Wildcat Red won the Hutcheson. Three weeks later, he won the Fountain of Youth. If the Kentucky Derby were tomorrow, he’d be a major player. Thirteen-hundred miles to the north, his sister awaits a date with Despite The Odds, D’Wildcat, Paynter or some other classy stallion.
And Peter Alafoginis counts his blessings.
In late January, the Pennsylvania breeder adopted 6-year-old Thoroughbred mare Indian Sugar from the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program – paying the fee with his credit card – in late January. A few days later, her half-brother leapt into the 3-year-old picture with his first graded stakes win. Then he won another, better, more important one.
“They say if you add preparation to opportunity that’s when you get lucky,” Alafoginis said with a laugh Friday afternoon. The preparation started with creating a relationship with New Vocations, continued with gaining a reputation for taking good care of his horses and cemented itself with doing enough research to make an educated decision once opportunity arrived.
The rest is luck, and he has been fielding telephone calls, and mulling his options, for much of February. He and his wife Mary own Northern Tier Farm in Lawrenceville, north of Williamsport and pretty much everything else in the Keystone State. They’ve stood a few stallions (Discreet Cat’s brother Pretty Wild for one), foaled a few mares, bred a few winners, raised three children.
Through a relationship with Anna Ford at New Vocations, Alafoginis has adopted Thoroughbreds as riding horses and helped others locate retired racehorses through the program. Along the way, he mentioned that he’d be interested in a broodmare prospect if one ever came along. New Vocations doesn’t normally put horses up for adoption as potential broodmares, but Indian Sugar was a special case.
She ran 22 times on the flat, winning twice, then was sold to trainer Jazz Napravnik as a potential steeplechaser early in 2013. Indian Sugar injured a hind leg while training and couldn’t race again. Napravnik called New Vocations, and the mare went to the program’s Pennsylvania division in Hummelstown.
“She had a pretty bad soft tissue injury behind,” said Ford. “We gave her eight months of stall rest. She was pasture sound, but she was not going to be a riding horse.”
Ford looked up her pedigree. The daughter of Congrats and the Miner’s Mark mare Racene is not Thoroughbred royalty, but there’s a little something there. Racene placed in a Grade 3. Her first foal to race, Racing Machine, was a champion in Jamaica. Two other foals were winners. Wildcat Red, when Ford did her first research, was a maiden winner.
Ford called Alafoginis, who thought it over, pulled up some race records online and eventually agreed to the adoption.
“I just picked up the phone and called him, knowing he really does take care of his horses,” Ford said. “We don’t promote breeding the mares. Our first and foremost goal is to find them a riding home. On occasion, due to soundness or behavior issues, mares that don’t have that option might have some value as broodmares. They still need to be found a good home.”
Bred in Florida by Moreau Bloodstock, Indian Sugar won her second lifetime start, in 2011, and was claimed for $12,500 at Gulfstream Park by trainer Ferris Allen. She weathered a weird leg infection at Delaware Park which put her on the shelf for five months in 2011. She lost 15 consecutive races and finally came through with another win in September 2012 – a $5,000 claimer at Timonium. Four starts later, she was out of options.
“We try to claim well, conformationally, and she was tall and leggy and rangy with enough bone,” said Allen. “She wasn’t perfect, but she was a nice looking filly and we liked her.”
Allen blamed the leg infection, which caused prolonged major swelling, for at least some of Indian Sugar’s racetrack failures.
“In the end they thought it was some kind of bite – a snake, an insect, a spider,” he said. “It was very strange. She was on every antibiotic in the world to get rid of it. She got sound and she ran, but I don’t think she was ever quite herself or as good as she could have been, after that.”
The trainer called Napravnik, and Indian Sugar did some early steeplechase training only to get hurt and move on to New Vocations.
Ford said less than 5 percent of the program’s adoptions are broodmares, but Alafoginis surely lucked into one of the best. Indian Sugar’s value jumped considerably after the Hutcheson, then increased again when her half-brother took the Fountain of Youth.
“When I looked up the family, Wildcat Red looked like a promising horse, but I didn’t expect this,” said Alafoginis. “He had won two races at that point. Indian Sugar is a very kind, good-tempered mare. She’s correct, she’s an attractive mare, her personality is just great. And she’s not a slouch in the field. Nobody bullies her around.”
Adoptees from New Vocations are meant to be kept, and Alafoginis figures he’ll keep Indian Sugar as a potential huge addition to his small broodmare band. The stallion decision will have to wait a bit, however. He has dealt with Taylor Made Sales Agency in Kentucky on sales horses for years, and ran the mare past that farm’s Hunter Houlihan who came back with the Paynter idea through WinStar Farm. Alafoginis also loves the looks of Despite The Odds, a new sire at Maryland’s Heritage Stallions.
“I’d like it to be a longterm investment where you’re selling foals out of the mare,” he said. “If it continues on, and I’m hoping it does, we could have a real blue hen mare.
“But we’re going slow and trying to make up our minds. We’re still taking suggestions.”
And feeling lucky.