Thursday, December 18, 2008

Inside Track: Lucky Stars

by Esther Marr

Many Thoroughbred farm workers consider themselves lucky if they played a part in buying, selling, or raising at least a couple successful horses throughout their careers. With less than a decade of experience, however, Randy Gilbert has already had his hands on around a dozen high profile Thoroughbreds, including 2008 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Big Brown.

“I’ve had some awesome opportunities, so I consider myself very blessed,” said Gilbert, 31, who got his start in the industry via the Kentucky Equine Management Internship program and is currently managing Joseph and Vanessa Seitz’ Foxborough Farm near Versailles, Ky.

Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree from Ohio State in agricultural business in 2001, Gilbert knew he wanted to be involved in the horse industry, but wasn’t sure where to get started.

“I thought Kentucky would be a good place to go, but I didn’t really have any connections down here, so I happened to be looking on the Internet and came across (KEMI’s) web page, and that’s how I first found out about KEMI,” said Gilbert of the program, which integrates academic studies with hands-on experience, leadership, and responsibility on a Central Kentucky horse farm.

“KEMI was everything I hoped for,” continued Gilbert, who went through the program from January to June of 2001. “I made a lot of connections through the program, and I’ve been able to work with really good horsemen, blacksmiths, and the best vets. Just the knowledge you gain down (in Kentucky) is incredible.”

Gilbert did more than just make connections for a lifelong career during his time with KEMI—he also met his wife, Carrie through the program. A native of Rochester, N.Y., Carrie now works for Flaxman Holding’s Thoroughbred operation at Lane’s End’s Oak Tree division.

When Gilbert completed his six-month KEMI internship at Hilary Boone Jr.’s Wimbleton Farm near Lexington, he was asked to stay on staff for another year following the program’s completion. During the summer of 2002, he went to work for John and Alice Chandler’s Mill Ridge Farm, where he helped farm manager Donnie Snellings prep yearlings for upcoming sales.

Following his stint at Mill Ridge, Gilbert broke yearlings for Juddmonte and Diamond A. farms, and in January of 2003, he was hired to work for Darley’s Newmarket division in England for six months.

In December of that same year, Gilbert served as assistant manager for owner Dr. Gary Knapp and farm manager Dominique Tijou at Monticule back in Lexington, where he remained for three years. During that time, Knapp bred his mare Mien to the now pensioned Claiborne stallion Boundary, and the resulting foal was a large bay colt who was later named Big Brown.

“Knowing now what I know now, it was really neat,” said Gilbert, who remembers Big Brown as a baby on the farm. “(Big Brown) was just this plain, average bay horse. He never was in trouble or caused a problem. He just took everything in stride. The only thing that made him stand out was that white spot on his side, and he was always a little on the bigger side.

“Dominique and I were excited when we sold him at the (2006) Fasig-Tipton October sale (for $60,000). We were jumping up and down—six times the stud for a Boundary, and Boundarys weren’t very popular. Eddie Woods had bought him and liked him, so we knew he was going to a good place. To see now that he’s turned into a Derby winner, it’s a neat feeling.”

Though raising a classic victor was an unforgettable experience, Gilbert has been privileged to have worked with numerous other stakes winners, including 2003 champion 2-year-old filly Halfbridled; grade II winner and 2003 Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) runner-up Minister Eric; and this year’s Frizette Stakes (gr. I) winner Sky Diva.

“To say that I raised a Derby winner was awesome, but I have to say the most exciting thing (that has happened to me thus far in the industry) was selling a $9.2 million Danzig yearling a couple years ago to Sheikh Mohammed,” said Gilbert of the dark bay or brown colt, who was bred and consigned by Monticule to the 2006 Keeneland September sale.

“I remember telling Dominique when that foal was born, ‘this is going to be the best looking horse that we’ve ever raised here,’” Gilbert continued. “He was just awesome from the get-go. He was a perfect picture as a foal, weanling, yearling, and then when we took him to the sale. Leading him out of the sale ring after he went for $9.2 million, it was all I could do to hope that nothing happened between getting out of the ring and back into the stall.”

Though his interest in Thoroughbreds may have developed later in life, Gilbert’s love affair with horses started at age six when his grandparents bought him his first pony. He joined the Pony Club and performed in eventing, dressage, and 4-H shows until graduating from college. Gilbert reported that the first pony that got him hooked on the industry is still alive and well at age 34 and is residing at his parent’s farm in northeastern Ohio.

“I always had an interest in Thoroughbreds—we watched the Kentucky Derby every year,” said Gilbert. “I knew I wanted to work on a farm. I had known since first came to Kentucky when I was nine that I wanted to move down here eventually. I guess all the pieces just fell together.”

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GOOD LUCK!! and have A GREAT DAY!!!

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