Insider Tips With Bloodstock Agent Headley Bell

Insider Tips With Bloodstock Agent Headley Bell

The Mill Ridge Team on Oct 15th 2021

Bloodstock Agents are crucial to successful racehorse investing

Tip #1: The Relationship

First things first: partnering with a bloodstock agent is all about the relationship. Headley Bell never forgets that.

In his office at Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, the walls are adorned with bookshelves, awards, and photos of thoroughbreds and their owners--his clients--in winner’s circles. As the lead thoroughbred bloodstock agent for Nicoma Bloodstock, the sales representation arm of Mill Ridge Farm, Headley Bell has been instrumental and influential in the horseracing industry for decades. He has served as the Managing Partner of Mill Ridge since 2008. But for his clients, he’s also a trusted advisor, a consultant, and a coach. Headley Bell considers the strength of those long-term relationships his greatest professional success.

History of Mill Ridge Farm

Since 1962, when Headley’s mother Alice Chandler inherited 286 acres and four broodmares from her father, Mill Ridge Farm has grown and prospered, raising and selling some of the best thoroughbred racehorses in the world. Headley Bell’s grandfather, Hal Price Headley, a renowned thoroughbred breeder and owner, was a founding officer and the first president of Keeneland. Headley founded Nicoma Bloodstock in 1979, following his graduation from Vanderbilt University. Since the beginning, six generations of the family have operated the land of Mill Ridge Farm, which now encompasses 900 acres. Today, Headley’s son, Price Bell, is the newest General Manager.

Alice Chandler at Mill Ridge Farm

Headley Bell’s experience and expertise as a bloodstock agent cannot be overstated, and the results speak for themselves. Known for raising and selling racehorses, Mill Ridge has raised or sold 36 G1 winners since 2000, with the most recent G1 winner Duopoly in 2020. This group includes eight Breeders’ Cup winners, one Kentucky Derby winner and three Horse of the Year titles.

Nicoma Bloodstock

Nicoma Bloodstock was named for one of the first mares Alice Chandler purchased, Nicoma, who produced five stakes winners. Since its founding, Headley Bell has become an expert in bloodlines, matings, buying, selling, and raising winning thoroughbreds, most recently assisting George Strawbridge with the mating of 2019 Horse of the Year, Bricks and Mortar.

“My goal is to assist our clients in fulfilling their dreams in the thoroughbred business,” says Headley.

His impressive client list at Nicoma ranges from well-known farms like Juddmonte and Darley Stud, to individuals like Gretchen and Roy Jackson, the owners of 2006 Kentucky Derby Winner Barbaro, as well as Gus and Jim Tafel, owners of 2007 Kentucky Derby Winner Street Sense.

Nicoma specializes, first and foremost, in the buying and selling of thoroughbred racehorses, including broodmares and yearlings. Other services include:

  • Matings
  • Consulting
  • Appraisals
  • Expert Witness Services

Successes

From 167 mares purchased by Nicoma:

  • 10% of the mares produced a Grade 1 winner.
  • 20% of the mares produced a Graded Stakes winner.
  • 32% of the mares produced a Stakes winner.
  • 46% of the mares produced a blacktype runner.

Headley Bell’s Tip: Finding the Best Bloodstock Agent

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“In finding the right bloodstock agent for a potential buyer, it’s really all about the relationship,” he says. “That’s the key. If you’re just getting started, talk to people in the industry. Talk to trainers and other owners. Research potential agent partners through the Breeder’s Association and through sales companies like Keeneland and Fasig Tipton. Do your research before entering into a contract with a bloodstock agent. The relationship is key,” says Headley.

Contracts with thoroughbred bloodstock agents usually outline Full Disclosure with commission percentage of sale and the terms of the agreement. You can use the standard industry contract through the TOBA’s Sales Integrity Task Force. Agents should abide by the terms of the contract, and it’s important that a buyer has a strong relationship built on trust. Never go into a partnership with a bloodstock agent without a contract.

“Once we have an understanding of your goals and objectives, we define a strategy. I take a long-term and disciplined approach in fulfilling these goals. We have been most fortunate to assist our clients reach the highest level in this industry and that is our greatest reward.”

“Fundamental for success is to grow a relationship together. This takes time, but I believe it is the foundation for fulfillment,” says Headley.

The Best Place to Start

Starting a conversation with a bloodstock agent requires the business savvy and level-headedness that have already led to success in a potential buyer’s professional life. Often, due to a lack of understanding, potential buyers may not apply the same business principles in this industry. That’s where the right bloodstock agent relationship becomes even more critical. As Headley says, the relationship is paramount: “Thus, the trust and relationship we grow with time can’t be understated.”

A potential buyer should begin by understanding their own motivations for buying a thoroughbred racehorse and defining where their interests lie. As suggested earlier, with an agent, discuss goals. Whether it’s buying a broodmare to breed, purchasing a foal to raise and resell (called pinhooking), or buying a yearling with the intention of racing, communicate with the agent and define a strategy.

“Our purpose is truly to allow people to experience this industry at the highest level. It’s not about numbers or revenue. It’s about growing a relationship and welcoming people into the Mill Ridge and Nicoma family. We are a family with two Hall of Fame plaques on the wall: for my mother, Alice Chandler, and for my grandfather, Hal Price Headley. This is the example that has inspired me every day.”

Becoming a part of the Mill Ridge and Nicoma family means falling in love with the horse and the thoroughbred industry. Headley believes this is key. “It’s all about the horse. You have to have a love of the horse to grow a successful relationship.”

When asked about his favorite part of the job, Headley says, “I don't really have one favorite part of what I do, my favorite part is simply all of it. Everything. We love helping people find success at the highest levels of the horse racing industry.”

If you’d like to begin a conversation with a bloodstock agent at Nicoma Bloodstock about potentially owning your own piece of thoroughbred racing history, contact us today at (859) 224-1000 or learn more here.