Rick Abbott’s Horse Who Changed Everything

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Bloodstock agent, sales consignor and breeder Rick Abbott gives credit to broodmare Christmas Strike for changing everything. She produced nearly $1 million worth of horses to sell at auction – helping fuel Charlton, the sales consignment business Abbott owned with his wife Dixie. The Abbotts retired last year, and expected to enjoy at least a few more years of Christmas Strike and her foals. She died this month at 19.

We lost Christmas Strike last week and it has created a giant hole in our lives. She was only 19 when she died but she had been with us since she was a 3-year-old. The daughter of Smart Strike and the Green Desert mare Christmas Gift was unplaced in three starts at 2 and early in her 3-year-old year.

The way we acquired her is a funny story. She was in the 2001 Keeneland November Sale late in her 3-year-old year. Her breeder, Ned Evans, had retired her and she had been bred to Pleasant Tap on July 6, a very late breeding date. Lane’s End had consigned her for Mr. Evans and she had been an RNA for $19,000. One of my clients, Jon Green of DJ Stable, called from New Jersey and asked me to talk to Lane’s End and go look at the mare.

When I spoke with Callan Strouss in the back walking ring he said that they wanted $10,000 for the mare.

“Didn’t you just buy her back for $19,000?” I asked.

“Yes, but when Mr. Evans wants to get rid of one he really wants to get rid of one,” Strouss replied.

My friend Bill Maley and I went down to Barn 3 and saw a small filly (she was 3, remember) with somewhat offset knees but of a nice type. I called Jon and he said to buy her but only if I would take 50 percent. As we were leaving Barn 3 a group of people arrived and asked to see her. I was getting something out of my car when Bill said, “Hurry up; there go those people back up to the ring with a guy from Lane’s End.”

We hotfooted it up to the back walking ring, but Callan told me I had to see Lane’s End farm manager Mike Cline who was inside the pavilion. When I got around to the seats, Mike was on the phone and the other group was sitting in the row behind him waiting for him to hang up. I went down the aisle and told his assistant that I wanted to talk to Mike about Hip 1462. I was standing at the top of the aisle when Mike got up, still on the phone, and walked outside. A moment later, Mike knocked on the glass and beckoned me outside.

“Those people want to buy her too,” he said. “I know you and I don’t know them, let’s go to the office.”

And that’s how I ended up with 50 percent of a little, offset 3-year-old filly with a July 6 breeding date.

Her first foal, a colt born May 31 was a very slow starter in life. I wouldn’t say he was a dummy, but he required a lot of attention from my wife Dixie and our new daughter-in-law, Carter. He was a great bonding experience for them. But he grew into a tall, leggy colt that we sold at the 2004 Eastern Fall Sale for $37,000. Named No Passing Zone, he placed third in the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes and earned $185,000.

After the late foal we left Christmas Strike open and bred her the following year to Holy Bull. She produced a lovely tall gray filly that Michael Matz bought at Timonium for $100,000 for his client F. Eugene Dixon with whom I sat on the Pennsylvania Racing Commission. Named Holy Christmas, she was a winner and placed second in the Foxy J.G. Stakes but was plagued by knee problems throughout her career. Retired to the stud, her first foal is Holy Lute (by Midnight Lute) a California graded stakes winner of $517,677.

After foaling Holy Christmas, we bred the mare to one of my favorite horses, Out Of Place, and she produced a colt in 2005. We bred her back to Lion Hearted who was the hot freshman sire of that year.

ChristmasStrike2My partner decided to withdraw from the arrangement and so Christmas Strike and her Out Of Place colt were offered at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Winter Mixed Sale. Dixie and I bought out our partner – paying $39,000 for the mare and $9,000 for the colt. The following year we sold the colt at Timonium for $42,000 to Mark Reid on behalf of a partnership. Named Double Down Vinman and sent to Tony Dutrow, he had all of the makings of a good horse. At 2 he was stakes-placed at Parx and at Aqueduct but, because of an apparent breathing problem, ran in a lower-level claiming race and was lost. For his new owners he went on to win 20 races including the Lil E. Tee Handicap at Presque Isle and earn $540,204.

The Lion Hearted colt named Lion Strike won three races after selling for $70,000 and earned $79,127.

Christmas Strike’s next foal, a colt of 2008 by Stormin Fever, was named Agonistic. He is still running at age 9 and earned $361,983. He finally got some black type in 2016, running third in the Marshall Jenney Handicap.

Agonistic had sold in Timonium for $65,000 to Phil Fanning but from a commercial standpoint Christmas Strike was just warming up.

In the next three years she produced a $250,000 Timonium sales-topper in Market Strike; a $180,000 Harlan’s Holiday colt in Oklahoma Crude who was also a stakes-placed earner of $134,217 and a $195,000 Hard Spun colt sold as a weanling at Keeneland November in 2011. Incidentally, Christmas Strike’s half-sister, Ashland Stakes (G1) winner Christmas Kid, sold in that sale for $4 million as part of the Ned Evans Dispersal.

We have retained an interest in the mare’s 3-year-old, Glad Tidings (a gelding by Shackleford) which we own in partnership with Chuck Zacney and Dixie’s brother John Minnich. After an 11-year wait Christmas Strike finally gave us a filly to keep and race. She is a 2-year-old by Exchange Rate called Christmas Eve and is at Sylmar Farm preparing for the races. We can’t wait to see the foals she will produce for us.

In all, Christmas Strike’s foals, eight of which have sold for just under $1 million and, more impressively, of those eight, seven are winners, five have earned black type and they have earned, as of today, $1,352,838.

My friend Marshall Jenney once told me that to keep a large breeding farm solvent you need to hit a home run every three years. Marshall was the maestro of the home-run horse but for Dixie and me, Christmas Strike was the horse that changed everything.

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More from Rick Abbott about Christmas Strike:

What happened this month? “It was a shame. The last two years, she got pregnant and she was pregnant in September and when we check her in December she was empty. We sent her to Kentucky and she been intermittently lame for last while. Anyway, when she got down there she got real lame. They X-rayed her and all soft tissue structures in her ankle were shot. There wasn’t anything to do to fix it. She was only comfortable if you could keep her in a stall and we couldn’t see doing that to her. It was a tough decision, but I think we did the right thing. We’re going to miss her. She meant the world to us.”

How’s her last foals doing? “She’s at Houghtons (Sylmar Farm in Pennsylvania). She’s by Exchange Rate, named Christmas Eve – I tried to get that name in the fall and it was taken. Then I was looking on the newly released names last week and boom there it was. We’ll keep her to race. Her 3-year-old by Shackleford had to have some stifle surgery as a yearling. We bought him back at sale. Chuck Zacney bought half of him from us and Dixie’s brother bought a quarter. He’s at Houghtons too and will go to John Servis.”

What was she like? “Kind of a loner. Imperious would be the word I would use to describe her. She kept her own countenance. She wasn’t real friendly, but wasn’t mean either. She was kind of aloof, but not in a bad way.”

What did you learn from her? “Pedigree is important. She just had a beautiful pedigree even though she had physical limitations and wasn’t very big, but her pedigree came through. She was certainly nothing you would have looked at twice had you been looking for a big beautiful mare.”

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