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Grade 1 favored currency for Cambodia's owner

Friday, November 24th, 2017

Modern commerce tells us that’s it’s never too early to start shopping. For anything.

In that spirit, take a look at the dozen turf fillies and mares going postward Sunday at Del Mar in the $300,000 Matriarch. They won’t be parading with “Make Best Offer” signs draped around their necks, but they might as well be.

One of the 12 will be winning a Grade 1 race for the first time, although Kitten’s Roar came within a length of taking the E.P. Taylor at Woodbine, Hawksmoor led all but the last part in the First Lady at Keeneland, and Cambodia comes off a cracking-good third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Del Mar.

There is nothing like a Grade 1 bauble to enhance the value of stakes-winning mare when they enter the sales ring. And make no mistake – most of the Matriarch field will enter a ring someday. The temptation for most owners is simply too great in the current market to hang onto a Grade 1 winner with any semblance of an attractive pedigree.

Recent headlines offer proof. The orgy of November spending at Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland was led by champions Songbird ($9.5 million), Tepin ($8 million) and Stellar Wind ($6 million). Breeders’ Cup winner Catch a Glimpse fetched $3 million. Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia sold for $2.3 million. Canadian Stakes winner Quidura looked so good on the page that she brought $3.6 million without winning a Grade 1 event, although she acted like Grade 1 winner when losing the Diana by just a nose to Lady Eli.

Miss Temple City, whose victory in the 2016 Matriarch was the final Grade 1 score of her exemplary career, was keeping with a trend when she went for $2.5 million at the Fasig-Tipton sale.

Star Balling, who won the 2011 Matriarch as a 3-year-old, eventually sold at auction for $2.3 million. The gray mares Egg Drop and Discreet Marq, who finished the 2013 Matriarch locked together like angry clouds, went for $1.9 million and $2.3 million. The 2010 Matriarch victory of Gypsy’s Warning helped make her worth $1.05 million in the ring.

Guessing which of Sunday’s bunch would benefit most from the Matriarch sounds like an entertaining, though highly esoteric, parlor game. Mrs McDougal, third last year in the Grade 1 Just a Game, sports the stallions Medaglia d’Oro and Distorted Humor in her immediate pedigree. Who knows what a Pioneerof the Nile mare like Insta Erma will be going for down the line, while Cambodia has the ever-blue blood of War Front and Smart Strike going for her.

Then again, if Cambodia comes through in the Matriarch, don’t look for Don Robinson to take the fast money anytime soon. Robinson, who does business as Winter Quarter Farm, bred Cambodia in partnership with the late Eric Kronfeld and races the 5-year-old mare with Alan Schubert.

“I plan to keep her,” Robinson said. “I’ve spent a lifetime as a breeder, and I’d be an idiot to let go of that bloodline.”

Winter Quarter was established by Robinson’s family in the late 1940s. In terms of more recent headlines, the farm has bragging rights as the birthplace of Zenyatta, who was raised there before she took the racing world by storm.

Cambodia does not pretend to Zenyatta-level achievement, but her form at Del Mar alone makes her a potent factor in the Matriarch. Prior to her Breeders’ Cup, she won both the Yellow Ribbon and the John C. Mabee over the local turf, to go along with her score in the Gallorette at Pimlico last May for trainer Tom Proctor.

“Tom had this race written down as a possibility for some time,” Robinson said. “She didn’t have a race after the Mabee going into the Breeders’ Cup, so we thought she’s ready for one more this season.”

Cambodia ran only six times prior to the start of her 5-year-old campaign, and the Filly and Mare Turf was her eighth start this year. The fact she was beaten less than two lengths by Wuheida while lapped on Rhododendron made Cambodia the best of nine domestic runners in the field.

“She could have run in midpack that day and I would have been happy,” Robinson said. “To place in a Breeders’ Cup race is phenomenal.

“I know she’d bring a lot of money,” he went on. “But the farm is paid for, and the kids are doing all right. Somehow winning a graded is every bit as important to me as selling the mare and getting a check. I understand – you can pay a lot of bills. But a check’s just that one time.

“I’ve heard it said that there are many owners who get the same excitement from getting a million dollars for a horse that they would winning a Grade 1 race. I can’t agree with that,” Robinson said. “The achievement is really something, and families like that don’t come along every day.”

Cambodia will winter in Florida and look to a 6-year-old campaign.

“She’ll tell us when she’s had enough,” Robinson said. “Tom is one of the best at listening to his horses. Come spring, if she doesn’t want to be a racehorse anymore, there will be plenty of stallions out there to choose from. And maybe she’ll give me a daughter.”

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