ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 21, 2017) — Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for The Stronach Group, was relocated from his regular post at Gulfstream Park to Santa Anita Park earlier this year with the aim of observing the California track’s functions, identifying flaws in the operation, and fixing them.
During various check-ins with the media over the summer, Ritvo said one of the most serious issues facing California’s racing industry, beyond just Santa Anita, was a low horse population, which led to small field sizes.
To help reverse that trend, Stronach Group founder and honorary chairman Frank Stronach will once again reach from within his own infrastructure to combat the problems identified by Ritvo. However, the staff members making the move west are of the equine variety.
Earlier in December, Stronach revealed that his homebred Grade 1 winner Shaman Ghost will enter stud in California for the 2018 breeding season, instantly giving the state one of its most buzzed-about incoming stallions in recent memory. Additionally, a pair of veteran stallions previously located at Stronach’s Adena Springs in Paris, Ky., – City Wolf and North Light – will move to the newly christened EF1 Farm in Hemet, Calif.
With those three stallions spearheading the campaign, Stronach hopes to spark breeding in California and interest in keeping the ensuing foals in the state to race. In addition to Santa Anita, The Stronach Group also owns Golden Gate Fields in the Northern California.
“I think I’ve been so preoccupied with the East, with Gulfstream Park and Maryland, and that’s working quite good,” Stronach said. “I think we have to take a look at what we have to do in California to make things better there. We have small fields, so we’ve got to take a look at why that is.”
In particular, Stronach said his aim was to help build the horse supply for California’s rank-and-file, both in the foaling barn and on the racetrack.
“I’ve always said the backbone of racing is small trainers, the small owners, and the small breeders,” Stronach said. “Those people get up seven days a week between 4 and 5 a.m. to chase a dream. Conditions are very difficult for them, and they have to make a living, so we have to have a more balanced racing program.
“In Florida and Maryland, we have a much more balanced racing program. Of course we’re happy to have the big owners and the big trainers, but if five, six, or seven big trainers make 80 percent of all the money, that’s not healthy for racing. We’ve got to make sure the smaller owners and trainers can make some money.”
Shaman Ghost is the biggest name tied to Stronach’s California breeding initiative. His fee has already been announced at $10,000, but Stronach said he was still in the process of finding the right farm for him to reside at.
Shaman Ghost retired with eight wins in 17 starts over four seasons of racing for earnings of $3,859,311. He was named Canada’s champion 3-year-old male of 2015 from a campaign that included wins in the Queen’s Plate and the Grade 3 Marine Stakes, along with a runner-up effort in the Prince of Wales Stakes.
As an older horse, Shaman Ghost won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and Woodward Stakes, the Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational Stakes, and the Grade 3 Pimlico Special Handicap. He also finished second in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
Shaman Ghost is a third-generation homebred member of the Adena Springs program through his sireline. His sire is 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, who is by 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again. Both stallions still stand at Adena Springs’s Kentucky base, which freed Stronach up to send Shaman Ghost elsewhere.
Stronach said he would support Shaman Ghost with five to 10 mares during the upcoming breeding season.
“I think he’s a very nice horse,” Stronach said. “Naturally, he has to prove it, that he’s going to be a good stallion, but anytime you have a Grade 1 winner starting out, you have hope. Then the question is, Is he a good sire? His bloodlines are good, so we hope he’s a good sire.
“I think he’s reasonably priced at $10,000. We hope that a lot of breeders will send their mares for him.”
The deal to stand North Light and City Wolf at EF1 Farms was largely driven by Stronach’s son Andy. The younger Stronach developed a strong business relationship with Eric Yohan, a scientist and executive who recently purchased the roughly 95-acre Brazeau Thoroughbred Farms in Southern California and renamed it after one of his products, Microsol Spray’s Equine Formula (EF) 1, a topical spray for equine fungus.
Yohan’s philosophy blends well with The Stronach Group’s mission in California. He already has about 90 broodmares in his band with plans to buy more property and expand to 300 mares by the end of the 2018 breeding season, fueling a primarily commercial operation. His projected investment in the industry is large, but Yohan said his expected return goes beyond dollar signs, hopefully boosting awareness of the California program to the point of re-establishing some of its old Hollywood glitz.
“I’m very sentimental,” Yohan said. “When I go back on the old days, when the Rat Pack were down at Del Mar and when racing was big in California, I want to bring racing back because it’s very sexy for California. My mother’s Austrian and Frank’s Austrian. We’re at heart very romantic guys, but we want to bring that big feel back to California.”
The two stallions moved from Adena Springs to EF1 Farms share a leaning toward turf, through North Light’s English classic victory and City Wolf’s success on all-weather surfaces.
Daniel Alameda, Thoroughbred consultant to Yohan, said the stallions were chosen specifically to target what they perceived to be a soft spot in the state’s entry boxes.
“Year-round turf racing, there’s nobody here,” he said. “My dad was an old baseball player and used to say to me, ‘Son, hit ’em where they ain’t.’ ”
North Light, a 16-year-old son of Danehill, will stand for $5,000. The 2004 Epsom Derby winner, he has sired nine crops of racing age, highlighted by English Group 1 winner Arctic Cosmos. His most successful domestic runners have earned their biggest victories in the Golden State, including Grade 2 winner Celtic New Year and Grade 3 winners Chips All In and Go Forth North.
“The horse is classic,” Alameda said. “He’s a mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter, mile and a half on turf. There’s nobody here with that sireline like these stallions with their résumés. They’re a cut above, and they fit a program of classic racing, which Santa Anita needs to get back to.”
City Wolf, a 10-year-old Giant’s Causeway horse, had his first juveniles hit the track in 2017. City Wolf is a Grade 3 winner and a half-brother to Ghostzapper and Grade 1 winner City Zip out of 2005 Broodmare of the Year Baby Zip. He stands for $2,500.
“If you look at City Wolf, you’re talking about a horse that has turf influence. He has dirt influence, but mainly turf,” Alameda said. “He’s a middle-distance horse. We run down the hill [at Santa Anita], we run sprints at five-eighths at Del Mar, so he fits the program here big, and he’s got a class jump through his dam, Baby Zip.”