Besilu Stables front and center this weekend

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Besilu Stables is all over the news this week. From the sands of the United Arab Emirates to the beaches of South Florida, Besilu is there.

First up Saturday will be Royal Delta carrying Besilu Stables’ maroon and white colors in the $10-million Dubai World Cup at Meydan. Then it will be Gulfstream Park carrying the sponsorship of Ben Leon Jr.’s rapidly rising operation when the $1-million Florida Derby is run for the 62nd time at the Hallandale Beach racetrack not far from Miami. Ahem, that’s the Besilu Stables Florida Derby.

The sponsorship of the Florida Derby is part of a multi-year contract Besilu Stables inked late last year with Gulfstream Park and The Stronach Group and also includes sponsorship of the Fountain of Youth Stakes, which was run Feb. 16. The sponsorship of the two key Kentucky Derby prep races is also part of Leon’s long-range and wide-thinking plan to build the Besilu brand.

Behind the brand and the name is an operation that focuses on quality.

“There’s really two reasons for the sponsorship,” Fabricio Buffolo, Besilu’s bloodstock manager said earlier this year from the front seat of his SUV parked in the middle of a large open grassy space on the Besilu property used on this morning for training colts by Curlin and Big Brown. “One is he’s new to the business, a new player. He wants to get the name out there and for people to recognize it and see Besilu as a top farm, a top stable.

“The other reason is he has a farm in Florida, he works in Miami, and goes to Gulfstream anytime we have a horse running. He’s giving something back to the horse racing industry. Gulfstream is a place he goes to a lot, he enjoys it a lot and it’s something he likes to do, to give something back.

Located about 300 miles to the north of Gulfstream, Besilu sits on 650 acres in the northern part of Florida’s horse-heavy Marion County. The farm is located on NW 193rd Street, not too far off Interstate 75 and on a mostly quiet road. Farms and homes intersperse and the area is quite different from other parts of the horse-heavy Ocala area.

Rolling hills give the road a feel not altogether different from Lexington’s Old Frankfort Pike, if you didn’t pay attention to the Spanish moss and Bermuda grass. Four board black fences line the property, which also is home to Leon’s collection of Paso Finos.

Successful breeding and showing that breed, Leon hopes to enjoy similar success in Thoroughbred racing.

Royal Delta, who is taking her second shot in the World Cup against a dozen others after finishing ninth last year, gives him a good place to start. The 5-year-old Empire Maker mare will eventually be part of the Besilu broodmare band, which numbers 17.

None of the Besilu broodmares live in Florida, however. They are boarded at WinStar Farm and Mill Ridge Farm in Kentucky, although the foals are raised in Florida once they are weaned. The farm features a stallion complex and breeding shed, but there are no plans to stand stallions and no plans to breed commercially.

The Besilu horses are broken on site and go into training under the supervision of farm trainer Joe Hennessy.

“We break them, get a good six weeks under them jogging and getting around the racetrack here, then we kick them out for like six weeks,” said Hennessy, an Irishman who worked with Leo O’Brien during that conditioner’s heyday training the likes of Fourstardave, Fourstars Allstar, Irish Linnet, and Irish Actress. “We just turn them right now. Now that they’re back, just jogging around, but we’ve got 600 acres and without even opening up a gate you can nearly get all the way around the whole farm.

“It’s a great education. It would be comparable to Fair Hill in a way, where you don’t have to go to the racetrack every day. And Mr. Leon, he’s big into turning them out. Just letting them be horses and have the range. Treat them great. It helps them, mentally and physically.”

Royal Delta spent time at Besilu shortly after Leon purchased her for $8.5-million at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. She sold at that sale just days after securing the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. She won the Ladies’ Classic again last year, but didn’t make a trip to Besilu.

“Not this year,” Buffolo said. “This year after the Breeders’ Cup she stayed at Payson Park.”

Bill Mott trains Royal Delta, like all his other horses in the winter, at Payson. They thrive there. Through Wednesday Mott’s trainees won 26 races from 109 starts at the current Gulfstream meet. He’s won another nine races from 18 starts at Tampa Bay Downs.

Royal Delta trained beautifully at Payson prior to her seasonal debut and raced even better, winning the Feb. 17 Sabin Stakes without barely taking a deep breath. She’s since turned in three breezes, all bullets, including a good five-eighths before shipping to Dubai.

Win or lose the trip to Dubai will most likely keep Royal Delta on the sidelines for a time as she recovers, leaving the door open for another well bred filly to step up and get some attention of her own. Tapicat, a $725,000 purchase at the 2011 Keeneland September sale, is also training well at Payson and her connections are looking at races at Keeneland as possibilities for the Tapit filly.

“At the moment she’s the best 3-year-old we have,” Buffolo said. “She won the Florida Oaks at Tampa, and we should run her at Keeneland in the Ashland [Stakes April 6]. She was third first time out on the dirt but then won three consecutive races on the grass, including the Florida Oaks. It’s a try going to synthetic, sometimes it translates well and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s worth a try though, for a Group 1. It’s good timing between her last race [Feb. 2] and the Ashland. There’s also the Appalachian and she would stay on the grass.”