Added success for Fresco’s breeder Waterville Lake Stable

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

Fresco, winner of last week’s Statue of Liberty division of the New York Stallion Series, is latest success for Waterville Lake Stable. Susie Raisher/NYRA

By Joe Clancy

When Dick Leahy and partner John Meriwether jumped into Thoroughbred racing, their Waterville Lake Stable bought 20 yearlings – and soon decided that was not the right business model.

“We had 16 colts and four fillies and after a couple years we asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing?’ If you have a well-bred colt that can’t run very fast, his value is close to zero,” Leahy said. “A filly that is well-bred that can run a little, you have some equity. You don’t have the home run, the stallion prospect, but you stay around for a longer period.”

So they thought a bit more long term, and changed strategies – a plan that lined up with Leahy’s profession in the investment world. He co-founded Episteme Capital, a global investment manager.

“What I do (for work) is quantitative and fundamental, both,” he said Thursday. “I think of racing and breeding as having some similarities where you’re digging into the data and not just making intuitive decisions but trying to look at as many pieces of data as you can.”

The result has meant racing and breeding success for Waterville Lake (Leahy and partners) and Oak Bluff Stable (Leahy, solo). They’ve bred or owned such New York-bred luminaries as Sea Foam, Therapist, Audible, Hessonite, Strike It Rich, Miss Valentine, Mariensky, Akilina and a $775,000 yearling of 2019 named Brattle House among others.

Add last week’s Statue of Liberty winner Fresco to the portfolio.

Owned by Oak Bluff, and trained by Christophe Clement, the 3-year-old filly lived up to her 1-2 odds with a score in the $100,000 Statue of Liberty Stakes – a division of the New York Stallion Series. The daughter of Freud came into the race a maiden, but that did little to discourage anyone from touting her quality off three prior starts – a third and a fourth in open company at Gulfstream Park and a second against New York-breds at Belmont Park in June.

“They were pretty salty races she was in, I was pleased every time she ran,” said Leahy. “Her last race (a nose defeat) I think she did hang, at least to me it seemed like she did. I even talked about it with Christophe. In training, I always wonder if we’re teaching some horses to stay with the other horse too much. Some horses want to put their heads in front. Others might not. They might think they’re being trained to stay with the other horse all the time. I’m not a trainer, so I don’t know . . . she ran away from them this time so maybe some just take a little longer to learn about it.”

There was no hanging Thursday. Fresco sat fifth of six early for Irad Ortiz Jr., angled outside off the turn and ran past Dixie Cannon to win by 1 ¾ lengths in 1:45.43 for 1 1/16 miles on the inner course. Nick Scissors was third.

A full-sister to $534,345 earner Therapist, Fresco is out of Lady Renaissance. The daughter of Smart Strike raced for Waterville Lake and Clement in 2006 and 2007 before being bred and offered for sale in 2009. Leahy paid $15,000 for her. Her first three foals to race (by Bernstein, War Front and Gio Ponti) won two races combined. The next, Therapist, picked up the slack with eight wins (seven stakes) including the open-company First Defence at Belmont June 7.

“She never won a stakes and only ran in one, but she had stakes caliber numbers and her career was cut a little short so we didn’t get there,” Leahy said of Lady Renaissance. “I just thought she looked pretty interesting and bought her. The program in New York is very attractive, Freud was there, he’s a full-brother to Giant’s Causeway and I thought that was an interesting match. We got Therapist.”

And now Fresco. The dark bay was part of a fast start to the meet for Clement, who won with nine of his first 21 starters to take a narrow lead in the standings. To Leahy, the success is much-deserved, as Clement has long been a key part of the breeder’s success. And the Clement barn was rocked by the death of 10 horses in a van accident on the New Jersey Turnpike June 7. The tractor trailer was on its way to New York from Florida when it struck a concrete divider and caught fire.

Waterville Lake runner Apogee died in the fire, and Leahy won’t forget the phone call from Clement afterward.

“When he called me he was in tears, and it wasn’t because he was concerned about my reaction,” the owner said. “It’s one thing to be the owner/breeder but you don’t live with them day in and day out. They’re like children to them. On that day, Therapist won the open stakes which was pretty exciting for me, yet it just didn’t have the same excitement that it otherwise would have had.

“Having success has hopefully been a little bit of a distraction from the devastation. I’m happy for him and everyone in the barn.”

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