LOUISVILLE — The physical restoration of Spendthrift Farm was one of B. Wayne Hughes' first priorities when he purchased the parcel of Thoroughbred history in 2004. Given that previously rundown barns are now some of the more luxurious in equine housing, it is safe to deem that portion of the project a success.
Fixing aging structures at the farm on Iron Works Pike was the easy part. Restoring the reputation of a farm that once ranked among the standardbearers for racing and breeding excellence would take more than polished wood and fresh white paint.
When Friday's Kentucky Oaks and Saturday's Kentucky Derby go to post, the years of diligence that went into establishing Spendthrift Farm's renewed impact will be front and center for the industry to see.
Hughes, the founder of Public Storage, and his team have spent the past several years filling the once-vacant stallion barns with bloodlines they hoped would flow through generations of top runners. The fruits of that labor will be prominent this weekend as Spendthrift has reigning juvenile filly champion Beholder carrying its colors in the Oaks and has two of its sires represented by three expected starters in the Kentucky Derby.
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Phipps Stables and Stuart Janney's homebred Grade I winner Orb is by Spendthrift's leading stallion Malibu Moon, who commands an advertised fee of $70,000 for the 2013 season. While Malibu Moon represents the peak of Spendthrift's stallion roster, the farm's upstart sire Into Mischief has two of his progeny in the Derby field with Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents and Grade III Gotham Stakes victor Vyjack.
A self-made business mogul, Hughes often refers to himself and his staff as the caretakers of the Spendthrift legacy. Even the late Leslie Combs, who founded Spendthrift and housed such equine luminaries as Seattle Slew and Raise a Native, would probably give a tip of the cap to the farm's current run.
"There's a lot of satisfaction and it's a good thing for Spendthrift to be coming back from sort of dark days," Hughes said as he watched Beholder go to the track Tuesday. "We're all excited about it."
The development of Malibu Moon into one of the game's leading sires and the quick start by Into Mischief represent redemption for both.
Bred and campaigned by Hughes, Malibu Moon made just two starts before injury cut his career short and sent the son of A.P. Indy into the shed. Though he has been primarily known for the success of his female runners like Grade I winners Life at Ten, Ask the Moon, Devil May Care, and Malibu Prayer, Malibu Moon did produce Declan's Moon — champion 2-year-old colt of 2004 — from his second crop.
"(A Derby winner) would be justice for him. People think he can only get fillies even though he had a 2-year-old (gelding) who won the Eclipse Award," Hughes said. "He did it on his own and Into Mischief is doing the same thing."
Also campaigned by Hughes, Into Mischief won the 2007 Grade I CashCall Futurity but got off to a tepid start in the stud barn, covering just 61 mares his first season resulting in 46 live foals.
Though the size of his books declined to 44, 54 and 50 the past few years, his stud fee jumped from $7,500 in 2012 to $20,000 this year as Goldencents and Vyjack are among his three stakes winners in his first crop.
"We don't really know what we have yet. We might have (late, leading sire) Mr. Prospector and not know it," Hughes said of Into Mischief. "He had a very small book with sort of weak mares at least on pedigree and racing record. He's like a phenomenon to be doing what he did. It would take our breath away if one of these colts were to win."
Into Mischief is also a half-brother to Beholder, who heads into what is being called one of the deepest editions of the Oaks with back-to-back Grade I wins having taken the Santa Anita Oaks on April 6 and Las Virgenes on March 2.
The bay daughter of Henny Hughes won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last November in gate-to-wire fashion, besting a field that included likely Oaks favorite Dreaming of Julia.
Beholder may be the only Oaks or Derby runner who can put Spendthrift in the win column. But make no mistake, this weekend is going down as a victory for the entire operation.
"We're just getting started, wait a while," Hughes grinned. "We have a lot of good sire prospects on the farm and they're getting good foals."