have a very skilled foaling team but we’re always dealing with nature.”
If your goal is to sell that foal, that can’t happen until the fall of that year after it’s been weaned. There are other factors involved as well, but as it is, it will be several years from the time you purchase your broodmare before her first foal can even train to be raced, let alone take to the track.
The risk and potential of buying a pregnant broodmare, a broodmare with a foal on its side, or purchasing a weanling are exciting and dynamic factors to consider when you’re investing in racehorses.
Easter Bunnette, Dam of Havre de Grace
In the early 2000s, longtime client of Nicoma Bloodstock, Nancy Dillman, was interested in upgrading her broodmares. Mrs. Dillman, who owns a small farm outside of Louisville, Kentucky, had developed a reputation as a savvy breeder with a good eye for bloodlines and pairings. It just so happens that Mill Ridge was offering a mare that attracted Mrs. Dillman because of her pedigree and potential. The mare, Easter Bunnette, was by a leading broodmare sire, Carson City, and out of a foundation family in Toll Booth, who had been recognized as “Broodmare of the Year” in 1991. Headley supported Mrs. Dillman with this observation because a strong pedigree is the foundation for growth.
Mrs. Dillman bought Easter Bunnette utilizing Headley and Nicoma Bloodstock and the next step was to plan the mating for the next year. Together, they chose to mate Easter Bunnette with Saint Liam. Selected for his size, Saint Liam had been the 2005 American Horse of the Year, and was seen as a good match for Easter Bunnette.
“Nancy Dillman really liked the blend of these two. She understands the dream and the unknown that comes with this industry,” says Headley.
The union of Easter Bunnette and Saint Liam went on to produce a filly foal who was born at Mill Ridge in 2007 and raised at Mrs. Dillman’s farm. She returned to Mill Ridge as a yearling to begin her sales prep and was sold in the fall of 2008 to Rick Porter for $380,000. Mr. Porter named her Havre de Grace and she went on to have an exceptional racing career, earning over $2.5 million racing and named the 2011 Champion and Horse of the Year. Havre de Grace sold in 2012 for $10 million.
Risks and Rewards
Headley sees a part of his role as bloodstock agent is in assisting buyers to grow patience and understanding with the highs and the lows of the horse business. It’s important to understand that even the best bloodstock agents can’t keep you from the disappointments that can come along the way, yet they can share the wins and successes that will come with it, too.
Headley says, “It’s going to break your heart, so prepare yourself for that. A 25% win rate will get you into the Hall of Fame. That means even the best of the best lose 75% of the time.” He pauses. “Fall in love anyway.”
There are several different asset classes to participate in buying and selling thoroughbred racehorses. Mill Ridge and Nicoma Bloodstock have been extremely successful when it comes to breeding and raising celebrated thoroughbred racehorses. At Mill Ridge Farm, the future racehorse’s journey starts with the broodmare’s conception and her care. Following a healthy birth, both mare and foal are loved and raised at Mill Ridge with the highest level of care and attention in the industry.
But the choice of owning a broodmare starts with a love of the horse and curiosity of how to breed a stronger, faster, more talented athlete. The dream of the winner’s circle is ever-present. Just as Nancy Dillman and Headley chose Saint Liam for Easter Bunnette, when you own a mare, you choose the father of your foal through selective mating. Nicoma Bloodstock has assisted in the matings of two Champion Horse of the Year’s (Havre De Grace (2011) and Bricks and Mortar (2019)) and two Kentucky Derby winner’s (Barbaro (2006) and Street Sense (2007)) just in the last fifteen years.
When considering investing in a broodmare it is important to be patient, because it will take more than three years to see your decisions come to fruition. Once you have selected a father for your prospective foal, your mare will be pregnant for 11 months. The magic and relief of having a healthy foal starts the next part of the journey. Your foal will be with its mother for four to six months before becoming a weanling. On January 1, which is every thoroughbred’s birthday, that weanling will become a yearling. The yearling year is spent growing from an awkward young horse to a strong athlete. In the late fall/early winter of their yearling year, they are taught how to be ridden.
Hopefully, the next year, your foal--the decision you made three plus years prior--will be heading to the starting gate for its first race, now as a 2-year-old. The risk and potential of buying a broodmare and foal are both exciting and dynamic factors to consider when you’re investing in racehorses in this investment class.
“I’ll tell you what,” says Headley. “You need to fall in love with the horse, the competition, the experience, something that allows you to be vulnerable enough to deal with nature. And if you do, it’s as great a ride as you could ever imagine.”
Interested in learning more about broodmares, foals, weanlings, and two-year olds? Want to see how they are raised for yourself? Schedule a tour of Mill Ridge Farm today through Visit Horse Country, or call us directly at (859) 244-1000.