Secretariat

A Young Intern and a Small-Time Buyer Become Part of History

In horse racing, you never know who you are going to encounter and what effect they will have on your life. What may seem like a brief insignificant moment during the course of one’s life can prove to be far more meaningful years later. Amy Walters and Tommy Wente learned that when they least expected it. Here is their story and how it led to the family history of one special racehorse. ~ Steve Haskin

A Young Intern and a Small-Time Buyer Become Part of History

By Steve Haskin

Gold Strike photo courtesy of Tracey Caudill, Watershed Farm

One of the most fascinating aspects of Thoroughbred racing is the unexpected, and that does not apply only on the racetrack. Sometimes names and faces long forgotten appear years later in the most unexpected places.

Amy Walters was majoring in Horse Production at the Ohio State Agricultural Technical Institute from March to May of 1983 when she did her internship at Glade Valley Farms near Frederick, Maryland. Once one of the country’s great breeding establishments, where the nation’s leading sire Challenger II stood and where his son, two-time Horse of the Year of 1939 and ’40 Challedon was born, Glade Valley finally shut down after nearly 100 years following the death of its most current owner Howard M. Bender. The farm’s original co-owner William Brann also owned the legendary filly Gallorette as part of a foal sharing agreement with Preston Burch.

Walters’ job was mainly to assist in caring for Glade Valley’s client mares and foals — mucking stalls, feeding, holding mares and foals for vet work, and taking mares to the breeding shed.

“I was glad to work in that barn, rather than with the farm mares, because of the greater variety of foals sired by outside stallions,” Walters said. “They were mostly boarders for the breeding season, but we also dealt with the wet and dry mares that shipped in to be bred and shipped right out within an hour.”

Walters’ favorite task was working with that year’s barren mares. Two she remembered the most were half-sisters Apple Pan Dowdy, who was 16, and the 15-year-old La Belle Alliance, both of who whom were booked to the farm’s stallion Rollicking. Amy became fond of both mares because of how attached they were to each other.

“All the barren mares stayed in this one pasture 24 hours a day, every day,” she recalled. “When either Apple Pan Dowdy or La Belle Alliance was taken out of the field and led up to the breeding shed for instance, she’d only be gone for about 15 minutes, but even so their reunion would always be like something out of a movie. The mare left behind would  be grazing with the rest of the mares in this huge field. As soon as she’d spot her half-sister being led back up the lane from the breeding shed, she’d come racing over to the gate, whinnying her lungs out, then the two would gallop off together to rejoin the group, bucking and whinnying as if they’d never been so happy. It was even more impressive because they weren’t young mares. These cute reunion scenes played out every single time one of these two was taken out of the field and was always very touching.”

Apple Pan Dowdy was a daughter of Bold Commander, out of the Cosmic Bomb mare Apple Bomb, and had been unplaced in all her three lifetime starts. From 1974 to 1982 she had produced only three foals to race, with none of them earning more than $62,000. Barren in 1983, she was sent to Glade Valley to be bred to one of the top Maryland stallions Rollicking.

Apple Pan Dowdy’s Rollicking foal the following year would win seven of her 49 starts, but of her only two subsequent foals, one earned only $5,578 and the other was unplaced in her only start.

Apple Pan Dowdy had accomplished little as a racehorse or a broodmare, so it was highly unlikely that Walters or anyone else could envision that she one day would become the great-great granddam of a Kentucky Derby winner.

Five years before being sent to Glade Valley, Apple Pan Dowdy produced a Search for Gold filly named Panning for Gold, who won six of her 20 starts, earning $62,179. No one thought much of Search For Gold, whose biggest earner at the time was Reef Searcher, a $7,000 yearling purchase who won 12 of his 32 starts for earnings of $357,720. A year after Search For Gold was born, his dam Gold Digger produced his full-brother by Raise A Native, later to be named Mr. Prospector.

Panning For Gold, bred in Pennsylvania by Mrs. Charles B. Lyman, won six of her 20 starts, including something called the Tattler Handicap at Greenwood Racetrack in Canada. She showed her versatility by winning from five furlongs to 1 3/16 miles.

Bred to Dixieland Brass, Panning for Gold produced a filly named Brassy Gold, who never made it to the races. All she showed were several workouts at Hastings Park in Vancouver, British Columbia.

This family line sure didn’t show any indication it was headed for Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Brassy Gold would produce only three foals. The first in 2001 was a son by the unknown stallion Ares Vallis named Copper Kid, who ran 23 times, all claiming races, and closed his career in a $3,000 claiming race at Assiniboia Downs. Her third foal in 2003 was a colt named Kestrel, who was by another unknown stallion named Shrike. Kestrel ran four times, all claiming races, winning once and finishing out of the money in his other three starts, closing out his career getting beat 36 lengths in a $10,000 claiming race at Delaware Park.

But her second foal, by the 10-year-old stallion Smart Strike, a son of Search for Gold’s full brother Mr. Prospector, was a filly named Gold Strike, who won four of her nine starts, including the Woodbine Oaks, and was voted champion 3-year-old filly in Canada.

However, after having some success at stud with her son Llanarmon, who won two stakes in Canada, Gold Strike’s 2015 and 2016 foals never made it to the races; her 2017 foal, My Blonde Mary by Calumet stallion Oxbow, ran 29 times, all claiming races, and was claimed in her final start for $5,000 at Tampa Bay Downs; and she was barren in 2018.

In 2019, she produced a colt by another Calumet Farm stallion Keen Ice. Later that year, following three dismal years as a broodmare, Calumet, who had bought Gold Strike in 2015 for $230,000, sold her at the Keeneland November Mixed Sale for a paltry $1,700. As if that weren’t bad enough, they wound up putting her Keen Ice colt, now named Rich Strike, in a $30,000 claiming race following a dismal career debut on the grass and lost him to trainer Eric Reed and owner Rick Dawson.

Do you think Tommy Wente, who bought Gold Strike for $1,700, could have imagined her weanling that year was going to win the Kentucky Derby, and at odds of 80-1?

“It’s crazy, isn’t it; you can’t make this stuff up,” Wente said. “I’m a cheap buyer. My clients and I can’t afford the big prices. I loved this mare, even though I knew she had problems getting in foal since producing her Keen Ice colt. And I knew Calumet Farm wanted to get rid of her as they often do with older mares. I just thought I would take a shot. I bought her for M.C. Roberts, who has a farm in Indiana. He took great care of her, but he couldn’t get her in foal. Finally, he called me and said, ‘I’m done. I’m at my wit’s end.’ I suggested he send her to a specialist to try find out why she couldn’t get in foal, but he kept insisting he was done, so he gave her away to Austin Nicks, who has a farm in Sellersburg, Indiana. A week after he gave her away her son won the Kentucky Derby. I’m telling you, you can’t make this stuff up. What this solidified for me is that no matter how little you spend in this game you have a shot.”

If you don’t feel divine forces were guiding Rich Strike, Wente pointed out that he was stabled in Barn 21, he had post position 21, and he was No. 21 on the earnings list. Now, that’s what you call three straight blackjack hands.

So from a family inundated with cheap claimers over the years, a number of runners from small Canadian tracks, and a mare who was given away a week before her son won the Derby has come one of the great stories of the year and one of the most shocking winners ever of the Kentucky Derby.

For Amy Walters, who had fallen in love with a 16-year-old mare named Apple Pan Dowdy and her sister as a young intern 40 years earlier at Glade Valley Farms and who went on to breed and show Quarter-Horses for 10 years before getting out of the business in 1993 when it became too expensive, she could only recall those days and express her feelings about seeing Apple Pan Dowdy’s great-great grandson win the Kentucky Derby.

“I was watching on TV alone and was in utter shock at the result,” she said. “When Larry Collmus yelled out Rich Strike’s name I recognized instantly he was the colt who had just made it into the field the morning before. I screamed out loud, ‘What the hell?’ Then my cousin texted me and all he said was, ‘Wow, wow, wow!’ Hours after the race I looked up Rich Strike’s pedigree on Pedigeequery.com and I gasped when I saw Apple Pan Dowdy’s name. I was so delighted that a Kentucky Derby winner descends from a mare I worked with so long ago.”

Yes, in racing you never know when you are going to be confronted with something seemingly mundane that eventually will become a part of history. Sometimes it has to weave its way through a morass of  small tracks and cheap claiming races before reaching its place in the history books. This sport is a never ending chain of events, some minor and some major, and you never know where it will lead. Amy Walters and Tommy Wente can now say that for a brief period of time they in their own way had a small piece of history pass through their hands. For Walters, four decades would pass until it came to light on the first Saturday in May.

 Our next column will be a Preakness analysis to be posted next Wednesday. Yes, even without the Derby winner.


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86 Responses to “A Young Intern and a Small-Time Buyer Become Part of History”

  1. Carol Fox says:

    Steve nobody writes like you. I especially liked that you pointed out the possibility of divine forces at work in that incredible Derby. I truly believe that God’s providential hand was at work orchestrating the whole thing. How else would you explain a former claimer whose best finish was a third in a lessor Derby prep that did not even offer 100 Derby points until 2019 and who gets in the race literally a few minutes from the deadline. A suicidal pace then ensues cooking a portion of the field but he receives a brilliant ride by an unknown jockey who keeps him in the back of the pack avoiding the suicidal pace and then threads him through the field while horse after horse drifts out his way, clearing the way for him to run down the leaders.

  2. Clarence says:

    Steve, this, of so many great stories you have so masterfully told, is why I keep searching for your column, I know that I will be “ thoroughbred educated”, entertained, and always impressed by your talent to “ deliver the Goods”
    Thank you seems so trite, but it is my sincere response to your talent…

  3. Paddy Head says:

    It’s wonderful to be a part of a horse that makes history. My one season at Windfield Farms in Oshawa brought me in contact with several great horses, from the past and into the future.