Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘Even In What Seems Like Failure, We’ve Still Achieved The Founding Goal’

Humans plan. Horses laugh.

Judge Johnny was bred to be a star racehorse. His dam had already produced a Breeders’ Cup winner, he was sired by Empire Maker on the stallion’s return from Japan, and he was in the second crop born at the up-and-coming boutique breeding farm, Bonne Chance. 

As it turns out, JJ is definitely a star. He just prefers three-day eventing to winning races. 

Bonne Chance has been supporting the 4-year-old gelding’s career change with the assistance of trainer Carleigh Fedorka, with a short-term goal to compete him in the United States Eventing Association’s Young Event Horse series throughout 2021.

“It’s brought joy to us as a group, to see him be the superstar that we knew he was, even though we got the sport wrong,” said Leah Alessandroni, Bloodstock and Office Manager at Bonne Chance Farm. “I keep telling the guys, I know that it sucks he wasn’t our Derby horse, but I think it says a lot about our program that we still produce this kind of animal.”

Bonne Chance was founded in 2015, and there were just six foals in the farm’s first crop born in 2016. Among those first six foals was the future two-time Grade 1 winner Cambier Parc.

“As a small farm, we have to produce quality,” Alessandroni said. “That’s why I really love how successful JJ is; even in what seems like failure, we’ve still achieved the founding goal.”

Judge Johnny made five starts on the track, never finishing better than sixth and earning comments on the carts like “never factored.” It was frustrating because of both his breeding and his good looks, but JJ clearly had other plans.

“It was so obvious that the horse did not want to be a racehorse,” Alessandroni said. “As much as his family was amazing racehorses, he would just sleep flat-out on the ground and was so laid back. He’s so beautiful, it kind of breaks your heart because everything was right except he didn’t want to do it.”

Alessandroni suggested the gelding be moved on to a second career, and that Bonne Chance support him through his first 90 days or so of re-training. The team enthusiastically agreed to send him to Fedorka’s care.

“Thoroughbred aftercare is just something that I’ve seen take leaps and bounds forward during the last 10 years, but I still think we’re missing a little bit of the connection from the racing side of the game,” said Alessadroni. “Some of the criticism I often hear is, ‘Oh, those guys have so much money, why can’t they pick up some of the cost?’ And to be honest, they’re right. It costs less to have them in training for a sporthorse career, so what’s six months of training at half the cost, and everybody wins? And the mare’s no longer embarrassed!”

That moment when CEO Alberto Figueiredo agreed to support Judge Johnny’s transition to a new career was a big one for Alessandroni on a personal level.

Without any family or friends in the Thoroughbred racing industry, the Florida-born Alessandroni’s introduction to the sport came through aftercare.

“I was one of those kids that was always horse crazy,” she explained. “There were a couple OTTBs at my barn, and I just loved them. My family would watch the Triple Crown races, so I learned how to look up horses on Equibase and learned some very basic handicapping.

“Somehow that snowballed into me being really passionate about the industry despite the fact that I never actually went to a racetrack until college at the University of Kentucky, when I went to Keeneland.”

From an internship at the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, Alessandroni eventually transitioned to the bloodstock end of the business with an internship and then a job at WinStar Farm. While she learned a lot at the big-time operation, she didn’t want to spend the rest of her career there.

“When I left, so many people told me I was insane,” Alessandroni said, laughing. “I didn’t really have a plan, I just knew I hadn’t found my niche. I wound up at Regis Farm, which was then sold after 1 ½ years to Bonne Chance. All of us that were there, we sat down with the new owners and listened to them, and I think all of us were all-in, no hesitation. 

“It’s so rare to be able to be at the ground level of a new program, one that has truly good people behind it. When I look back at my life and how I ended up here, it’s just kind of amazing.”

Bonne Chance is also a joint owner in farms in Argentina, Brazil, and France. Stud R.D.I. is the Brazilian operation, which last year sent its dual Group 1 winner Ivar (Agnes Gold) to North America. Campaigned in partnership with Bonne Chance, Ivar won the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last fall.

Ivar wins the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, earning an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Mile

“We have been able to piggyback off the success of the South American operation, building on a really strong foundation, which is why we look like we popped up out of nowhere,” Alessandroni explained. “When they sent Ivar up here and he won the Shadwell, that’s the moment when the COVID situation really hit me for the first time, because not a single one of them were able to come to those races.”

As for Bonne Chance homebreds, the farm has sent out two other stakes winners so far, Iva and New York Groove. Its largest foal crop yet — 18 — hit the ground in 2020, and Alessandroni said this year’s 2-year-olds are particularly exciting, as well.

“We spend so much time just looking at horses,” she said. “That’s been the deciding factor. We’re here to produce a racehorse; quality, not quantity.”

Since Bonne Chance is so new, Judge Johnny was really the farm management’s first taste of aftercare. At first, Figueiredo was asking around to see if any employees wanted the horse, but Alessandroni suggested the alternative route of re-starting him on the farm’s tab. 

“We just started talking it out,” Alessandroni said. “It was really important to us to set him up for success, and really we were still saving money while giving the horse a chance to succeed. 

“The plan was to put him up for sale last fall, but he kept getting better and better. Carleigh kept telling me, ‘This is the nicest horse I’ve ever retrained.’ She’s not the type to say that if she doesn’t mean it. I told the team, ‘We will never have one this nice again. Let’s see where it goes.’

“We didn’t intend for it to be this in-depth of a process, but people are really excited about it. It’s really cool to share the process with people who didn’t know that side of it.”

Now, the goal is to showcase Judge Johnny’s off-the-track skills during 2021, hopefully through the Young Event Horse series, and ultimately to find him his next partner. During the process, Alessandroni hopes to bring more attention to aftercare.

“I hate this idea of ‘saving’ OTTBs,” she said. “A better idea is that these Thoroughbreds are incredible athletes. There’s not a more versatile horse in the world, and we should be continuing to celebrate them. Even the professional riders around the big five-star event in Lexington say there’s nothing better than a Thoroughbred on the cross country course.

“To see the joy in JJ on cross country, that just drove it home for me. He’s so happy to be out there.”

Alessandroni continued to say that she hopes more breeders will take an interest in their horses’ second careers as well.

“You know, breeding for commercialism, it can be a tricky situation,” she said. “But, if the goal is to breed a sound racehorse, you’re going to have superstars overall and you may accidentally breed a really nice sporthorse in the process!”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘Even In What Seems Like Failure, We’ve Still Achieved The Founding Goal’ appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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