Days before the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, when the nerves of most whose livelihood hinges on the Thoroughbred marketplace are starting to fray, Carrie Brogden was acting like a kid on Christmas morning.
The co-owner of Machmer Hall Farm outside of Paris, Ky., prepared to see how the market would receive the horses offered by her and her partners’ Select Sales Agency consignment and was feeding off her own excitable energy.
The stakes for a breeder and consignor are at their highest at this time of year, and for a self-professed “girl from Virginia who did show hunters,” the thought of her family’s operation standing side by side with the stalwarts of the Thoroughbred industry puts Brogden’s ebullience into overdrive.
“Oh, my God, I woke up at 3:15 this morning and I texted (WinStar Farm president) Elliott Walden, ‘Shipping day tomorrow! I’m so excited!’” Brogden laughed last week as she and her husband, Craig Brogden, prepared to van their offerings to Keeneland. “It is like that for me,” she said of the Thoroughbred industry. “I just … I live, breathe, eat it, drink it, I love it. I love it more than anything. And having the runners come off the farm … it’s feeding an addiction. That’s what it’s doing.”
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As the two-week sale rolls on at Keeneland, the Brogdens will hit pause on Saturday. That is when the mare fueling Machmer Hall’s ascent will continue her global journey.
Now widely regarded as the world’s best turf miler, Tepin, whom Machmer Hall bred, raised and sold, is the 1-2 favorite against a field of seven male rivals in the Grade I, $1 million Woodbine Mile at Toronto.
Had the Brogdens not stuck to their philosophies years ago, the reigning champion turf female might never have been.
‘A complete dream’
When the Brogdens along with Carrie’s mother, Sandy Fubini, purchased the first 105 acres of Machmer Hall in 2001, part of its lure was its proximity to such storied operations as Claiborne Farm and Stone Farm. Geography is no longer the only common denominator linking them with Thoroughbred racing’s heavy hitters. Machmer Hall ended 2015 among the top 15 breeders in earnings in North America and this year boasts the fifth-highest win percentage (21 percent) among the top 20 breeders.
For the Brogdens and Fubini, the climb was steady. Machmer Hall has bred three Kentucky Derby starters, either solely or in partnership, in Vyjack (2013) and Intense Holiday and Vinceremos (2014).
Steady, that is, until Tepin carried her connections to a new stratosphere in the past 12 months.
The uncomplicated filly that Carrie Brogden recalls as a “doll baby” from the time they pulled her out of her dam has been held up as a paragon of what American-bred runners can achieve on an international stage. Tepin’s seven-race winning streak includes the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland and, most recently, the Group I Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in England on June 14.
“Honestly, it’s just been a complete dream,” Carrie Brogden said of Tepin’s success. “We’ve been lucky that we’ve had a couple other high-impact horses at the same time so at least it’s not been like a one-hit wonder for our farm. But I never dreamt the kind of impact she would have. People hopefully now feel more comfortable buying from our program, and it says basically that our farm can raise a top horse — and not just our farm on our road. I definitely think we’re in one of the better tracts of land for raising horses.
“It’s certainly elevated our program to legitimate.”
As the offspring of the mare Life Happened, who Machmer Hall purchased for just $4,500 at the 2008 Keeneland November Sale, and the product of a mating with Bernstein that saw her breeders take a chance on a good-bodied, but less commercially popular stallion, Tepin has embodies every key philosophy the Brogdens and Fubini have used to go from modest-sized start-up to increasingly major player.
The search for athletes
Horsemanship has never been a question for any of the Machmer Hall trio. Carrie Brogden, in particular, spent her formative years in a show ring. Machmer Hall has cultivated success without the capital of some of the mega farms because they aren’t afraid to zig when everyone else zags.
Regal pedigrees will always be en vogue, but Machmer Hall’s modus operandi is to try and foster physical specimens that — most importantly — look the part of an athlete. And where some buyers get scared off by a horse with certain conformation flaws, the Brogdens have shown a willingness to take a chance on a less-than-perfect offering they feel can improve with time and development.
We have to differentiate ourselves, and the way we’ve done that was buying the best physicals we could with as much pedigree as we could possibly afford.
“We have to differentiate ourselves, and the way we’ve done that was buying the best physicals we could with as much pedigree as we could possibly afford,” Craig Brogden said. “People who aren’t in the horse business always ask me … how do you decide which one is the best Thoroughbred? And I always say, pretend you know nothing about the 100 meters in the Olympics. That’s what you’re looking at at a yearling sale. If you look physically at these guys lined up there, you would pick Usain Bolt every time physically over the rest of the field. That is essentially how we perceive a Thoroughbred to be.
“The best physical athlete tends to be the best performer on the racetrack. We breed the best athletes and hopefully, it translates to performance.”
Good fortune has played its part in Machmer Hall breeding such standouts as Grade I winner Premium Tap, graded stakes winners Stonetastic and Sweet Whiskey and multiple Grade-I placed Money Multiplier. However, much of that success would have been for naught were it not for a good eye and instinct.
When Tepin’s dam, Life Happened, went through the Keeneland sales ring in 2008, she was not in foal and had yet to produce anything of quality. Instead of being swayed by that alone, the Brogdens loved what they saw from her Bernstein yearling selling behind her — future graded stakes performer Prime Cut — and figured they could get a similar good-looking baby out of the mare down the line.
“Honestly, every single graded stakes winner off my farm has been in the top 30 percent of physicals. Every single one,” Carrie Brogden said. “And when you start to see them year after year, be it Sweet Whiskey or Intense Holiday… it’s one of those things where it’s burned in my head from just watching what is producing the runners.”
Fifteen years ago, if you had ever told me that we would be in the company of WinStar and Darley I would have been like ‘no way.’
For all her energy, Carrie Brodgen says she doesn’t get nervous watching Tepin run. Already a champion, the 5-year-old mare has little left to prove on the racetrack — and she has already verified Machmer Hall’s growing reputation.
“Fifteen years ago, if you had ever told me that we would be in the company of WinStar and Darley I would have been like ‘no way,’” Carrie Brogden said. “I’m a girl from Virginia who did show hunters, I would never have in my wildest dreams imagined that all this would happen.”
What: Grade I stakes race for 3-year-olds and up
Where: Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto
Post time: 6:39 p.m.
Distance: 1 mile (turf)
Purse: $1 million
Favorite: Tepin (1-2)
Woodbine Mile odds
1 Tower of Texas (20-1)
2 Mutakayyef (7-2)
3 Arod (10-1)
4 Glenville Gardens (20-1)
5 Full Mast (12-1)
6 Passion for Action (20-1)
7 Mr. Owen (15-1)
8. Tepin (1-2)