One For The Little Guy: Little Run Debuts Single-Horse Consignment At Keeneland September

Between the ballooning size of the catalog and the deep families that reside within it, it can be hard to stand out in Book 2 of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Fortunately, Little Run has a one-of-a-kind offering.

The one-woman operation of Wendy Clay makes its debut in this year’s renewal of the bellwether auction with a single horse. Hip 831, a Gun Runner colt, will go through the ring Thursday, bookending a comeback years in the making.

A native of Okemos, Mich., Clay had accumulated a broad range of experiences in the Thoroughbred business, breaking and galloping horses in Australia, South Africa, and Ireland, working domestically with the stallions at Three Chimneys Farm, and consigning horses under the Amelia’s Field Farm banner; but her ties to the business had mostly lapsed by the mid-2010s. She still had friends and family in the Thoroughbred industry, but she’d found gainful employment outside the sphere.

Clay started to get the itch again in 2017, and by January of the following year, she’d purchased a pair of short yearlings to pinhook through consignor Brookdale Sales. She broke yearlings for others in the years that followed, but she never lost the urge to bring up a sale horse of her own.

Then, at this year’s Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale, Clay found a Gun Runner colt she couldn’t resist, and brought him home for $35,000. She signed the ticket “Little Run,” and the same words would hang from Barn 41 at Keeneland eight months later.

“I had to buy a horse that I enjoyed being around and looking at every day, and that’s how I feel about this boy,” she said. “He has such a kind eye and just a warmth about him. I just gravitated to him. It was freezing cold in January, and I just loved the way he walked. He has an elegance, a grace, about him. My favorite movie is ‘Phar Lap,’ and when I lead him, I feel like I have Phar Lap on my shank.”

There are 689 yearlings cataloged in Book 2 of Keeneland September, not including the horses that sell and show in the sessions immediately before and after the second book. Even a good horse can get lost in the shuffle at that point of the sale, but being a son of leading freshman sire Gun Runner certainly doesn’t hurt business, as evidenced by the high-end caliber of buyers that inspected the colt Wednesday afternoon.

Beyond what’s on the page, Clay said what she and her horse offered was the physical and mental benefit of individual attention. The colt spent his time between sales at Clay’s Winchester, Ky., farm, which has a small creek – or run – at the front of the property, giving the consignment its name.

Working with this colt in particular, Clay reclaimed what she had missed being away from the business. However, she also admitted that this sale might be tougher to get through than the ones she’d worked before.

“I’ve enjoyed every single day, seven days a week,” Clay said. “My favorite time is just going out and grooming him every single morning. I’m going to miss him.”

“You bond, because you’re with them all the time,” she continued. “Sometimes, I think to myself, ‘Why am I saying goodbye?’ but it’s fun. I love prepping them. I love watching them grow and blossom, and doing the best I can for him and his future, not only physically, but mentally. The better behaved he is, and the better he’s treated, I believe that he’ll be treated kindly in his future, because he’ll be well-behaved, trained, and well-fed. I like being a positive influence. It stays with them, like it does for us, their whole life.”

That bond stemmed from her childhood, even if it wasn’t quite a straight line from one to the other.

Her family had nothing to do with horses – and they still don’t to this day – but everything changed when they moved next to the farm of Irv and Naomi Weitzman, who owned Quarter Horses that ran at the national level, and spearheaded the opening of Mount Pleasant Meadows, a mixed-breed track in central Michigan.

“I was four or five years old, and I would just crouch down into the weeds in the field next door and watch the horses, and I just fell in love with them,” she said. “I would sneak over there, and they knew my dad was a lawyer, so they were worried about liability, and they kept saying, ‘No, no, you need to stay away from those Quarter Horses.’ I just wouldn’t stay away. They let me train their German Shepherds. I would go over and groom and train their German Shepherds, and then it gravitated to taking care of the horses as I got older. They got my first pony for me when I was eight.”

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Clay eventually got in the saddle for the Weitzmans, and she still uses the saddle they gave her to start her yearlings under tack to this day. A set of Kentucky Derby tickets she won in a contest at Mount Pleasant Meadows eventually led to her first summer job in Kentucky at Dixiana Farm.

Now with a farm of her own, Clay commemorates that spark the Weitzmans gave her with a horse charm on her necklace that Irv bought for Naomi when they had a horse running in the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs, Quarter Horse racing’s richest event, in the 1980s.

“He bought this little horse for Naomi, and when she was dying, she gave it to me and said, ‘This brought us luck,’ and that’s why I wear it,” she said.

Working with the horses brings back memories for Clay of the people no longer around, but selling the colt has reunited her with others she hasn’t seen in years.

She was being assisted on Wednesday afternoon by Cori Krause, a friend she made back in Michigan during their first years together in 4-H, who was serving as the mouthpiece of the consignment. Even after years apart, when they got back together, their work was practically seamless.

“We haven’t seen each other for 25 years,” Clay said. “We talk, but we’ve just been busy being moms, so she wanted to come down from her busy job and help, which was so kind. She’s a natural at greeting people. I’m just really into the horse; the horse husbandry and taking care of them. I prefer to be in the stall, grooming and showing. She likes the grooming part, and I like the horse part. Maybe we’ll be doing this again together.”

It might be a brief stay at the Keeneland sale, but it was immediately clear that Clay had returned to a comfort zone when she brought her colt out of his stall.

Clay’s doing it the hard way, hanging her own shingle against the current of the name-brand consignors, but she’s not at Keeneland this week to topple the giants. The victory comes from being back in the game.

“I have met over the 30 years that I’ve been in and out of this industry, I’ve always had a warm welcome, and met lifetime friends,” she said. “I just feel honored to be welcomed to come back. Keeneland has been so kind. I call and ask questions because I haven’t done this before by myself, and it’s just been a really nice feeling.”

The post One For The Little Guy: Little Run Debuts Single-Horse Consignment At Keeneland September appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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