Saratoga Yearling Diary No. 7: On Location

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Hurst Nuckols got his father’s attention just as he returned from a short mid-morning walk to Leo O’Brien’s barn on the Oklahoma Training Track, pointed to the screen and the occupant of the corner stall and succinctly summed up the situation.

“Here’s your troublemaker, right here,” Hurst joked as Hip 41, a colt by Bernardini, rested comfortably on his thick bed of straw. The serene scene was a far cry from an hour earlier, when the same colt gave Alfred Nuckols Jr. plenty of trouble, required a light tap from the end of a broom, the assistance of three other men and finally a bribe in the form of bucket of grain before walking into his home for the next four or five days.

“Are they all laying down?” Alfred asked, looking into the next stall and getting word that the other five members of the Hurstland Farm consignment were indeed not down but definitely relaxing. “I guess he tired himself out earlier.”

The Bernardini colt certainly earned some downtime on the heels completing the roughly 800-mile journey from Hurstland Farm in Midway, Ky., to Saratoga Springs. The trip started a little after 5:30 p.m. Thursday and ended when the red and silver Creech van pulled up to the loading chute behind Thorobred Feed on East Avenue a little before 9 a.m. Friday.

The Nuckolses helped set up the consignment in Barn 8 on the Fasig-Tipton sales grounds Thursday morning before making it to the races in the afternoon and dinner with client Brant Laue at the Wishing Well in the evening. Alfred was thankful for a little carbohydrate-fueled energy from some fresh local corn on the cob at dinner, even though his son snagged the coveted last ear.

“Well, I got my workout in for the day,” Alfred joked.

The Bernardini colt was the third Hurstland yearling led off the van after the lone filly in the consignment, a daughter of Giant’s Causeway, and a colt by Eskendereya made their way down the snippet of Case Street and across George Street onto the sales grounds.

The Bernardini colt, out of Grade 2 winner Glorious View and bred by Laue and Darley, “walked through there like a champ,” according to Brian Cain and was led into the third stall. While he settled there, Hurst Nuckols led Hip 248, a chestnut colt by Broken Vow, off the van.

“Come on Red,” he said as the colt took a few hesitant steps down the ramp and onto the stone dust. They walked off, around the corner and toward George Street before eventually returning.

“He won’t cross the street,” Hurst said, giving the colt a couple turns. “I brought him back for his buddy.”

Spencer Crowther came off the van next with that buddy, Hip 77, a chestnut son of Stormy Atlantic. The two, who played together in the lush green grass of a spacious paddock at Hurstland the same day Fasig-Tipton’s inspection team came to visit in April, certainly were in a different place Friday.

Off the farm for the first significant period of time in their young lives when the van pulled out of the driveway onto Spring Station Road, they made their way toward George Street and weren’t in any rush to walk onto the rubber mats covering the asphalt.

“Come on Stormy, you’re already on it,” Alfred Nuckols said to the colt out of the stakes-winning Not For Love mare Love Cove. They eventually found their footing on the mats, started and stopped several times before going through the gate and past the Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services consignment already active and showing to prospective buyers.

When the two chestnuts arrived at Barn 8, two other Hurstland yearlings were out of their stalls. Hip 94, a Street Sense colt, was supposed to go in the third stall, so the Bernardini colt got evicted. The others went in without much trouble. The Bernardini colt, like a worn-out adolescent testing the patience of his parents at the grocery store, proved a bit more troublesome.

Nuckols tried to lead him in forward, backward, forward, backward. Other members of the Hurstland crew joined in, trying to push him from behind, the side, forward, backward and every which way. The scene drew a couple curious onlookers, but isn’t all that out of the ordinary on sales grounds with youngsters in a strange environment for the first time.

A couple handfuls of hay looked like it might do the trick, but the colt froze again with his mouth full just outside the doorway. A small bucket of grain, retrieved from the tack room in the next barn, eventually solved the riddle.

“Should have thought of that first,” Nuckols said. “They haven’t had any for what, 12, 14 hours. I’ll remember that the next few days when they’re in and out showing.”

Nuckols planned to give the yearlings a bath Friday afternoon, when things quiet down on the sales grounds and onlookers head to the races.

They’ll start showing Saturday, the first big test before the final exam when the two-day sale gets underway Monday night.

“We’ll take care of them and stay here today,” Nuckols said. “Yesterday was my big day at the races, have some fun. Now it’s time to get back to business.” 

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh 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.