ARCADIA, Calif. — Endless twists of fate must converge to get a racehorse to make an impact on the track.
In recounting the series of gut-reaction calls, straight-forward business deals and emotional debates that resulted in Siena Farm sending two homebreds to this week's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park, the operation's president and co-owner, David Pope, had to pause to marvel at their crazy wonderful fortune.
In September 2007, Maryland-based entrepreneur Anthony Manganaro purchased a gorgeous piece of Paris, Ky., property just down the road from historic Claiborne Farm with a basic, yet arduous, objective.
"Let's do everything possible we can to breed the soundest and the fastest racehorse we can," said Pope, who along with fellow co-owner Ignacio "Nacho" Patino was handpicked by Manganaro to be partner in his equine vision.
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On Sept. 27 of this year, Siena Farm put a check mark beside that goal when their homebred filly Angela Renee became the operation's first top-level winner in capturing the Grade I Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita Park and now stands as the 3-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
As foals on Siena Farm's 220-acre property, Angela Renee, a daughter of Bernardini, and a daughter of Eskendereya now named Isabella Sings were the type "A" girls of the group. Now stablemates in the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, Isabella Sings is joining her old paddock mate here as part of the 14-horse field for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
The label of overnight success in this industry is one with which Siena Farm won't argue. It is also one that should come with an asterisk in recognition of how much work went into the quick manifestation of a dream.
"Let me start off by saying it's a team effort," said Pope, a former controller of Airdrie Stud. "That said, Anthony is the driving force behind it. He wants to constantly try and do things better. Anthony is always pushing, but the big difference is he's pushing up.
"It's a small team, but it's one team. We don't have a broodmare team and a yearling team, it's everyone. They'll bring in the foals in the morning, feed them, do any medication they need, check them. And when they're done with the horses they'll go start mowing grass, and when they are done mowing grass they might go plant trees. There is no change of duties, they all have the same interest."
Simply relying on randomness and genetics wasn't going to cut it for the dynamic Manganaro. At Siena Farm, science and technology are used to try to bend odds that inherently lean against success.
Pasture soils and plants are tested yearly to maintain quality. An equine nutritionist was brought in to help determine the best feed. A cold water spa was purchased.
Then there is the intangible of making slam-dunk business calls. One of the first major purchases for Siena Farm came in 2008 when it landed the Deputy Minister mare Pilfer at the urging of agent Mike Ryan for $650,000 at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale.
"It was a quick decision. We picked out the horses we were targeting and she wasn't on the initial list," Pope recalled. "Then when she came up, they saw the price and decided to take a chance. And I'm glad we did."
The Bernardini colt Pilfer foaled that March would become multiple Grade I winner To Honor and Serve. In the if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it department, Siena bred Pilfer back to Bernardini in 2011. When she foaled a striking, 140-pound filly on March 14, 2012, to carry on her female family line, Siena opted to strike while the iron was hot and sold Pilfer for $1.95 million at that year's Fasig-Tipton November Sale.
The chance to take some more money off the table weighed heavily on the crew again as they debated selling her filly, knowing that a full sister to a multiple Grade I winner would bring a big number in the auction ring.
Just as the filly was bedded down in her stall as part of Taylor Made Sales' consignment at the 2013 Keene-land September Yearling Sale, Siena's long-term desire to race top fillies that will one day join their broodmare band won out.
"We went back and forth and we actually shipped her to the sales grounds," Pope said. "And then Anthony called me and said 'We're not selling her, bring her home.'
"And that's the thing. You have a great team, great skill but you do need a little luck. To make that decision to bring her back, it was a million-dollar decision."
In 2012, Siena bred 11 foals and purchased two more. Of the four they ended up keeping, Angela Renee and Isabella Sings made up half the total.
The enormity of that strike rate hit home this summer as the two fillies broke their maidens within weeks of each other at Belmont Park, Angela Renee winning at 5 furlongs on June 27 and Isabella Sings going 6 furlongs on the turf on July 10.
A subsequent runner-up finish in the Grade II Adirondack and third-place run in the Grade I Spinaway teased of Angela Renee's upside. With a Breeders' Cup start in mind, Pletcher suggested that Siena ship the bay filly to California for her final prep to see how well she agreed with the Santa Anita dirt track.
Her 11/2-length victory in the Chandelier that resulted puts Angela Renee in position to take home an Eclipse Award for divisional honors should she win Saturday. In any case, the filly has already delivered a fairy-tale ending as she is named for former Siena Farm employee Angela Renee Roe who passed away after a battle with cancer.
After nearly two years of waiting for fate to deliver just the right filly to bear her name, it was discovered after the fact that both Angela Renees share the same birth date.
"It's special in the sense that Angie was a really special person," Pope said of Roe.
There is industry credibility that comes with breeding and racing a Grade I winner. As Siena Farm now works to get the best possible matings for its band of 20-something broodmares, it finds the established operations are more apt to listen when they suggest stallion pairings.
In less than a decade, Siena Farm has achieved what many horsemen work a lifetime toward but never taste. Despite how seamless they have made success look, it at no point was easy.
"We could finish last and last (in the Breeders' Cup) but I feel we have two solid chances," Pope said. "In this industry a lot of people take credit for things. In reality, there are 100 people who touched (Angela Renee), and any one of them could have screwed it up. But all of them made her a little bit better."