If proof was ever needed of how small the racing world has become, then look no further than King Of Steel. Conceived in France, bred in Kentucky by a farm with roots in South America, sold at Keeneland and trained in Newmarket, the background to this year’s winner of the King Edward VII Stakes is certainly cosmopolitan and adheres to the idea that it’s rarely a bad idea to think outside the box.
That is certainly true of his breeder Bonne Chance Farm, a youthful operation located in Versailles in Kentucky. Efforts are being to made cultivate a broodmare band with an emphasis on diversity as well as quality and with current top American three-year-old Arabian Lion also advertising its credentials this year thanks to a series of high-profile performances on dirt, those efforts are certainly being well rewarded. Indeed, King Of Steel and Arabian Lion are members of a three-year- old crop for Bonne Chance Farm that numbers just 14.
Bonne Chance is the Kentucky division of leading South American operation Stud RDI, owned by Gilberto Sayão da Silva and Paulo Fernando de Oliveira. Several years following its launch in 2008, it experimented with investing in Europe and with success, especially in light of the fact that the second batch of purchases included King Of Steel’s winning dam Eldacar, purchased for €95,000 under the banner of France Turf International as an Arqana yearling.
Not content with expanding their reach merely to Europe, the Kentucky property – then known as Regis Farms – was added in 2015 and renamed Bonne Chance Farm. Today under the eye of director Alberto Figueiredo and manager John Durr, it is the hub of Bonne Chance’s northern hemisphere operations, and with great efficiency if recent results are any indication.
Back in June, Amo Racing’s King Of Steel, a strapping son of Wootton Bassett, outran his odds of 66-to-1 by pushing the eventual winner Auguste Rodin to half-a-length on his seasonal debut in the Derby. Despite those odds, the colt had always been held in high regard by connections and he proved that performance was no fluke next time out with an easy victory in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. Roger Varian subsequently saddled him to run a fine third behind Hukum and Westover in the King George and he heads into the autumn priced at around 10 and 12-to-1 for the Qipco British Champion Stakes and Arc.
Meanwhile, just days after King Of Steel’s runner-up effort at Epsom, his former paddock mate Arabian Lion served notice that he would become a force in the American three-year-old division by taking the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park. In the process, he earned a slice of history as the first Grade 1 winner for his sire, the American Triple Crown hero Justify.
Hopes also run high for another member of that three-year-old crop, the Uncle Mo filly Nom De Plume, who looks to have black-type as a priority after making it two from three in good style in allowance company at Ellis Park.
“Watching King Of Steel in the Derby was a great moment for Bonne Chance and Stud RDI,” said Alberto Figueiredo. “I started in the industry when I was 14-years-old doing catalogue research for a sales company [Agencia Paulista do Puro Sangue] in Brazil. They had stacks of ‘The British Racehorse’, a wonderful magazine, and in there we would read all these stories about the different Derby winners.
“So years later, it was very special to be looking at the screen and seeing a Bonne Chance-bred run in the Derby. And when he was second, it was even more so.”
While there is understandably much pride in producing a horse of the calibre of King Of Steel, his story is also one tinged with sadness. His dam Eldacar was initially retired to stud in France after a lengthy and successful racing career with Mikel Delzangles, during which time she won at Fontainebleau and Clairefontaine. After foaling fillies by Lope De Vega and Wootton Bassett, the daughter of Verglas returned to the latter and was sent across the Atlantic to Kentucky. It was there in February 2020 that she foaled a large dark grey, almost black, colt; sadly, she died foaling, meaning that King Of Steel was raised on a foster mare.
There is some solace, however, in the fact that Bonne Chance still owns her four-year-old Wootton Bassett daughter Macadamia, a recent winner at Horseshoe Indianapolis.
“We were shareholders in Wootton Bassett when the horse stood at Haras d’Etreham,” recalls Figueiredo. “We sent him some mares, one of which was Eldacar and she produced a lovely filly, Macadamia. That filly was so nice that we decided to go back to him the next year.
“Around that time, we decided to regroup and bring everything back to Kentucky. We had bought the farm in 2015, so we were invested in it and we felt there was no sense in having everything based around the world. The farm is 330 acres on great land. We mix it with cattle and as we’re not overpopulated with horses, it means we can rotate everything quite easily.
“So we brought all the stock back to Kentucky including Eldacar from France. She produced a big colt and unfortunately we lost her foaling – we tried everything to save her but sadly we were unable to.”
There is something majestic about King Of Steel. Anyone who has seen him in the flesh will attest to his imposing stature but with that, it’s understandable how the commercial market viewed him with some suspicion when he came under the hammer as part of the Gainesway consignment during Book 2 of the 2021 Keeneland September Sale. His auction price of $200,000, paid by agent Alex Elliott on behalf of Amo Racing, was by no means a bargain sum but it rested well below the day’s average of around $280,000 – and as subsequent events have shown, it did turn out to be a steal.
“Even though he was so big, he was always a lovely horse, very athletic and straightforward,” says Figueiredo. “He was never awkward, despite his size, and he was always forward enough for the sales.
“At that point, Coolmore had bought Wootton Bassett [in a multi-million euro deal] and so there was a lot of talk about the stallion, there was a real buzz. King Of Steel was the only one by him to be offered in North America that year. And the price, $200,000, wasn’t bad at all. But then this is Wootton Bassett, the only one in the US, and so to be honest, we were a bit shocked that he didn’t make more. We knew he was liked but the size put some people off – I had people come up to me and say ‘Alberto, we like your Wootton Bassett but he’s just too big’.”
Yet as Figueiredo points out, there was a silver lining.
“As it turned out, it was a benefit to the horse that Kia [Joorabchian] bought him,” he says. “He’s a big horse with a big stride. I don’t think the tight turns that we have in the US would have seen him to best effect. Kia bought him and took him to Europe. So it worked well in the long term.”
Arabian Lion was more of a long-term project for Bonne Chance but again it has worked out, starting with when the stud sold the Justify colt for $600,000 at last year’s OBS Spring Two-year-olds in Training Sale in Florida.
We like to target very good families when we buy mares
“Arabian Lion was a late foal, born on May 1, so we decided to send him straight to the two-year-old sales to give him time to mature,” says Figueiredo. “We have a very good relationship with Hidden Brook Farm, they do a lot of consigning for us in Kentucky and at the two-year-olds sales. I remember Mark Roberts, their two-yearo-ld manager down in Florida, rang me up one day and said ‘do you guys still have the dam of this horse?’. I said ‘yes, we do’. He said ‘don’t sell her, this colt could be good’.
“We got a very good price for him, Amr Zedan bought him and he got a good colt. So it was a good result for everyone. Last time at Belmont [when winning the Woody Stephens Stakes], he looked very, very special.”
Arabian Lion’s pedigree epitomises the goal behind the development of Bonne Chance’s broodmare band. He is out of Unbound, a stakes-placed daughter of leading broodmare sire Distorted Humor and a direct descendant of American champion Personal Ensign, whose legacy covers numerous top-flight winners. As such, the mare was afforded a chance with Justify in his first season, when he commanded $150,000 at Ashford Stud in Kentucky, and the outcome is Arabian Lion.
“We like to target very good families when we buy mares, that is very important,” says Figueiredo. “And we like to buy a nice physical. We look at mares who have at least a decent race record – not necessarily big stakes winners but winners, mares that look like they tried on the track.
“I actually prefer to buy yearling fillies because then you have more information at your disposal coming out of the barn – their soundness, level of ability, whether they have a good mind. Then you can use that knowledge when it comes to the matings.”
Figueiredo is in an excellent position to appreciate how a global approach can benefit an operation. A native of Brazil, he was a partner manager in the Brazilian division of Pan American bloodstock Agency before shifting to Haras São Jose and Expedictus, where he oversaw the launch of the international side of the operation. He joined Stud RDI in 2009.
“I worked with Haras São Jose, one Brazil, during the 1990’s,” he says. “They had some very good horses at the time like Siphon, who was also very good for Richard Mandella in California, and Romarin, who also did well in the US. It was a great experience in successfully bringing horses from South America to North America to race.
“The stud had a very good stallion named Felicio, a son of Shantung who won the Grand Prix de Paris who was imported out of France. He sired [champion] Itajara and he was the sire of Siphon and Romarin. Then during the mid-1990s, they imported another successful stallion called Know Heights, by Shirley Heights. It was seeing success like that which gave me the confidence to know that the mixing of bloodlines can work.”
Indeed, a glance at the mares currently based at Bonne Chance is another snapshot of a melting pot of bloodlines at work. For example, the current residents Perichole and Pretty Girl were Group 1 winners in Brazil and Argentina while stakes producer Bonne Rafaela is a Brazilian-bred daughter of Elusive Quality from a highly successful Brazilian family. Fellow stakes producer Era Uma Vez is one of three Galileo mares on the farm alongside Exuberante, a relation to the Aga Khan’s top miler Darjina, and Golden Ballad, a half-sister to Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer out of the top dirt filly Golden Ballet.
The Medicean mare Gipoia was a Listed winner in France while the aforementioned Unbound and Lucas Street have bred Grade 1 winners on the dirt; Lucas Street is the dam of Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint heroine Wavell Avenue. Bonne Chance is also home to May Be Now, the dam of their Grade 1-winning turf miler Ivar.
“The industry has become truly global,” says Figueiredo. “Just look at the history of the sport. During the early 1900s, the Americans went to Europe, bought a lot of good stallions and invested in bloodlines. Then during the 1970s, Robert Sangster and John Magnier, the Maktoum family and Japanese buyers all came to the US to invest in American bloodlines.
“It’s very important to keep diversifying and introducing new blood.
“Just look at Ivar for example. His granddam Dans La Ville was bred in Chile and is from a very good Chilean family. She went to Kentucky and was bred to Smart Strike. The foal, May Be Now, went back to South America, won a Group 2 race [the Grande Premio Marciano de Aguiar Moreira], was bred to Agnes Gold, a son of Sunday Silence, and foaled Ivar.”
A champion in his native Argentina, Ivar was later sent to the US where he won the 2020 Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland and ran third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. He currently stands for Stud RDI in Argentina at Haras Carampagne.
“So you have a Chilean mare by an American stallion who then visited a Japanese-bred stallion – and the result is Ivar, a Grade 1 winner against the best in the US.”
He adds: “I do believe that it doesn’t matter if the ability is on turf or dirt, it’s still ability. Yes, the US market remains more driven by the dirt horse but if you look at American turf races, the fields tend to be larger and the quality is very good.
“We enjoy supporting turf stallions in Kentucky. I have a lot of time for Karakontie at Gainesway, he produces a lot of winners and we’ve used him most years. We’ve also used Raging Bull at Gainesway and I’m a big fan of Kantharos.”
Naturally that thinking translates to the farm’s draft for the upcoming Keeneland September Sale, where those on offer range from a Medaglia d’Oro filly out of the Speightstown mare Goiaba catalogued during the opening session to a Constitution colt out of Pretty Girl and half-brother to Wavell Avenue from the first-crop of Improbable. Stock by Caravaggio and Kantharos should also pique the interest of European buyers. And who knows, perhaps there is another King Of Steel among them.
Value a key point at Keeneland September
Stretched over 12 days from September 11 and consisting of 4,194 yearlings, the Keeneland September Sale is billed as the world’s marketplace.
There is indeed something for everybody. Last year’s edition, for example, attracted 1,321 buyers from 25 different countries. In turn, they fuelled a competitive market that yielded a record turnover of just over $405 million to make it the highest grossing Kentucky horse auction ever. The average of $141,097 was also a record.
Led by a $2.5 million son of Quality Road knocked down to Talla Racing, Woodford Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds, 30 yearlings sold for a million dollars or more. And with the top end of the market in such evidently rude health at the recent record-breaking Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale, it is reasonable to expect more of the same during the early days of the Keeneland September Sale.
A total of 390 yearlings have been catalogued for the two-day Book 1, among them such standouts as a Kingman half-sister to Irish Derby runner-up Adelaide River (lot 72), a Tapit sister to this year’s Grade 1-winning three-year-old Tapit Trice (lot 86), a Tapit half-brother to champion Monomoy Girl (lot 103), an American Pharoah half-brother to 1,000 Guineas winner Winter (lot 186), a Quality Road daughter of the Aidan O’Brien-trained Group 1 winner Roly Poly (lot 295) and Curlin colts out of champions Midnight Bisou (lot 232) and Songbird (lot 325).
Yet, of course, this is a six-book sale and so one that is going to be brimming with value. Indeed, the sale has produced numerous bargains over the years, perhaps none better value than this season’s Belmont Stakes winner Arcangelo, who was bought for just $35,000 by owner Jon Ebbert out of Book 3 in 2021. Another American Classic colt of this year, Kentucky Derby third Angel Of Empire, was plucked out of Book 4 for $70,000 by Albaugh Family Stable.
European interests have also fared well, notably the band of breeze-up buyers who work the sale deep into the later books year after year. They include Johnny Collins of Brown Island Stables, who paid just $6,000 for Horris Hill Stakes winner Kenzai Warrior and $10,000 for subsequent multiple Grade 1 winner Mshawish. However, one of the greatest bargains of all time has to be the champion sprinter and successful stallion Dream Ahead, who was snapped up for $11,000 during session 13 by Federico Barberini for Tally-Ho Stud back in 2009.
The European breeze-up community have had more reason in recent years to work the American yearling sales hard following the inauguration of the Goffs Dubai Breeze-Up Sale at Meydan, where much of the emphasis is on dirt-bred horses. One vendor to have effectively taken advantage of all that the American market has to offer is Tom Whitehead’s Powerstown Stud, which has topped both renewals of the Dubai Sale to date, firstly with a Curlin colt whose value rose from $150,000 to €620,000 and then with a son of Gun Runner, who blossomed from a $165,000 yearling into a €545,000 breezer.
Closer to home, Keeneland also hit the headlines at Royal Ascot, not only as the source of King Of Steel but also Valiant Force, between them the winners of the King Edward VII and Norfolk Stakes in the colours of Kia Joorabchian’s Amo Racing. Valiant Force in particular, proved an inspired buy as a relatively inexpensive $100,000 purchase by Robson Aguiar and the O’Callaghan family of Tally-Ho Stud.
A glance at some of the stallions represented in this year’s later books reveals the potential value on offer. The likes of Justify, Not This Time, Uncle Mo, Kitten’s Joy, War Front and American Pharoah each have yearlings catalogued in Books 4 to 6 alongside those with a proven record in Europe such as Blame, Caravaggio, English Channel, Hard Spun, More Than Ready, Point Of Entry and Silent Name. The young European stallions Persian King, Sottsass and Roman Candle are also represented.
Nor are the pedigrees lacking. With a War Front daughter of Italian Group 1 winner Odeliz (lot 3057), a Kantharos granddaughter of Oaks heroine Ramruma (lot 1990), a Kitten’s Joy half-brother to top turf mare Miss Temple City (lot 2948) and a Kitten’s Joy daughter of Chilean champion Vamo A Galupiar (lot 3199) among those catalogued within those later days, there is certainly plenty for value hunters to get their teeth into.