The Outside Rail

Hockey and horse racing. Start a conversation about one or the other and you’re liable to get somewhere. I called Steve Wigmore about both two weeks ago. He owns a horse named after a hockey player I follow (the horse, Gostisbehere, is with Charlie LoPresti; the player, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, is in his second season with the Philadelphia Flyers) and we published a story last week about them that shed some light on both.

Wigmore, who lives in Pennsylvania, also bred 3-year-old colt It’s Your Nickel who dipped his hoof into the Kentucky Derby pool with a win at Turfway Park Saturday. The son of Dialed In won the John Battaglia Memorial in a romp, scoring by 6 1/2 lengths for Harold Lerner and Partners, trainer Kenny McPeek and jockey James Graham. The Kentucky-bred is a long way from McCraken status, but another win – perhaps in Turfway’s $500,000 Spiral Stakes March 25 – would change everything.

And make Wigmore’s big idea of going to the Keeneland September Sale on vacation look pretty smart.

It was 2004 and the pinnacle of a largely superficial interest in racing. As a kid, Wigmore went to Suffolk Downs with his grandmother. At Boston College, he met a guy whose family owned horses. He gave a copy of The Blood-Horse stallion register to Wigmore, who read every page. After college, he subscribed to the magazine. When Wigmore changed jobs in investment banking, and moved to the Philadelphia area, he took a few more steps. He drove to Chesapeake City, Md., just to see Northview Stallion Station – once the home of Windfields Farm and the legendary Northern Dancer. Wigmore met breeder Herb Moelis at a seminar for potential owners, then attended a Fasig-Tipton sale at Timonium. Wigmore and a buddy went to Keeneland for the Blue Grass a few times. Then came that trip to the sale.

“I took a two-week vacation and went to the September sale,” he said. “I didn’t know a soul.”

He met some guys from Seattle, jockeys turned trainers Richard and Dale Wright, who’d earlier gotten three names of potential advisors from Keeneland. Kentucky bloodstock agent Mike McMahon was one of those names and worked with the Wrights. Wigmore met McMahon and was “Mike’s shadow” for the rest of the sale.

“We were buying inexpensive horses for (the Wrights) to race at Emerald Downs,” said McMahon. “They met Steve just walking around at Keeneland and they introduced him to me, so he walked around with us. He was like, ‘Am I interfering?’ We like to have fun at the sale and told him to come on with us.”

The rest is a meandering path leading to a small band of four broodmares, a breeding right to Dialed In, some wins (and a few losses) in the sales ring and a handful of racehorses.

At that sale in 2004, McMahon bought a Conquistador Cielo filly for Wigmore. Later named Just A Little Tea, she won one race, after getting claimed for $15,000. Now, Wigmore sells most of the colts and keeps the fillies to race and/or add to the breeding program. He’s active as a buyer and seller at the sales, and bought It’s Your Nickel’s dam Bold American for $90,000 at Keeneland November in 2010.

The daughter of Quiet American was carrying a Master Command foal and had produced runaway Saratoga maiden winner, the Grade 1-placed Valiant Passion. McMahon saw that maiden win, and remembered. Three foals out of her have returned $460,000 at auction for Wigmore, the latest being It’s Your Nickel.

“The mare is gorgeous and she throws gorgeous,” said McMahon. “She never misses.”

Foaled in 2011, the Master Command colt brought $150,000, but lost all five starts. Bold American’s 2013 foal, a colt by Super Saver later named Amerapride sold for $210,000. He lost his only start last year. Then came It’s Your Nickel.

The colt drew a $100,000 bid from McPeek at Fasig-Tipton July as a yearling, and won his second start at Saratoga last summer, on the turf. His success, combined with some other factors, prompted Wigmore and McMahon to enter Bold American in the Keeneland November sale last fall.

“The business thing to do was to sell her,” said McMahon. “She’s getting old (then 16), she was on a late cover date and the last thing you want is to have her not get in foal on another late cover date and have to keep her for a year with no foal coming. Steve really deliberated over it.”

Wigmore and McMahon talked to McPeek about It’s Your Nickel, received a good report and ultimately decided not to sell – figuring the price wasn’t going to outweigh the potential. She was withdrawn from the sale.

Wigmore owns a 2-year-old half-brother to It’s Your Nickel, by Paynter, in training with LoPresti and has a yearling full-brother to the Battaglia winner. Bold American is due in April on another cover to Dialed In and is booked back to the Darby Dan Farm stallion, whose son Gunnevera just won the Fountain of Youth.

Wigmore keeps his mares at Hidden Brook Farm in Kentucky, with allowance winner Belle Natalie also part of the band. Purchased for $20,000, the daughter of First Defence won five races for Wigmore through 2015, is in foal to Twirling Candy and will go to Dialed In.

McMahon loves his client’s approach.

“He’s got such a long-term plan, he thinks 30 years from now,” McMahon said. “He’s not going to get chased away if he loses a little money here and there. He knows he’s playing with small numbers, he knows he has to take a long-term look. Steve really likes it, I think he has a passion for it that makes him want to try and beat the odds. He’s taken a couple lumps, it happens, he really has the point of view of doing the work to make a good decision and it might be awhile before it pays off.”

The first stakes winner bred by Wigmore, It’s Your Nickel won his 3-year-old debut by disqualification at Fair Grounds Jan. 27. He was entered in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds Feb. 25, but McPeek scratched after looking at the competition and an outside post position.

McPeek shifted his target to the $100,000 Battaglia on Polytrack. Facing 10 rivals, It’s Your Nickel dropped back to ninth early, closed ground on the turn and ran away to win by 6 1/2 lengths as the 2-1 favorite. En Hanse finished second with Star Empire third.

His breeder was cheering.

“I really love it,” said Wigmore, who keeps his mares at Hidden Brook Farm in Kentucky. “I like the breeding part of it. Dialed In is the only breeding right I have and that looks like it’s pretty good now.”

After working for State Street Bank in Boston, Wigmore retired from Black Rock Investment Management last September and hopes to devote more time to his Thoroughbred interests. Horses like It’s Your Nickel make that all the more appealing.

“It’s tough to make things work in this game, but even somebody like myself can get into it and do well,” said Wigmore. “That’s what’s so attractive about it. If everybody knew what was going to happen, only the big players would have the horses and it wouldn’t be very much fun.”

Watch It's Your Nickel win the Battaglia:

 

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