Saratoga Yearling Diary No. 5: Ready for summer

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Pick your cliché, any cliché, when talking about the fickle, walking-on-eggshells nature of raising young Thoroughbreds and it might not be far off base.

Surely you’ve heard or read the one from the late Charlie Whittingham, about how “horses are like strawberries … they can spoil overnight.” Then there’s the opposite, more conventional and less etched-in-stone mantra that basically says trees and flowers aren’t the only things that bloom in the spring in Kentucky, that horses flourish in the bluegrass in the best season in the Commonwealth.

Alfred Nuckols Jr. subscribes to another, not directly tied to horses at all but nonetheless apropos when talking about some of the yearlings on his Hurstland Farm in Midway, Ky., including some earmarked to sell at the upcoming summer and fall sales.

“Life’s a box of chocolates, you just don’t know what you’re doing to get, according to Forrest,” Nuckols said in his office at Hurstland this spring as he took a rare moment away from his myriad chores at the farm to sit down and tackle some paperwork. “So in my box of chocolates we’ve got some nice ones and we’ve got some creams that nobody wants.”

Nuckols hopes the “nice ones” are the six yearlings he’s still looking to bring to the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings in August. The not-so-nice, the creams if you will, are those that either haven’t developed enough to bring to boutique auctions, or those with issues on their veterinary reports that forced Nuckols’ to change gears, sell in the fall or keep himself and try to sell privately.

One particular yearling Nuckols nominated to Saratoga but won’t bring is a colt by Lonhro out of the Lemon Drop Kid mare Kiss With A Twist. Fasig-Tipton’s inspection team loved the colt, said he was the kind that “is going to get in their eye” if he wound up in the Kentucky July yearling sale. Nuckols liked him, too, and was still optimistic he could get him ready to sell by the fall, most likely at the Kentucky October sale, before lingering physical issues forced his hand.

X-rays of the colt’s legs show lucencies in both stifles, areas that aren’t developing into denser bone. They first appeared back in March and Nuckols hoped they’d clear up. Other issues – things considered defects by some veterinarians but maybe non-issues in the opinions of others – popped up on the radiographs and X-rays of the other yearlings, but subsequently cleared up. Not so much in the Lonhro colt.

“He was looking like a $150,000, $200,000 colt, but right now … I guess that’s the difference between stifles and fetlocks,” Nuckols said. “The thing to do when something like that happens is turn them out, forget about them and hopefully they clear themselves up. Oftentimes they turn out to be a non-issue when you start running them, but because of the defect there it could result in a problem down the road.

“Nobody knows exactly what percentage, they’re just kind of in limbo there. Because nobody knows for sure and there’s something there, everybody runs the other way. What these yearlings cost nowadays and what it costs to train one, you can’t blame people sometimes.”

The Lonhro colt, whom Nuckols now plans to turn out and eventually send to Florida to train and possibly be sold privately, was part of a group of five nominated to the Saratoga sale. Two others were nominated from longtime Hurstland client Tommy Town Thoroughbreds, leaving Nuckols with a half-dozen to sell Aug. 8-9 in Saratoga.

Another colt, a son of Stormy Atlantic out of the Not For Love mare Love Cove, was in then out and back in for the Saratoga sale due to possible repository issues. The colt, bred by another longtime and loyal Hurstland client in Brant Laue, is a half-brother to a Tale Of The Cat filly Nuckols sold for $300,000 at the 2014 Saratoga sale. He also showed a lucency on an X-ray, but it completely cleared up in six weeks.

“He was going to go, then not going to go,” Nuckols said. “We thought, ‘well, maybe he needs more time.’ Now the lucency is gone. Brant likes to sell his horses up there. He’s happy as a clam in salt water right now. He was really happy when I called to tell him that news, but it was combined with a call that (a mare Laue owns) Swept Bayou missed getting in foal this time, but that the colt is good for Saratoga.”

The up and down nature of working with live animals is certainly a part of life at Hurstland and hundreds of other farms in the Thoroughbred industry.

Summertime routine
The Saratoga-bound yearlings at Hurstland – the Stormy Atlantic colt, a colt by Bernardini out of Glorious View, by Pleasant Tap; a colt by Broken Vow out of Critics Acclaim by Theatrical; and a filly by Giant’s Causeway out of Cayuga’s Waters, by Langfuhr – were well settled into their springtime routine in May as the slightly busier period inched closer.

The colts, split into small groups, will eventually be paired up, and all the yearlings will get into more of a routine as opposed to simply “being horses.”

Now that it’s June the yearlings are starting to spend more time around people and more time out of the sun and under the shade of the barns at Hurstland.

“For the Saratoga horses mid-June is when we start keeping them up days,” Nuckols said. “I like to keep them out. We’ll get them out at 6:30, 7 at night and they’re out all night until 9 or so the next morning.”

The general consensus is keeping the yearlings in and out of the sun will prevent any sunburn.

“I don’t mind a little sun but you don’t want them real curled up,” Nuckols said. “It’s just a cosmetic thing. It really doesn’t help the horse any. The horse would be better off if you left them out. One thing people get to the sales, some people will tell you, ‘sunburn doesn’t bother me it shows they’ve been outside and been a horse.’ That’s probably not a bad thing.”

In early June the yearlings also started getting used to being walked. Nuckols and his team, led by his son Hurst, John Holbrook and Gene Masters, started with five-minute walks. They’ll gradually increase the amount of hand-walking, until they each get about a half-hour a day.

The yearlings also get groomed a couple times a week, a process that started as Hurstland’s activity in and around the breeding sheds of nearby stallion farms started to slow for the season.

“The walking, that gets them a little bit of conditioning,” Nuckols said. “I’ve always like to do things with a man on the end of a shank versus putting them in a machine. I don’t have that many horses so it’s never been a problem, doing things by hand.”

Nuckols, other consignors and prospective buyers will have catalogs for the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale in their hands in the coming days as the final steps in the process of finalizing the group are finished. The catalog for the Kentucky July sale, which includes Hurstland’s filly by Run Away And Hide out of Bright Orange, by Bright Launch, is already out and available online.


Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a multi-part series that tracks the progress of a group of yearlings and life at Hurstland Farm in Midway, Ky., to the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The series started in February during the nomination period and will continue through the summer up to the Saratoga sale.

Read the Saratoga Yearling Diary No. 1: Nomination time.
Read the Saratoga Yearling Diary No. 2: Waiting game.
Read the Saratoga Yearling Diary No. 3: Inspection day.
Read the Saratoga Yearling Diary No. 4: Circle of life.