Very few horses graduate from handicap company to compete at Group/Grade 1 level. Fewer still do so successfully at the first attempt – however that is exactly what Sophie P achieved when winning the Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita last month.
Formerly trained in Scotland by Mike Smith, Sophie P, a five-year-old daughter of Bushranger, was last seen on these shores winning a Class 3 handicap at Musselburgh in October, collecting £7,439 for her efforts.
Her next appearance was at Tattersalls’ Mares Sale in December, where she caught the eye of bloodstock agent Gordian Troeller. He shelled out 160,000 guineas acting on behalf of US owner Deron Pearson, who also races horses in the UK and is a member of the Racehorse Owners Association.
I thought she could reach Grade 1 level eventually but I was surprised that she did it on only her second US run
That outlay was quickly repaid when Sophie P made her second start on American soil a winning one for the James Cassidy barn in the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes (1m1f), scoring by the narrowest of margins under Kent Desormeaux from another ex-British runner, Madam Dancealot (previously trained by Joe Tuite), to take the first prize of $180,000.
For Troeller, who specialises in buying horses in training for the US market – previous success stories include Grade 1 winners Ticker Tape and Singhalese – it was rapid vindication of his judgement.
“I thought she could reach that level eventually, but I was surprised that she did it on only her second US run,” Troeller explained. “However, I would never claim that I only expect to buy Grade 1 horses.
“I recommend horses to my clients that I believe will do well in America – by that I mean Listed class or better. What I’m looking for most of all is winners. Occasionally those winners will score at the top level, which is the dream. But it’s never good to over-egg the pudding and things don’t always work out so well.
“I used to buy yearlings, including for the late John Hills, and enjoyed it, but gave it up to focus on the horses in training market, which was taking up a lot of my time. Buying for overseas clients is now 80% of my business.”
Style of racing is crucial when buying to race in America – I like to see a horse that can settle and then quicken at the end of a race
When buying to race in America – less and less through the private sale route due to the “crazy prices” often quoted – Troeller will run the rule through ever horse listed in a catalogue and watch hundreds of races before producing a shortlist to work from at the sales.
Troeller continued: “Style of racing is crucial – I like to see a horse that can settle and then quicken at the end of a race. Sophie P looked to be suited by a fast pace and then come with a late run. She stayed a mile well and my general rule is that a horse will stay at least a furlong further in the States, racing around two turns.
“Ground preference is also important – at some point in their career the horse should have won or had form on quick ground, which Sophie P did, although her last runs here were on softer going.
“Pedigree is secondary and fairly irrelevant with the colts, though many of my clients are looking for resale value with the fillies.
“It’s actually quite unusual for me to recommend a four-year-old filly as I would normally buy two- and three-year-olds, but Sophie P ticked all the boxes and was a lovely physical specimen, well-built and strong. I thought she could do well in California.”