Secretariat

Of Rombauer, N.J.-breds, and Secretariat

At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much of a back story behind Preakness winner Rombauer, but in actuality it is a story that is rich in history and now can finally be told thanks to the heroics of the son of Twirling Candy.~ Steve Haskin

Of Rombauer, N.J.-breds, and Secretariat

By Steve Haskin

It was the late 1980s, William A. Purdey, owner of Greenfields, a Thoroughbred breeding farm on the outskirts of Colt’s Neck, New Jersey, was still beaming with pride over the accomplishments of his homebred filly Spruce Fir, who had won the Matchmaker Stakes at Atlantic City, one of 12 stakes the daughter of Big Spruce would win.

Purdey, a former sports reporter with the Red Bank Register, had inherited his mother’s farm in 1967 along with few broodmares. In 1972, with his racehorses trained in Maryland, Purdey got tired of the long drive to see them race, so he moved them all to New Jersey and hired Harry Wells to train them. His first starter with Wells was a 2-year-old filly named Jostling Queen, who won first time out. Purdey kidded with Wells after the race, saying, “It’s strictly downhill from here.”

Although he was kidding, his words would prove to be prophetic. Jostling Queen would win only two more races in 19 starts before retiring as a broodmare at Greenfields, and Purdey would have little success over the next 15 years.

But one’s impact on the sport often does not manifest itself until generations later and in Purdey’s case it was Jostling Queen’s great-great-grandson Rombauer winning the 2021 Preakness Stakes. Looking at the colt’s immediate pedigree no one could have known that his story not only goes back through generations of New Jersey-breds, but to Secretariat and the birth of the Meadow Stud empire.

In 1987, Purdey was in Kentucky to accept the New Jersey state breeders’ award from the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association thanks to the success of Spruce Fir. That gave him an excuse to visit Claiborne Farm to see the great Secretariat. “That was such a great thrill,” Purdey said years later. “I had seen him on TV, but never in person.”

Any small-time breeder would be in awe of seeing Big Red in the flesh, but Purdey’s admiration of the stallion and the pride he felt just being in his presence went far deeper than that. As he watched Secretariat romping about in his paddock, his thoughts must have drifted back to the summer of 1947.

Following the death of his grandfather, William H. LaBoyteaux, earlier that year, all of LaBoyteaux’s racing and breeding stock were sold at separate auctions at Saratoga to settle his estate. Among the 26 broodmares sold was the 9-year-old Imperatrice, who was by LaBoyteaux’s stallion Caruso. Imperatrice, trained by George M. Odom, showed her versatility on the racetrack defeating the boys in the six-furlong Fall Highweight Handicap and winning the seven-furlong Test Stakes at Saratoga. Stretching out in distance she was second in the mile and an eighth Beldame Stakes.

Purchasing the New Jersey-bred Imperatrice for $30,000, in foal to another of LaBoyteaux’s stallions, Piping Rock was Christopher Chenery. After being sent to Chenery’s farm The Meadow, near Doswell, Virginia, it was discovered that Imperatrice was barren. After notifying the executors of the estate, Chenery was given a refund of $5,000.

At the time of the sale, Imperatrice had a 2-year-old in training named Scattered, a daughter of Whirlaway who would go on to win the Coaching Club American Oaks and Pimlico Oaks for King Ranch, making the purchase of his dam by Chenery all the more promising. Imperatrice also had a yearling at the time, later to be named Imperium, by Piping Rock, who would go on to win the Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar and set a six-furlong track record at Santa Anita in 1:09 2/5, and a weanling by Piping Rock later to be named Squared Away, who won eight stakes in her 103-race career, including the Bay Shore, Paumonok, Roseben, Sport Page Autumn Days, and Interbrough Handicaps.

Imperatrice would produce 12 foals for Chenery, including stakes winners Speedwell, Imperial Hill, and Temen along with four other winners. Of the rest of her foals to race, only two retired winless with zero earnings. One of them was a daughter of Princequillo named Somethingroyal. Although her racing career proved fruitless, the 13th of Somethingroyal’s 18 foals was that that big red stallion that Purdey was looking at with such pride at Claiborne Farm, knowing the Triple Crown winner’s granddam was bred in New Jersey by his grandfather.

LaBoyteaux had been a major supporter of Thorughbred racing in New Jersey. His original farm, called Hop Creek Farms, was comprised of a 650-acre horse and cattle farm and a 120-acre dairy farm. In addition to Imperatrice, he bred several other stakes winners before his death at age 74. In 1945, he and a group of associates had purchased the Fasig-Tipton Company in Saratoga. After he died the horse and cattle farm was sold to a construction man from North Jersey. The remaining dairy farm was to go to LaBoyteaux’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary (Purdey’s mother). Elizabeth already had a home in Freehold, New Jersey and had no desire to move, so Mary took over the 120 acres and named it Greenfields, while maintaining the racing and breeding operation that eventually went to her son.

Like all owners and breeders, Purdey’s dream at the time was to one day breed a Kentucky Derby winner, but “winning any kind of a race would be a thrill, whether it be stakes, allowance or even claiming,” he said back in 1987, five years before his homebred Dance Floor finished third in the Run for the Roses for trainer D. Wayne Lukas and MC Hammer’s Oaktown Stable.

Purdey never did get his Derby winner, but little did he know that he had built the foundation of a Preakness winner three years earlier when he bred his first starter, the aforementioned Jostling Queen, to Vigors and a got a filly named Social Conduct, who placed in four stakes in New Jersey. He then bred Social Conduct to Afleet and got a filly who he sold at the 1993 Keeneland September yearling sale for $10,500 to John and Diane Fradkin.

That summer Fradkin had claimed a horse named Ruff Hombre for $25,000 at Hollywood Park. Unfortunately for him Ruff Hombre finished last in the race and was off for two months, but returned at Del Mar to win what would be the final race of his career. The Fradkins took the earnings from Ruff Hombre’s victory and purchased Purdey’s skinny New Jersey-bred Afleet filly, who they named Ultrafleet. But in four career starts she failed to hit the board, so they retired her as a broodmare, despite everyone telling them it was a “stupid move.”

Ulltrafleet produced 14 foals before her death in 2012. Among them were California Flag, who won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and graded stakes winner Cambiocorsa, who is the granddam of 2018 European Horse of the Year Roaring Lion. The Fradkins decided to keep Ultrafleet’s next-to-last foal, by Cowboy Cal, who was not a fashionable sire and later was sent to South Korea, and named her Cashmere, who never made it to the races.

In 2018, they bred Cashmere, one of their two broodmares, to Twirling Candy and got a colt they named Rombauer, who was raised at Machmer Hall near Lexington, Kentucky.

“The best thing about him is that he never had anything wrong with him,” said Machmer Hall’s Carrie Brogden. “He foaled easily and was correct and well-balanced. The mare can be a little tough and funny, and when she came to us originally to board, John warned us that she can be really ‘opinionated.’ The Fradkins have been good friends and they are very loyal and wonderful people. Rombauer like many of the Twirling Candys, was such an efficient mover and he had a great mind. He literally had no issues.”

But the question for the Fradkins was what to do with him. As small-time commercial breeders their main priority is to sell their horses. The only horses they kept were the ones they couldn’t sell. But in 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the April Ocala Breeders 2-year-old sale was delayed a couple of months.

Since Cashmere typically produced precocious babies that won early on, consigner Eddie Woods who gave the colt his early training, advised the Fradkins to wait and sell him privately under the assumption he would win early on and have more value as a proven racehorse than as an unraced 2-year-old.

“He was a quiet laid-back sort,” Woods recalled. “He was a bit long and short-legged but a very good mover. He just didn’t have enough speed to be a fancy 2-year-old sales horse. You just never know where the good ones will come from”

So the Fradkins sent Rombauer to their trainer Mike McCarthy at Santa Anita and he did prove his worth right off the bat, winning his first career start at a mile on turf at Del Mar. They thought for sure the offers would come pouring in, but because the time of the race, his 48 Beyer speed figure, and 20 Thoro-Graph number were extremely slow they received no worthwhile offers, so their only recourse was to keep him.

Their other good fortune came after he tried the dirt and finished second in the grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes and a fast-closing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The plan was to start off 2021 in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, but when horses like Medina Spirit, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Hot Rod Charlie, and the promising Roman Centurian showed up, Fradkin decided the race was too tough, and two weeks later there was a much easier spot in the El Camino Real Derby on Golden Gate’s Tapeta surface, in which the winner would receive an automatic invitation to the Preakness Stakes. Rombauer just got up to win the El Camino Real and the rest as they say is history.

And so we have come full circle, from William LaBoyteaux to Imperatrice to Somethingroyal to Secretariat, and paralleling that from LaBoyteaux’s grandson William Purdey to his first starter Jostling Queen all the way to the Fradkins, Ultrafleet, Cashmere, and finally to Rombauer. It is a story of the underdog, the birth of a legend, generations of New Jersey breeding, and finally to a Preakness victory nearly half a century after the spectacular record-breaking performance by Secretariat in the second jewel of the Triple Crown. People don’t last forever, but their dreams often do. They just can take a long time to come true. For Wiilliam LaBoyteaux and William Purdey, who passed away in 2002, they would never know the impact they had on the sport.

Rombauer Photos courtesy of Associated Press, Carrie Brogden and Eclipse Sportswire


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239 Responses to “Of Rombauer, N.J.-breds, and Secretariat”

  1. Bill Scott says:

    Love your work. Another great column. Looks like an exciting Belmont Stakes then onto Saratoga!!

  2. Katie says:

    Wow. Another fascinating story

  3. Katie says:

    Wow Another fascinating story