February 12, 2015
Melissa Bauer-Herzog writer for America's Best Racing came to Mill Ridge Farm to visit our 1998 Kentucky Oaks winner, KEEPER HILL and wrote this lovely article. Thank you.
Catching up with KEEPER HILL.
It isn’t often that a mare spends most of her life at one farm, but that is both the beginning and the end of Keeper Hill’s story. While Keeper Hill was bred by Chadds Ford Stable, et al and sold for $250,000 as a 2-year-old in training, that is only part of her story. She was raised as a foal at Mill Ridge Farm in Lexington, Ky. and those who bought her as a 2-year-old were also heavily connected to the farm. Keeper Hill started her career in New York with trainer and eventual co-owner Shug McGaughey, and while she was close to breaking her maiden with the trainer, after the third start she moved to California to train with Bobby Frankel. That is where she learned to love carrots, an obsession Mill Ridge managing partner Headley Bell says she still has today. “She is one of the biggest carrot eaters that one could possibly have,” Bell said. “In fact, we don’t provide her enough carrots ... Carrots were a regiment of Bobby’s shed row and so she loves carrots. The girls here in the office, they often take carrots to her. She’s still the Queen amongst ourselves and so when I think about her, I think about carrots.” Whether it was the carrots or just being close to the Pacific Ocean, Keeper Hill won her first two starts with Frankel, including a Grade 1, before finishing second in the Santa Anita Oaks. Next up was the 1998 Kentucky Oaks. With David Flores aboard for the second time, Keeper Hill dropped to the rear of the pack, but she was only about five lengths behind Star of Broadway, who was leading the race. As the field moved closer to the final stages of the race, Keeper Hill was no farther back than 3 ½ lengths from the front of the pack, moving up to third by the time the field hit the stretch call. In the end, Keeper Hill was the 1998 Kentucky Oaks winner when beating Banshee Breeze by a neck as the 3.30-to-1 favorite. “All of us try to breed the very best we can breed and we never know and that’s a big part of the mystery of the game. But when you happen to touch on that pinnacle, which you do when you win the Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby or any classic race like that, you’ve truly been touched,” Bell said. KEEPER HILL REPRESENTS THE PINNACLE OF THE SPORT FOR HER OWNERS. Keeper Hill made four more starts as a 3-year-old, hitting the board in all of them, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She came back again as a 4-year-old and wasn’t worse than fourth in her first six starts of the year yet never seemed to be able to get the victory. But traveling to Keeneland, a Kentucky track located just a few minutes from the farm where she was raised, proved to be the magic she needed to regain her winning form in the Spinster Stakes. She faced a familiar rival in Banshee Breeze and they stayed close to each other throughout the race. While there were seven other fillies and mares in the field, those two seemed to forget about them, running head and head at the stretch call. But while Banshee Breeze attempted to stay with Keeper Hill, she wasn’t a match for the Oaks winner and finished second, 2 ½ lengths behind Keeper Hill at the wire. Keeper Hill went to Florida at the end of the year for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, trying to better her third-place finish from the previous year’s race but it was not meant to be. Keeper Hill finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup and after two fifth-place finishes the following year, she was retired. In all, Keeper Hill raced 21 times with four wins, seven seconds, and five thirds for $1,661,281 in earnings. Her career included three Grade 1 victories and nine on-the-board finishes in graded stakes, with eight of those finishes coming in Grade 1 races including one turf start. Keeper Hill visited Gone West for the opening years of her career and gave birth to her first foal in 2004. Born on March 25, and later named Shaami, her connections sold the colt for $900,000 as a yearling and he went on to be a winner of $30,004. Keeper Hill visited Empire Maker twice in the next two years, but those two didn’t have any luck on the track with one never racing and the other one just making $197. But it was a mating to Unbridled’s Song that gave the partners Keeper Hill’s best foal, a colt named Keep Up, born in 2007. Keep Up’s story nearly ended before it began when he was injured as a yearling and had to be on stall rest for seven months after surgery. After making it to the track, Keep Up won the 2012 Grade 3 River City Handicap to give his dam her first graded stakes winner. The stallion now stands at Mill Ridge. “You dream about every horse and [Keep Up was] three legged lame, so then we have to deal with that. Then he goes on after time and such and goes from maybe never surviving to winning Grade 3 races,” Bell said. “So that’s all part of the Keeper Hill story, which makes it even more special. So while she’s aging, we have a chance to see Keep Up every day and that brings back the good memories.” KEEP UP WINS THE 2012 RIVER CITY HANDICAP Video courtesy of Bowman Mill Keeper Hill has had four foals since Keep Up was born, with her 2009 filly by Bernardini, named Milania, winning two races and making $73,188 to be the most successful of those foals so far. Keeper Hill has two horses who are in training or have raced recently for fans to watch these days. Her 5-year-old gelding Platinum Proof hasn’t raced since November of 2013 but is currently preparing for a comeback in England with trainer John Berry. Her second youngest foal, named Motivating, made his debut last October when finishing third in a maiden race at Keeneland as a 3-year-old. Keeper Hill’s youngest offspring on the ground is a yearling colt by Candy Ride, who is also located at Mill Ridge. One issue Bell has found when breeding Keeper Hill is the size of her foals. They are all big horses and that has impacted some of their careers. “They have been big, she’s bigger than one would presume, more than I really realize,” he said. “So they generally have been good size horses. We bred her twice to Empire Maker and I thought Empire Maker would be a great cross and they were huge and they never could get out of their way as far as ability goes. So I circled back, I’ve never really used Unbridled’s Song particularly, but I circled back with him and Keep Up is a big horse as well but he is very athletic.” Keeper Hill visited Point of Entry in 2014 and is due in April with the foal. Those on the farm don’t know the gender of the foal yet but are eagerly awaiting its arrival. Keeper Hill’s foal will be one of a large handful the farm has by the stallion in 2015. “I’m a big fan of Point of Entry. I’m a big fan of Dynaformer, and I’m a big fan of Point of Entry’s damside,” Bell said. “He was a very, very good horse and Shug told me that he could be the best horse he ever trained. So I took all that into consideration and I probably bred 13 top mares to him last year.” KEEPER HILL IS DUE TO GIVE BIRTH TO HER NINTH FOAL IN APRIL There is extra anticipation for Keeper Hill’s foal this year since it will be the final foal out of the mare. If the foal is a filly, Bell believes that they will probably keep her to race for themselves. The filly would also be a rare item as from Keeper Hill’s eight foals, so far Milania has been her only filly. After Keeper Hill’s 2015 foal is weaned, she will be pensioned on the farm. But even though she won’t be producing foals for her owners anymore, Bell is thankful for the mare’s influence on his family’s life. “It’s a thread throughout my life, throughout my mother and family’s life and our children’s life, it’s a thread through three generations. One mare here for 20 years has allowed all of us to stay connected for 60 years. That’s a gift, you know … and so we reflect on that and we embrace that and we’re thankful for that. She’s been a gift.”